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The Beatles - LOVE Print E-mail
Monday, 01 January 2007
format:    16-bit CD + 5.1 DVD-Audio/Video (2 Disc)
performance:    9.9
sound:    9.9
release year:    2006
label:    Apple/Capitol/Cirque de Soleil
reviewed by:    Stephen K. Peeples

ImageThere was palpable panic in Pepperland in 2005 when hard-core Beatles fans heard about the Beatles/Cirque du Soleil collaboration to produce a big budget, multi-media live-theatre extravaganza in Las Vegas based on Beatles songs and using the band’s actual original recordings (gasp!).

Historically, the surviving Beatles and their Apple organization have been very aggressive in protecting the sanctity of the band’s original recordings. So you’d figure the survivors wouldn’t start tarnishing the brand now.

Actually, the Beatles-Cirque connection got started several years ago when auto racing gearheads George Harrison and Cirque founder Guy Laliberte met on the circuit and became friends. Eventually Apple, Beatles and survivors all signed off on Laliberte’s Vegas concept.

They worked closely with Cirque’s Head of Creation Gilles Ste-Croix and show director Dominic Champagne on the stage presentation, and brought in original Beatles albums producer Sir George Martin, and his son Giles, to oversee reworking and digitally remixing the music to complement the stage production.

Tagging the Martins was a no-brainer. Sir George was there from the beginning. He may be pushing 80 and have lost most of his “ears,” but he knew where all the instruments were buried. Giles, weaned on Beatles, is a Pro Tools-savvy producer/engineer and was highly mindful of the enormity of his responsibility to do it right.

It certainly helped that the original tapes were technically superior. Martin’s oft-abused, under-appreciated engineers on those 1960s EMI sessions – guys like Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott, Phil McDonald and Glyn Johns – did a stellar job capturing the musical moments with precision and clarity (except when otherwise instructed, as on “Revolution”). In the essay he penned for the LOVE liner notes, Giles respectfully thanked them for doing so.
Adding to the Martins’ good fortune was the pristine condition of the original masters, kept in EMI’s vault four, going on five decades.

From that starting point, the Martins made the most of current digital technology, sometimes simply to clarify a mix or isolate a vocal or effect, other times for a completely new sound collage. Ultimately, they created the aural equivalent of Cirque’s stunning visual presentation.

In June 2006, the final stage production of LOVE premiered at the Mirage in Sin City
with blessings from Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, and much media
fanfare. Original Beatles tracks were indeed played through the theater’s 6,000 speakers while the Cirque performed, yet the universe did not wobble out of control, as some skeptics had predicted. The show was an immediate hit with audiences, and the reviews were mostly positive.

The 26-track LOVE soundtrack followed in November 2006. The standard version is a 78-minute audio CD. The deluxe edition includes the stereo CD plus a hybrid audio/video DVD that clocks in at 81 minutes, with longer edits of “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “Revolution” and “Hey Jude”.

The DVD-audio part of the bonus disc features a high-resolution 96/24 5.1 surround mix, reviewed here. The DVD-video part of the disc also includes 5.1 surround mixes in DTS and Dolby Digital, as well as a PCM stereo mix.

The DVD will play on DVD audio and video equipment, though there’s no video image other than a static yellow screen and the title of the track now playing. I would have liked to have seen the DVD augmented with some of the eye-grabbing photo collages that comprise most of the accompanying the 28-page booklet.

The first Beatles material released in 5.1, the LOVE soundtrack is an explosion of sonic delights you’ll mostly recognize, but you’ve never heard blown up quite like this. It’s a splendid standalone – a musical magical mystery trip even if you’ve never seen the show – and a taste of things to come when Apple/Capitol/EMI get around to releasing 5.1 versions of the band’s original albums.

A big part of the fun of listening to LOVE is pegging the song quotes that come flying in over, under, around and through many of the tracks. It takes more than a few listens to get them all. I’ll share just a few of my favorites with you; there are many others I’ll leave for you to discover firsthand.

On LOVE we hear everything the Beatles were famous for, including vocal harmonies (“Because,” as heard on 1996’s Anthology 3 but even better in surround, with bird SFX), solo acoustic guitar (“Blackbird”/“Yesterday”), string quartet pieces (“Eleanor Rigby”/”Julia Transition”) and backward vocals (“Gnik Nus”) that sound so clean and present you’d think you were right next to the players.

On more ambitious, kitchen-sink digital remixes, the Martins take their cue, literally, from what the Fabs, Sir George and his top Revolver engineer Geoff Emerick did analog-style in summer 1966 in creating John’s avant-rock classic “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Here, Sir George and son Giles sonically and spiritually merge “TNK” with George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” to create a dreamy soundscape with a rhythmic kick. According to Giles’ notes, this was the first track he created in 2003 as part of a 13-minute experimental demo, and because all the right ears loved it, the whole project got the green light. It’s also my personal favorite on LOVE, and reminds me of the fantastic
Doors overlays and collages created by longtime KLOS-FM/Los Angeles DJ Jim Ladd especially for headphone listening while chemically enhanced.

