If you’re going to remix and remaster a bunch of Beatles tunes, and bring in legendary former producer George Martin and his son Giles to do it, I’m going to expect more than “Love.” This album simply doesn’t go far enough.
Not with songs that, by and large, are as familiar as exhalations.
Sure, purists will chafe at the edited versions of several treasured favorites (“Back in the USSR,” “I am The Walrus,” “Hey Jude”), even while they perhaps rejoice that they’re presented without overdubs.
Me? I hoped for more aggressive experimentation throughout and, in fact, wish Martin had continued refining the kind of mash-up we find here with “Get Back,” recently reissued onThat Martin didn’t, well, that makes this album less epiphany than novelty.
Still, “Get Back” begins like a rocket freeing itself from the earth: First, there’s the timeless initial note from “A Hard Day’s Night,” then the drum solo from the finale “The End” off 1969’sand the crescendo from 1967’s “A Day in the Life,” and then — quite thrillingly — part of the guitar solo from later in “The End” … all before we finally arrive at the original song’s familiar riff and opening verse.
One tune later, the chorus from “Hello, Goodbye” and a line from “Strawberry Fields” skitter over the opening of “Glass Onion” from the double-album release “The Beatles” in 1968 — like the Fabs have been dropped in a Cuisineart.
Even if it’s not something as timeless as the original, there is a bright surprise to these reworkings. At its best, this album makes new sounds out of old ones.
As Lennon sings the opening, synthesized verse from “Tomorrow Never Knows” off 1966’s— you know, “relax and float down stream” — Ringo’s towering signature from that tune moves in and around Harrison’s “Within You, Without You.” That’s how a previously all-but unlistenable drone from 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper” became my favorite song on “Love.”
But as with much of the Beatles’ 1966-67 period of drug-fueled experimentation into psychedelia, “Love” is a remarkable feat when it works — and a juvenile exercise when it doesn’t.
The need, it seems, to make something happen looms over this project like the orchestration from “A Day in the Life” during Billy Preston’s solo in “Get Back.” And all the fiddling around doesn’t always work.
Those moments of crazy-diamond beauty end up arriving less often than the times when it all seems superfluous.
“Julia” is attached — and that’s how it feels, like a clumsy ironed-on decal — to “Eleanor Rigby,” as is “I Want You” to the end of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Bird sounds over the majesty of four-part harmony on “Because” from “Abbey Road” actually make it smaller, which never seemed possible.
That said, there are moments when more conventional editing works, particularly on acoustic versions of “Strawberry Fields” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I’m still a sucker for Martin’s now-nostalgic sounding flourishes of horns and strings. A simple segue from Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” to an instrumental passage from “The Inner Light” ends up making a dream-life song almost euphoric.
If Martin doesn’t have the heart to completely, and consistently, blow these songs up, though, perhaps he should turn his attention to softer concepts like these. It’s certainly something that could be a more worthy project for Martin — who did a nice orchestrating job in the mid-1990s, completing an unfinished demo from Lennon’scalled “Grow Old Along With Me.”
To me, though, this album is at its best when Martin gets outside of convention — like say, during the extended coda for “Strawberry Fields” when he dares some knob-turning genius. Flourishes from “Sgt. Pepper,” the solo — which Martin actually played on harpsichord — from “In My Life,” “Penny Lane,” “Piggies” and “Hello, Goodbye” (again? he must have liked that one) drift by.
With that, an easy breath out becomes a quick gasp in. You realize this thing could have been so much more.
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