Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Music: The "new" Beatles CD, "Love"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAre 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 surviving two 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.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBut 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 Musak to it.

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

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAnd 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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