Love (Parlophone) * * * *
Review by Andrew Cowen
Here's a question . . . When is a Beatles album not a Beatles album? That's the knotty conundrum which has been sparking untold debate amongst Beatles brains these past few months.
When news came out that George Martin and his son, Giles, were working on a soundtrack for a sumptuous new show by Cirque du Soleil based on Beatles music, remixed and layered, tongues started to wag.
The project has been overseen by "fifth Beatle", Sir George Martin, but the bulk of the work has been undertaken by the legendary producer's son Giles. Over a two year period Martin Jnr sifted through the Abbey Road vaults, digitised its contents and set about matching keys and tempos to build up a patchwork quilt of great Beatles moments.
The results were played to the Twotles – Paul and Ringo – who gave it their blessing and the whole 80-minute piece was mixed for 5.1 sound. It's a last hurrah for octogenarian Sir George and maybe the last word on the Beatles too.
On first listening to the finished article, it's a dizzying experience. Imagine returning home and finding that all your furniture has been taken and replaced with close replicas. Love's a bit like that. It's the familiar – sometimes over-familiar – in unfamiliar settings and, after a period of adjustment, it works like a dream.
Rather than the archeologically-inclined Anthology sets, this is very much an album in its own right.
Sequenced in a way that provides a narrative and comment on the Fab Four's legacy, it's the first post-modern Beatles album. And, sonically, it sounds amazing. It's like a layer of grime has been removed from an Old Master. And I suppose it has.
Giles Martin is clearly a black belt in ProTools, the digital software that makes all this funky revisionism possible. Rather than playing spot the join, Beatles trainspotters are going to have a field day spotting the various sources used in the album.
For instance, after a lovely opening acapella Because, we get a Ringo drum solo and the first chord of A Hard day's Night. Musical handbrake turns abound as you're assaulted from all directions and from all stages of the band's career.
The best bits come from the Beatles' psychedelic purple patch. Here the collage technique chimes with the band's old working methods. Strawberry Fields is sourced from a demo and dickered with to stunning effect.
Sir George's main contribution is a new string quartet arrangement for a Harrison demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It's a magic moment.
Tomorrow Never Knows becomes just another ingredient in a tripped out sonic soup. Get Back has a snarl that sounds almost sinister. Everywhere your ears go, there's something arresting for them to find.
The Beatles have finally joined the mash-up generation. Maybe it's the existence of Danger Mouse's massively influential Grey Album bootleg, where Jay-Z's rapping is given a new home on top of samples from the fabs' White Album, or any number of sampling-driven remixes, but this sounds old and modern at the same time.
Love won't claim a place in the official Beatles canon. Those albums recorded in an extraordinary seven-year burst are finished business. As an addition to the growing satellite of spin-offs, it's a stunning addition.
You'll listen to it more than the anthologies, I guarantee.