t’s a complete oxymoron, but “new Beatles album” is one of the most overused of phrases in music. Every few years, the line is rushed out and devoured by an expectant media. So far there have been three anthologies, the Yellow Submarine “songtrack,” the 1 compilation, and Let It Be: Naked. Now there is Love, a soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. It’s a collection of well-loved Beatles classics, remixed and remastered by George Martin and his son Giles. It’s not really a new Beatles album—no one’s risen from the dead—but, unlike a simple best of, this “soundscape” does make you listen again, sliding previously unrelated bits into each other in such a way that music recorded before a lot of us were born seems freshly conceived.
The piece begins with an a capella version of “Because”; the only adornment is a twitter of birdsong—a reminder that, despite their monolithic cultural status, The Beatles were just four otherworldly blokes from England. Its mixture of magic and realism sets the tone for what follows. The harmonies fade to silence; the opening chord of “A Hard Days Night” bursts through, spins itself out into a drum sample from “The End,” then into the choppy grooves of “Get Back.” It’s powerful, evocative and, most of all, fun.
In the wake of The Grey Album and less publicized exercises in recontextualization, such as ccc’s Revolved, Apple Corps are somewhat inevitably a little late to the party, but, in having full access to the original masters, they have a rather large advantage over any bedroom beat matcher. The remastering is exemplary; many of the annoyances from the first run of CD reissues are ironed out, giving these songs a sprightly, crisp feel. Indeed, much of the material, even in strange new guises, has never sounded better. The understated take on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” may be preferable to the histrionics of the po-faced original; “Strawberry Fields Forever”’s growth from demo to soundclash, picking up the harpsichord parts of “In My Life” and the coda of “Hello Goodbye” along the way, is astonishing. Nearly every track emphasizes the mix of warmth and genuine strangeness that characterized their later endeavors. There is little from the Fab days, but then the simplicity of earlier efforts would hardly suit the kind of sonic alchemy at play here.
Over the 26 tracks, the ghosts of 130 different individual recordings are referenced; sometimes the whole song, often just a snippet of organ or guitar. Slithers of sound float into the mix, touch the periphery of consciousness, then back away. Figuring out where each part is originally from will be fun for the fanatics, but isn’t necessary to enjoy the mix. In an odd way, The Beatles already sort of sound like this—these sounds are so ingrained into the cultural fabric that, though you may be unable to place it exactly, most can arouse a cursory note of recognition.
This isn’t the “new Beatles album” that the world has been waiting for since 1970. As much as many desire it, recapturing the spirit of that time is a task that is at best quixotic, at worst soul-destroying. There is talk of the band’s back catalog being remastered and, with this kind of quality, that can only be a good thing, because, like it or not—and it certainly is easy to resent their omnipresence—people are going to be listening to these recordings for a few more years. So then: press still looking for the next echo of Beatlemania; popular music still fun and occasionally beautiful; Love still a nebulous but inspirational concept; The Beatles still pretty good.