November 25, 2006

"'Strawberry Fields Forever' builds ... into a psychedelic swirl ... of 'Hello Goodbye,' 'Baby You're a Rich Man,' 'Penny Lane' and Piggies.''"

Are you listening to the new Beatles album "Love," the soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil show? I am.
"I had fresh ears -- if you can have fresh ears to the Beatles -- and my job was to make things different,'' said [George Martin's son Giles] Martin, who was born in 1969 as the band was breaking up.

The rules were simple: Beatles tracks only, no electronic distortion of what they recorded, and no newly recorded music. The single exception was a string arrangement, written by original Beatles producer George Martin, to accompany an acoustic version of Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps.''...

I'm disappointed,'' [Beatles biographer Bob] Spitz said. "Not by the end product but by the fact that they are the Beatles' songs and overdubbing them and massaging them allows other people to impose their own creative ideas on something that was so immediate and of a particular time. I thought that legacy was virtually tamper-proof, until now.

"Once you meddle with something so fixed in the public's mind, you will risk having a failure on the proportion to Twyla Tharp doing Bob Dylan,'' Spitz said, in a reference to the musical that closed this month after less than a month on Broadway.
Is risk-taking inherently bad? You have the record. Judge it! Is it bad? I find it quite amusing. It's fun to encounter the lovable snippets -- e.g., the initial chord from "Hard Day's Night" -- out of place and leading to something surprising. It's nice to have the cool part of a song -- e.g., "Hela, heba helloa/Hela, heba helloa" -- extracted from the dross that is the rest of the song -- "Hello, Goodbye."

Let's look for some more opinion. There's this:
[I]t's exhausting.... There are 26 tracks which take elements from 130 different songs, whether it's a whole song or a guitar lick or a drum beat.

Some of them vaguely work as a curiosity, but are pretty obvious - Tomorrow Never Knows is one of the most mind-bending pop songs ever written (never mind that the group came up with it way back in 1966), but if you were going to mix it with another track, then Harrison's similarly Eastern-leaning Within You Without You is staring you in the face.

There are tweety birds in the background of an a capella Because. They place a live version and the studio version of I Want To Hold Your Hand over the top of each other. Drive My Car gets caught in a traffic jam with The Word and What You're Doing. Immediately after what is possibly the most famous sustained guitar chord in modern music (from the opening of A Hard Day's Night) comes possibly my favourite drum fill of all time (from The End on Abbey Road), and they're both bolted on rather clumsily to the front of Get Back.

Why? Martin is like a master chef, and these songs in their original form are gourmet meals, but Love takes these delicious dishes, pours them into a blender, hits the puree button, sticks a straw in it and asks you to suck.
And there's this:
[M]y skepticism was evaporated about 10 seconds into the album. "Love" is a work of art from original Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles that keeps the spirit of originality and inventiveness that the Beatles poured into their songwriting and recording.

What the two Martins did is nothing short of audio voodoo. They've created the ultimate Beatles "mash-up." Combing through all the Beatles original master tapes, they grouped together songs of the same tempo, same key and same feel and layered parts of some songs into the middle of others. For example, the intro to "Get Back" is Ringo's rollicking drum solo from Abbey Road's "The End." "Blackbird" segues seamlessly into "Yesterday." Vocal harmonies from "Hello Goodbye" float throughout the background of many of the songs. I got a huge kick out of hearing the solo from "Taxman" inserted into "Drive My Car." And who knew "I Want You She's So Heavy" would make an absolutely perfect outro to "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite?" Those examples merely scratch the surface of the mix-and-match approach that makes this album brilliant.
Every fibre in my Beatles-freak being warned me not to be excited about the new Beatles album, Love....

[R]emixing all these classic tunes – as the soundtrack to a Cirque de Soleil Las Vegas show – is like messing with Picasso, or cut-and-pasting Tolstoy. Why do it?

Here's the answer. It's brilliant....

Love begins with the exquisite harmony vocals from Because floating in the ether. Then comes – what's that! – the closing chord from A Day in the Life played backwards so that it builds to a crescendo, followed by that unmissable opening chord from A Hard Day's Night, then Ringo's drums from The End, before somehow slipping in to Get Back as if that's the way it had always been done.

That magically segues into Glass Onion, seamlessly blended with hints of Hello Goodbye and what must be bits of brass reconstituted from Pepper. Nothing is real, indeed....

Play it without looking at the track listing and feel the buzz when you recognise what that tape-flipped-backwards choir is that leads to Something, or the guitar part from Blackbird turning into Yesterday.

And when Being for fhe Benefit of Mr Kite meets the heavy riff from I Want You and parts of Helter Skelter, the effect is totally in keeping with the spirit of The Beatles and the way they pushed the envelope of studio technology in the first place.
Enough. The point is made.


Ron said...

I like this sort of thing, (mash-ups especially) because it always puts a new twist on long-familiar material. Is it always the best? No, but I'm not sure how much that matters. We're always constructing and re-constructing the songs in our heads, and this is the same thing, done by professionals!

dearieme said...

To the point: do I buy it for my wife for Christmas. Yeah or nay?

Anonymous said...

Once you meddle with something so fixed in the public's mind...

What crap! The Beatles' catalog has been here, there, and everywhere (ha) ever since Michael Jackson bought the catalog. I mean, who couldn't predict that "Here Comes the Sun" would be used in a Windex commercial?

When I was a kid I owned every Beatles' album on vinyl and many of the compilation albums (Love Songs, Rock'n'Roll) besides. I can recite these songs backwards and forwards, and just the descriptions of these mash-ups is enough for me to construct them in my head and "hear" how they'd sound. It seems pretty cool to me, actually, a way to access the original material in a non-boring way.

Yeah, it's trivializing to a degree, but we're talking about pop music here, right? IMO, this is perfect gift material. It's not something I'm compelled to buy for myself, but I'd expect to enjoy it if it somehow came into my possession.

Gordon Freece said...

This may not be the worst sentence in the history of rock journalism, but it's a respectable effort:

"Love takes these delicious dishes, pours them into a blender, hits the puree button, sticks a straw in it and asks you to suck."

"Asks you to suck", eh? Yeah, and leads by example, no doubt.

What's the one thing in more execrably bad taste than the Beatles? OK, OK, the one thing other than Cirque du Soleil that's in worse taste than the Beatles? "Mash ups", that's what.

There's something audacious, though, about merging such disparately monstrous flavors of kitsch. What'll they use for a stage backdrop, dogs playing poker? On black velvet? Can they work this into a Super Bowl halftime show, do you think? That would be the ultimate. Their mission won't truly be complete until they perpetrate the whole shabby, ludicrously self-important monstrosity on the fifty yard line, poker-dogs and all.

Hey, y'know what? People are going to pay real money for tickets to see these idiots contorting to taped music. Or do they always use taped music? They should, really. Nothing else would quite fit.

Gordon Freece said...

Was that a bit over the top?

Oh, well. Somebody has to hate the Beatles. Or at least say something about them other than complacent, suffocatingly pious, self-congratulatory baby-boomer orthodoxies.

Ann Althouse said...

P. Froward: I guess you've never been to a Cirque du Soleil show.... They're really enjoyable. It's true the music is taped, but it's really good, and what you are seeing live is amazing... definitely worth seeing in person. I've seen it on TV too and it doesn't have the same effect. (The one I saw is "Mystere"... but I'd go to Las Vegas and see all the shows.)

Gordon Freece said...

See C.d.S.?! How on Earth could I remain objective if I did that?

I've heard some of the music, though, and it bugged me.