Friday, November 10, 2006

Return of The Four Headed Monster

The Beatles (Pop/Mash-up)LP: Love (2006)

On The White Album’s Revolution No. 9, The Beatles - unconsciously channeling 60s avant-gardists Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono - experimented with cut-up techniques pioneered by 1950s Beat Generation enfant terrible William S. Burroughs. Intent on challenging the linearity of popular culture, Burroughs - himself later tributed on the cover of Sgt Pepper - had famously asserted that “When you cut word lines the future leaks out”, a point not to be lost on hip-hoppers and samplers some 40 years later.

A touch of Burroughsian iconoclasm would have made a world of difference on Love, soundtrack to Cirque de Soleil's Las Vegas extravaganza. In fact, we might have had a minor masterpiece on our hands had this project been approached in the manner of CCC’s Revolved or Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, both of which famously mashed up The Beatles to intriguing effect.

As it is, Love was overseen by Beatles' producer George Martin and son Giles, both perhaps inhibited by excessive reverence for their source material and the constraints of producing what is, after all, the soundtrack to a Las Vegas circus show. As a result, there’s little evidence of future shock, rather another engaging exercise in Beatles nostalgia which is sure to fly off store shelves by the boxload.

That’s not to say that Love isn’t a good listen, or its recontextualization a complete failure. After all, this IS The Beatles. Part gimmickry and part a jaw-dropping reshuffle of pop's mightiest back-catalog, Love is a giddy joyride through moptop history. Beatlemaniacs will thrill to its juxtaposition of familiar favorites, and advances in studio technology ensure that a splendid time is guaranteed for most, if not all.

The acerbic anti-establishment rant I am the Walrus has never sounded this good on CD. The results here are breathtaking, in particular George Martin's celebrated cello arrangement, which benefits from dramatic, crystal clear definition. Similarly, the distorted guitars on Revolution ROCK…BIG TIME, while The Beatles' harmony vocals have to be heard on this recording to be believed.

Other inspired touches, such as McCartney’s blistering Taxman guitar solo grafted onto Drive My Car, are great fun, and the group's two greatest songs, A Day in the Life and Hey Jude, acquire a new-found sonic majesty here, courtesy, again, of superb remastering. John Ono Lennon - a huge fan of studio wizardry - would surely have approved of the backwards-rendered ‘Gnik Nus (Sun King), a divinely gorgeous sound which shows what could have been achieved here with a tad more imagination.

Case in point is the juxtaposition of Lennon's Tomorrow Never Knows with George Harrison's Within You Without You. While eerily effective, the combination is an obvious one, both tracks long since immortalized as cornerstones of eastern-influenced mid-period Beatles psychedelia. The mix of Strawberry Fields Forever, combining Lennon's early demo with the gradual studio evolution of the song, is essentially no different from what was presented on the Anthology version, and ends with an aimless smorgasbord of fab snippets which contributes to a general feeling of hollowness.

To be sure, it all sounds marvellous, but rather like a souped up version of those 1970s Beatles Stars on 45 singles. Ringo fans may get a kick hearing his droll rendering of Octopus’ Garden pasted over the syrupy strings from The White Album's Goodnight, but really what's the point? And while Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds sounds amazing, the increased brightness still doesn’t hide the fact that it was one of Sgt Pepper’s most under-realized tracks.

Most of Love will I'm sure make more sense when heard in the context of the Las Vegas show. One can easily imagine being blown away hearing this stuff through a multi-million dollar sound system. Though purists may bemoan the cranked up rhythm track, Macca's bass lines are now afforded a punch and prominence they couldn't always enjoy on Beatles analog recordings, while Ringo's drums hit home with impressive new force and clarity throughout.

Nevertheless, as a home listening experience there are moments where the whole exercise seems - if impressive - rather pointless. Once the novelty has worn off it's unlikely that listeners will often return to this album since, rather than suggest new levels of meaning or interpretation, Love fails to push the envelope far enough. DE- rather than RE-contextualized, much is lost, little gained. We are simply reminded of why we loved The Beatles so much in the first place.

So those anticipating a "new" Beatles album will be disappointed. The project mainly serves as a tribute to the excellent original recordings and, if nothing else, shows that - in light of advances in digital technology - The Beatles’ main back catalog would benefit from some serious remastering.

Fab Four anoraks will enjoy hours of pleasure spotting each cut and paste, but there will be those for whom Love is merely the latest irritation in an endless nostalgia fest. Whatever your view, it’s clear that what Mick Jagger described as "the four-headed monster" shows no sign of fading away. Once again The Beatles get back, and Love is an entertaining if at times exhausting trip through their era-defining masterworks.


Conchito Marrakon said...

You're right, man, it's a big fuss about the nothing. The Beatles are a great band, but I feel the well's running dry.

Carole Gillespie said...

I don't really agree with either Shiffi or Conchito.I can't stop playing "Love" and I'm heading to see the show in Vegas this Christmas.

Semi-charmed life said...

This is the best review I've seen of this album. Who is Shiffi le Soy?

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Thank you for your compliment, "Semi-charmed life". I'd rather maintain my cyber-anonymity for now. I'm sure you'll understand.

Alluneediscash said...

The remixes the Martins have achieved on "Love" are nothing any fool couldn't do with Garageband or similar software, allbeit with more advanced sound quality. Mr. Le Soy is right on the money.