The Beatles’ Love was a worthy concept not taken far enough

Share this:

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 U.S.S.R.,” “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.” That the Martins didn’t, well, that still makes Love — released on November 20, 2006 — less epiphany than novelty.

Still, Paul McCartney’s “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’s Abbey Road and 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 Revolver — you know, “relax and float down stream” — Ringo Starr’s towering signature from that tune moves in and around George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You.” That’s one of the lesser-loved tracks from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 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 an almost empty 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 amount to much.

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 the Beatles’ Abbey Road actually make it smaller, which never seemed possible.

That said, there are instances in which more conventional editing works, particularly on acoustic versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” 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 George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” to an instrumental passage from “The Inner Light” ends up making a dream-like song almost euphoric. If George Martin didn’t have the heart to completely, and consistently, blow these songs up though, perhaps he should have turned his attention to softer concepts like these.

It was certainly something that could have been a more worthy project for someone like Martin — who did a delicately gorgeous orchestrating job in the mid-1990s with an unfinished demo from John Lennon’s last sessions called “Grow Old Along With Me.”

To me, however, the Beatles’ Love is at its best when Martin gets outside of convention — like say, during the extended coda for “Strawberry Fields Forever” 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.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
Share this: