Sunday, December 24, 2006

I love "Love"

I love Love. That’s the short version of my review of the latest album to be labeled as “The Beatles.” And since the two living Beatles as well as the widows of the other two actually consented to this project, I suppose the label has some legitimacy. I love “Love.” I want to go to Las Vegas and see Cirque du Soleil perform “Love,” to see how the music and show weave together. Music has always been a vital part of the Cirque du Soleil experience, going back to 1992’s Saltimbanco and beyond. So I imagine the stage production of “Love,” as a lifelong Beatles fan and a longtime Cirque du Soleil fan, and hope that eventually I’ll see it.

Listening to “Love” is almost like a test for a longtime Beatles fan. It’s not just the 26 tracks on the listing, or the 37 original Beatles songs listed on those track titles. There are quite a few that are unlisted, enough so that for my 2nd listen I took notes. I’m sure I’ll recognize passages in future listens that I haven’t yet identified, that much is inevitable. [note: I’ve not yet heard any passages from songs the Beatles covered, it’s only original compositions so far]

Still, this album holds together as a single performance piece. I imagine it as a backdrop for a stage show, so I suppose I am less concerned than some might be as to the extent of the “mash-up.” As a general rule, the mash-ups occur at the beginnings and ends of tracks, and to tie tracks together. Only on rare occasions do tracks stand completely untouched, or where the mash-ups are in the main body of the tracks. These factors will likely limit airplay of individual tracks.

I fell almost sheepish, then, doing a track-by-track breakdown of the album. But this is The Beatles, and it’s The Beatles in a new way. So, to get my own thoughts together, that’s what I’ve done. My favorites? Maybe the blasting remix of “Revolution,” or perhaps “A Day in the Life,” separated out with a practice of the alarm clock and John counting off by saying “Sugarplum Fairies.” Or perhaps it’s the joker laughing at the expert texpert choking smoker from around the room, or the guitar detail of “Yesterday,” or “Within You Without You” going over the drum part to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” There’s a lot to choose from, here.

Before the track-by-track breakdown, then, two concluding thoughts:
1) The sound quality on this release is stunning. It’s light years beyond the official catalogue releases, to the extent that it seems almost embarrassing to put one on to compare. If this is an indicator as to what can be accomplished when the full catalogue is finally remastered, all I can say is, “Bring it On!!”
2) The CD version of this album is a nice enough listen. But it’s not in the same reality as the DVD version. I don’t have DVD-A, and I expect that may be best of all. But the 5.1 sound completely blows away any Beatles listening experience I’ve ever had. I’ll also note that the CD is somewhat truncated in order to make the album fit on to a single disc; “Revolution” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” in particular, are severely edited. On CD, the album is a nice curiosity. On DVD, it’s a masterpiece.

