By Bill Friskics-Warren
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
The Beatles' music has been repackaged to death, but "Love," the latest installment, isn't anything like its predecessors. The 78-minute CD doesn't recycle old hits and outtakes but instead presents edited, reshuffled or otherwise tweaked versions of the group's originals.
Created by Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles for a performance of Cirque du Soleil, "Love" is a fascinating and largely winning gambit. Listening to it is a lot like bumping into your next-door neighbor while traveling abroad: The Martins' digital sleight-of-hand produces less the shock of the new than the recognition of the familiar where you least expected it.
You're grooving to the chunky undertow of "Drive My Car," for example, and then you're suddenly singing along with the lyrics of "What You're Doing" that the Martins have placed on top of it. The reimagined "Get Back" kicks off with the opening guitar chord from "A Hard Day's Night," then segues into the famous drum break and dueling guitars from "Carry That Weight" before giving way to the susurrus of crowd noise from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
The Beatles have been subjected to the cut-and-paste treatment before, most notably on 2004's "The Grey Album," Danger Mouse's inspired mash-up of 1968's "White Album" and the "Black Album" by the rapper Jay-Z. "Love," however, differs from such bootleg treatments in two crucial ways. First, the project was sanctioned by Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison. Second, apart from one new string arrangement, it uses no outside material, only recordings from the Beatles' catalogue.
Purists doubtless will decry the Martins' gimmickry as sacrilege; others will just find it disorienting. It's worth remembering, though, that the Beatles tampered with their work when they were together, and with the elder Martin at the controls.
The Fab Four's music is particularly suited to this sort of recombinant legerdemain. Many of their songs are formally compatible, sharing the same beat, key, tempo or harmonic resonance. At their best -- basically anytime the Martins aren't just being cheeky -- the mash-ups on "Love" breathe new life into material that might have lost freshness due to prolonged overexposure.
The opening passage of "Octopus's Garden" is utterly transformed; set to the string part from "Good Night," the new mix betrays a hitherto unheard sadness not just in Ringo's voice, but also in the song's otherwise whimsical lyrics. Equally revealing is the way the superimposed drums from "Tomorrow Never Knows" lend sinew to "Within You Without You," a juxtaposition of disparate tracks that share Indian religious and musical themes.
Maybe more striking than the mash-ups, though, are those recordings from which something has been taken away. Bereft of its guitar and keyboard backing, the a cappella version of "Because" that opens the album draws attention to the group's exquisitely ethereal vocals. Elsewhere, the removal of some of the vocals from "Eleanor Rigby" isolates the haunting lyricism of the string quartet, rendering the song more desolate than ever.
Will any of us play "Love" once the novelty has worn off? Probably so. Almost certainly, it will send us back to the originals to hear them anew.