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Music Review: The Beatles – Love

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Are The Beatles holy writ? Is remixing and "mashing up" their original tunes heresy? Some Beatle fans are looking at the new release of The Beatles' Love CD with trepidation. The two surviving Beatles had little to do with it other than approving it, and it was mostly assembled by Giles Martin, the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, with some consultation from his father. Commissioned as the soundtrack to a Cirque du Soleil stage show, it's being billed as the first authorized Beatles remix project.

Purists shouldn't fear — Love hardly destroys the Beatles' songs. But in the end, nice as it is, Love is basically a slick gimmick lacking any real message besides, "Doesn't it sound cool that we can do this?" Perhaps you just had to be at the stage show.

First off, the songs on Love do sound bloody wonderful, crisply reworked and remastered (there's also an even spiffier audio DVD mix of the album with 5.1 surround sound and stereo available, which I haven't heard). There's a fullness to it that makes the sounds leap from the speakers. When "Revolution" kicks in, the proto-metal snarl of guitars and screams will just about knock your head off with its clarity. It's miles above any other previous Beatles CD releases.

But most of the mashups lack any real potency. It's a kick, at first, to hear shreds of the assault of "I Want You" splashing together with fragments of "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite," or to hear "Sun King" turned eerily inside-out for the backwards track "Gnik Nus." Some tracks are gorgeous, like the "Strawberry Fields Forever" that blends stripped-down demo into a slowly building crescendo, tossing in elements of "Penny Lane," "Piggies," and "Hello Goodbye."

But too many others are like "Eleanor Rigby," or "A Day In The Life," nearly the same as the old version, or a failure like "Octopus's Garden," grafted with an awful patch from "Goodnight" that turns it into a lounge track. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" features a new elegant and subdued string score background added by Sir George Martin himself, but as much as I admire Martin's work, "Weeps" version 2.0 has more than a whiff of Muzak to it.

I really was hoping Love would go further. If anything, it's too reverent, too conservative in its approach.

And as many music buffs will tell you, this is hardly the first time something like this has been attempted. There's the famous Grey Album, an illegal bootleg DJ Danger Mouse (now of Gnarls Barkley) did back in 2004, surgically lifting vocals from Jay-Z's Black Album and adding a flurry of chopped-up bits from The Beatles' White Album as backing tracks. A whole parade of similar underground "mashups" followed, from The Black and Blue Album (Jay-Z and Weezer) to the Slack Album (Jay-Z and Pavement).

While few of these were particularly interesting except as experiments, some were remarkable recreations. The Grey Album crushed The Beatles down to their component DNA, pulverizing song fragments until they were utterly remade – which might offend purists, but resulted in some dazzlingly creative listening. Other Internet mixers have put their own stamp on The Beatles' raw material. (There's a nifty complete reworking of Revolver floating around on the Internet using samples from a variety of artists that is quite playful fun.)

And that might be the singular problem with Love for me – it's just not revolutionary enough, when we've been shown there's so much more you can do. Adding a drum flourish from "The End" to "Get Back" doesn't fundamentally make you view the song in a new light. Ideally, a mashup shows you a facet of the song you've never imagined, like a prism in the sun, rather than just evoking memories of the original tunes.

Love doesn't desecrate what the Beatles did; really, the noble intent is to celebrate their talents. But it also really adds nothing new to the legend, other than showing us how fine the Beatles catalog will sound whenever it's all completely remastered to the highest potential. That makes it feel like a movie trailer, a tease for the extra cash we Beatle fans will be asked to shell out in 2008 or whenever. I can't imagine repeat listening being very rewarding, unlike the original albums.

Love is a clip-and-save kaleidoscope of greatest hits and a novel stage show soundtrack, but little more than that in the long run.

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About Nik Dirga

  • Vern Halen

    So that’s what all the fuss wuz about. Kinda like Springsteen’s “Dance Mix” of Born in the USA – mildly interesting, but nothing new really in the long run.

    Cirque de Soleil – can’t watch ‘em – all those contortionists freak me out.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    You really want the first time this was done? Go back to the Beastie Boys “Pauls Boutique.” I’d bet it’s still the best too.

    -Glen

  • Ted

    You really want an even earlier time this was done? Go back to The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and listen to the ending. You’ll hear Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”, the traditional “Greensleeves” and even “She Loves You”. Sure, it was done live in a studio, but at that time Al Gore had yet to invent ProTools.

    Now excuse me while I go out and get some “real” new music. Kevin Federline here I come!

  • Zechariah

    I’m a twenty something from America. I’m a Beatles fan to the bone. I own every album [many on original vynil presses] by The Beatles, who are very arguably the greatest band since the invention of recorded audio.

    That said, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who introduced me to the group, about what the beatles might have done with digital technology had they had developed it in 1969s prior to our knowledge of this new album’s existence. It is clear to me that this is in the spirit of what they might have done; “…is Love” ends with Paul singing “She Loves You Yeah, Yeah,” So, I think it is clear the Beatles might have been interested in the collaging of their work done by Giles Martin. Furthermore, Paul and Ringo did approve this project and approved Giles for the job.

    I think that featuring their music in such a way [the Cirque show] is only the natural course for great pop music to take. Look at the way that Joel and Dylan’s catalogues have been turned into Broadway productions. If anything, I’m sure that we Beatles fans rest easy at night knowing that such has not happened to our beloved Lennon-McCartney numbers.

    The acceptability of that fact only proves the Author’s claims to the Beatles’ work being treated with reverence. Nevertheless, making great art more widely accessable, in more forms, as had been done in this instance, is probably what our generation will be remembered for contributing to art: the art of archiving.

    Some might, in fact, I might make additional claims as to how this only proves the death of art. However, for now, I’ll keep listening to the new Beatles album and smile.

  • R Scrofani

    A few hears ago I read an article from a man who was traveling across the US in his car in 1967 the week Sgt. Peppers was released. In those hopeful times, the core of the sixties exploded that summer. Most radio stations played Sgt. Pepper straight through, 24 hours, some of them for days on end. He wrote as one radio station would start to fade another would take its place on the radio. As the Summer of Love blossomed in full force that June, the Beatles provided for a short but eternal time its soundtrack.

    The Beatles, their sound, their time, their life, and their music are intrinsically wrapped around the hope, ultimately unrealized of the 1960’s. The 60’s… the visual koan of any individual life, from the innocence of a pre-sexualized love found in I Want To Hold Your Hand, to the awakening of something more than self-indulgence and self-absorption as expressed in Rubber Soul and Revolver…the discovery of another world beyond the Self as imagined in Sgt. Pepper, and the inevitable Zen enlightenment of the back to basics rock in the White Album, that at the end of the journey rivers are once again rivers and mountains are exactly nothing more and nothing less than what they have always been …closing with a dénouement, the inevitable twilight…the distillation of life as preamble as expressed in Abbey Road and its final track, The End.

    It was on the third continuous hearing of this album, hiding behind my headphones, and a cheap pair at that…that I found myself in the same place as a Buddhist monk who’s been chanting for half the night or a novice who’s been reciting the rosary for hours…when the guitars on Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise first break through Hey Jude’s horns… I wasn’t aware I’d been weeping till I realized that, yes it really is “getting very near the end…”

    For me and for those whose who lived it…Their music will forever continue to distill in its most purest form those times, our lives, our hopes, a movement. It has been and will always be more than the music of an entire generation…

    …All You Need Is Love man…Love is all you need…

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