Brief notes on the tracks:
1) Because: This is presented a capella, with long delays between each passage. One can easily imagine Cirque du Soleil’s show opening up to this. As an edit, it’s among the more radical on the album.
2) Get Back: The lead in to the song features the famous chord from “A Hard Day’s Night,” the ending from “A Day in the Life” (backwards), and the drum solo from “The End.” It builds, finally exploding in to Paul’s vocal for “Get Back.” Either the echo was cranked up for this one, or my delay is too long, but it’s still a great effect. The 2nd verse is removed.
3) Glass Onion: Another heavy dose of echo, with some booming base that has it rocking harder than on the White Album. Bits of “Hello, Goodbye” and “Penny Lane” are mixed in, and those songs will show up again later in the set. This is also the first song where John’s writing and Paul’s writing are freely mixed, but not the last!
4) Eleanor Rigby: As with “Because,” I imagine what Cirque du Soleil might be doing on this one. Of course, Eleanor Rigby was used in the “Yellow Submarine” movie (as well as in that movie Paul made in the mid ‘80’s that shall not be named), so maybe it’s not such a stretch. Unlike the album version, which explodes with the 3-part vocal harmony, this version starts with just strings, then adding Paul’s voice, and only at the end do we hear the harmony parts. During the transition there’s a passage from “Julia,” as well as bits that I think come from “A Day in the Life” and “Revolution #9.”
5) I am the Walrus: What a frightening, awesome track! Presented here not just in full stereo, but in rather stunning surround. A mash-up is neither needed nor wanted during the body of this song. When it gets to the final verse and the jokers are laughing, they come flying in from all parts of the room. This track is about as close to intact as any on the first half of the album; can’t wait for a remaster of the regular album version.
6) I Want to Hold Your Hand: With a lead-in intro from Ed Sullivan and plenty of audience screaming (presumably not from 1964, not that it’d matter). But it’s just the studio version, sounding good though without the 2nd verse.
7) Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing: The biggest mash-up of the album, with all 3 songs synced and going together. This one has gotten a lot of attention because it’s probably the most daring of the remixes. I think it works pretty well. The “Taxman” guitar solo is also worked in to the mash-up.
8) Gnik Nus: The amazing thing, to me, is that it actually sounds like they are singing “Gnik Nus.”
9) Something: Wonderful part separation on the mix, with the strings coming in from behind on the surround. The bass is played up to nice effect. “Blue Jay Way” and “Nowhere Man” are used for the transition.
10) Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite/I Want You (She’s So Heavy)/Helter Skelter: I suppose it was inevitable that Mr. Kite would show off; after all, this is a circus show (of sorts). Most of it is played straight, with “I Want You” and “Helter Skelter” coming in only at the end. Several other songs are used in that ending passage, I think, but I haven’t yet identified them.
11) Help: A basic stereo mix, played straight up.
12) Blackbird/Yesterday: The guitar part for “Blackbird” has been altered enough on pitch to create a match for “Yesterday.” Is it necessary? Well, no. “Yesterday” doesn’t need a lead-in. But, then again, I haven’t seen the stage show. The guitar detail on “Yesterday” is stunning.
13) Strawberry Fields Forever: Maybe my first disappointment of the disc, as the imagination here doesn’t much exceed what was already done on “Anthology.” The switch-over from A to B on the versions of the song is painfully obvious here, even more so than in the official release (which I never figured out until George Martin said so in an interview once upon a time). The sound quality of the drums changes radically from A to B, and I would have hoped that the edit might have smoothed that over a little. It would still hold up as a straight listen, were it not for the mash-up over the closing sequence. This may be the biggest mash-up of the entire disc, as “In My Life,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Penny Lane,” “Piggies,” and “Hello, Goodbye” are all thrown in to the mix. The “Penny Lane” passage, which is drawn from the trumpet solo, was also partially used during “Glass Onion.” It’s the first repeat I’ve detected on the album, and a little annoying – there are so many tracks and parts to use, it just didn’t seem necessary to do that.
14) Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows: Hearing Within You Without You with a rock beat is really cool. It rocks, it rocks in surround. I think there’s a bit of “Rain” thrown in there, too.
15) Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: Builds slowly to the start, a cool effect, with “Tomorrow Never Knows” still swirling about, and coming back at the end. Sgt. Pepper makes another appearance here, and “Good Night” makes its first appearance (in a different key), leading in to…
16) Octopus’s Garden: Sung by Ringo over the strings for “Good Night,” another song he sang. Only later in the song opening up to the full rock version. Sound effects from “Yellow Submarine” are thrown in,” and at the end we get a bit of “Sun King,” going forward this time.
17) Lady Madonna: kicking off by reconstructing the breaks from drums, voice and sax. The drums sound to me like they’re pulled from “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road.” This builds back in to the main song, as with the “Get Back” track earlier in the set. When it’s time for the break, it’s time for one of the more mashed-up combinations: Billy Preston’s organ from “I Want You/She’s So Heavy,” Eric Clapton’s minor key guitar solo from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and the guitar solo from “Hey, Bulldog.”
18) Here Comes the Sun: Another nice use of the surround sound experience for strings. “Within You Without You” makes another appearance at the end, and the rarely heard B-side “The Inner Light” is used for the transition.
19) Come Together/Dear Prudence: Although “Dear Prudence” is listed in the track title, this one is basically “Come Together,” straight up, with a big, booming bass sound. Remarkably clear, and another one that makes me imagine a full remastering. Slightly truncated at the end. The appearance of “Dear Prudence” during the final passage is a little annoying here, it feels gratuitous, as if just slapped on over the top. The playout of “Cry Baby Cry,” the “can you take me back where I came from” part sung by Paul, is in a lower key. “Eleanor Rigby” also makes a brief re-appearance.
20) Revolution: Guitar all over the place! Compare this one to the original studio track to get the full effect. No mash-up here, the Martins knew well enough not to mess with it too much. Note: The CD version is severely truncated, and is missing both the break and the final verse.
21) Back in the U.S.S.R.: Most of the airplane intro is gone, and it leads in with the drums. Another one to rock the house. Paul’s voice is pumped up at the very end. Note: The CD version is severely truncated, and is missing the break.
22) While My Guitar Gently Weeps: An outtake version with a new string orchestration from George Martin. Also includes a verse that’s not on the White Album version: “I look from the wings at the play you are staging/While my guitar gently weeps/As I am sitting here doing nothing but aging/Still my guitar gently weeps.”
23) A Day in the Life: Sugarplum Fairies, Sugarplum Fairies! What an intro to one of John’s most awesome tracks! Played pretty much straight up, except that the beat appears to be straightened out a bit during the first break – I suppose it makes it easier for the stage show. The closing chord is more powerful than ever, in all its 43 and a half second glory.
24) Hey Jude: Played straight up for a while, but then mixed up a bit. Most notably during the “na na” section, wherein the music is broken down to just voices, drums and bass, and built back up. The effect is very similar to recent vintage McCartney concerts, which makes it one of the more disappointing tracks for me – not that I mind recent vintage McCartney concerts.
25) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise): Another track I should have expected considering the stage show. Played pretty much straight up.
26) All You Need is Love: A fitting closer, not just for the stage show, but also because it was, in a sense, an original mash-up. The original recording had John singing the word “Yesterday,” and Paul doing the chorus of “She Loves You,” and the saxophones doing the intro to “In the Mood.” Most of the song here is played straight, until the end, when bits of “Ticket to Ride” and “Good Night” are thrown in. The song, and album, ends with John Lennon speaking over the closing strings from “Good Night”: “This is Johnny Rhythm, just saying good night to yous all and God bless yous.” That last bit may be the rarest of all on the entire record, being drawn from the Beatles fan club Christmas record of 1965. And, like so much of Love, it fits beautifully.
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