Known Johnson

November 25, 2006

The Beatles: Love

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Tom @ 4:07 am

It seems any “new” Beatles material is going to be greeted with the same reaction from die-hard fans: mostly derision, because whatever it is will surely be either leftover material parading as new or rehashes in the form of best-ofs. And then there’s Love, the odd concoction that straddles the middle ground between the two, both a best-of and something a bit new, if only because it never existed in this particular form before. And this is where the casual fans make out best – they can pick up something like Love and just enjoy it for what it is, rather than picking it apart before it even reaches store shelves, or just plain filing it away in the “failure” folder without even hearing it as many dedicated Beatles fans have because, as it is widely known, the Beatles music is holy and must not be touched! Do not touch! But touch it Sir George Martin and son Giles did, picking through the master tapes and finding the fortuitous moments of the Fab 4’s better known songs that achieved that beautiful kind of alchemy where two or more songs can morph into one.

Some may look at Love as a failure because it lacks radical, modern touches that made Danger Mouse’s Grey Album, which mashed up Jay-Z’s a capella Black Album with instrumental material composed from unauthorized Beatles samples, so controversial, but they’re missing the point: it doesn’t need to be. That’s not the purpose it serves. Love is, essentially, a greatest hits album with the spin of being a soundtrack of sorts to the Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. Rather than do something that would appeal only to the 18-34 set as, say, something along the lines of Danger Mouse’s creation generally would, Sir George Martin and son have instead done something that at least allows the music to breathe a bit of a new life without simply being a rehashed version of One from a few years ago while appealing to the widest possible audience. It’s not entirely new music, but it’s also not entirely old, either. What it is, at least, is a bit fresh and a different perspective from which to view the music of the Beatles. After hearing the Beatles at some point, day-in and day-out, for the past 40 years for most people in the Western world, why aren’t we all welcoming any change up to the sounds? Great as they are, it’s nice to hear something a little different once in a while.

Most of all, Love is simply fun to hear. Let go all the preconceived notions, drop all the pretense associated with the Beatles after 40 years of deification, forget their status, and Love flows like a bunch of great music, nearly non-stop from beginning to end. It’s hard to imagine any 80 minute stream of music having no stumbles, but Love manages to work – that’s the magic of the Beatles at their best, I suppose, but there’s more at play here than simply the magic of those great tunes they wrote so long ago. What really sells this set is what some have such a hard time with: the constant segues between songs, as if the whole album were nearly one long song. But buried in that mix are neat little nuggets for the Beatles die-hards – parts of songs that had been previously buried or parts that had never seen the light of day before, brought out by the Martins especially for this set. Love should be a treasure trove for the fans looking for new details to dig into.

What one can hope to get out of this, as a general Beatles fan, however, is this: the hope that these remixes are a glimpse of the future, a first strike perhaps, of the much-hinted at Beatles remastering campaign coming in 2007. If Love is any indication of what the old Beatles tapes can sound like after much tender restoration, the remasters will satisfy all but those audiophiles for whom anything other than the original, virgin vinyl is the peak of perfection. And I’ll go one further: I’m hoping that Love‘s remixing is a hint that the Martins and the remaining Beatles went back to the original master tapes and remixed the albums, not to try and erase their origins but simply to make them sound as clean and crisp as possible. That, surely, is a step that would have the longtime Beatles dedicated up in arms, but for most listeners, the songs, to steal a title from Led Zeppelin, remain the same. And, in the case of Love, that remains true for the most part. The listener gets a bit of the “quick medley run-through” in places as elements of this song or that song pop up here and there, but for the most part, the songs we all know and love are here in a fairly recognizable form, save for maybe “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which, for some reason, sadly loses most of its beautiful guitar for strings. But then there are really intriguing moments where things really gel just right, like when “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” suddenly morphs into “She’s So Heavy,” or the a capella album opener “Because,” that are practically goosebump-worthy. There are more of those than “Guitar,” thankfully.

In the end, Love is nothing radical or important, nor will it rank among the greatest Beatles creations out there. We may all have wished for the full-catalog remastering this Christmas, but this is a nice diversion in the meantime. One thing is for sure – Love makes it almost impossible to listen to the original, nearly 20 year old CDs without yearning for those remasters that we know are coming. It couldn’t be possible Apple Corps and Capitol planned it this way, could it? “It was 20 years ago today/Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play . . . “ Do I hear a marketing scheme being hatched? Hmm . . .

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