Other masterful mashups include “Get Back,” which kicks off with the final chord from “A Day in the Life” played backward, the opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” and Ringo’s drum solo from “The End”.

“Drive My Car”/“The Word”/”What You're Doing” is driven by drums and cowbell and quotes the famous “Taxman” guitar solo played by McCartney.

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”/”I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”/”Helter Skelter” sets up a Big Top inside your head and puts on a cinematic show, with all the calliope effects, the white noise from an early Moog, and finger-blistering over-the-top guitar.

Ringo’s spotlight is a playful version of “Octopus’s Garden” that incorporates strings from “Goodnight,” effects from “Yellow Submarine” and a bit of drums from “Lovely Rita.”

One of my favorite moments as the original writer/producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series (Shows 1-128, 1988-1990) came while tracking through one of John’s unmarked seven-inch reels, and discovering an acoustic home demo of “Strawberry Fields Forever” that predated the Beatles’ studio recordings, completed in December 1966, that even the bootleggers didn’t have.

Through John’s own tape archives and, ahem, additional sources, the program had enough takes to broadcast several segments of the series that traced the recording’s evolution. We took it all the way from that demo to the first studio version to the two remakes, then finally the released version, created when Lennon ordered Martin to Frankenstein the front part of the first remake together with the second part of remake two. Those segments are among the radio series’ finest moments.

For LOVE, Sir George and Giles have created the dream composite of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” They pieced together and synced up key sections of the demo, the original Take 1, Take 7 of the first remake, and Take 26 of the second, building the track to its final version.

Sweetening the composite’s mix toward the end are “Sgt. Pepper” horns, “Penny Lane” trumpets, “A Day in the Life” piano, “Piggies” harpsichord and “Hello Goodbye” vocals.
It all works brilliantly; about the only thing missing is Lennon’s “Calm down, Ringo!” comment to the drummer at the end of the second remake’s basic track. That quibble aside, this version is both a vivid illustration of Lennon’s creative process as a writer and in the studio, and a thrill to hear with all the quotes.

Several LOVE tracks are presented with little to no embellishment other than their 5.1 remixing (“Help!,” “Something,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “A Day in the Life” with pre-Take 1 studio chatter, “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “All You Need is Love”), which imbues them all with more power and presence than any versions I’ve ever heard.

Another mostly unaltered track is “I Am the Walrus,” but the second half of this version is especially notable because it appears here in stereo for the first time anywhere. The track was originally mixed in mono with a BBC broadcast flown in live. Digital technology made it possible for the Martins to separate the various instrumental, vocal and sound effects parts, and now you can hear them with startling clarity.

Listening to a two-channel front speaker playback of “Revolution” on studio monitors used to blow you away, like the guy in the ad sitting in front of his speakers and getting his hair blown straight back. Hearing “Revolution” in surround, at even medium volume, your mop gets blown in all directions; you can feel the distorted guitar slashing right through you and Ringo’s kick drum kicking you in the ass.

The only new music on LOVE is a Martin-composed string chart to accompany George Harrison’s heart-stopping solo demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” from July 1968, and the new score fits perfectly. If you’d never heard the rock version with Eric Clapton released later that year on The Beatles (aka The White Album), this one would certainly sound definitive.

Instead of wrapping up with the now-cliché “…and in the end/the love you take…” tag, from “The End” on Abbey Road, LOVE ends with “All You Need is Love,” the all-star sing-along via satellite from the summer ‘67, which is more appropriate to the musical.

As the song closes, you hear a snippet from the Beatles’ 1965 Christmas record, where Lennon remarks, “This is Johnny Rhythm, just sayin’ good night to y’se all, and God bless ya!” (We threw lots of goofy stuff like that into the “Lost Lennon Tapes” end credits each week!)

My only issue is the lack of pre-1965 material, beyond “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (recorded fall 1963, layered here with the live Hollywood Bowl version from summer 1964) and the aforementioned opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” (recorded early ’64).

Meant to be a soundtrack of the Cirque stage production, which focuses mainly on the psychedelic 1966-1969 era, it follows that the CD and DVD would be heavy on the same era. At the same time, it would seem there were opportunities galore in these mixes to quote more of the earlier songs and signature riffs and rhythms.

In the end, though, LOVE underscores the beauty, passion and timelessness of the Beatles’ songs and recordings, in a new old-fashioned way. Sir George, his son and their crew have reinvented what most people thought was impossible to improve upon. We have to thank George for the initial connection, and the Fab 2, Yoko, Olivia and Apple for giving LOVE a chance.

George Martin and Giles Martin produced; Giles programmed and sequenced the tracks using Pro Tools. His right-hand remix engineer was Paul Hicks. Steve Rooke mastered the stereo mix at Abbey Road, while Tim Young mastered the 5.1 surround at Metropolis Mastering.

The 96/24 5.1 mix reviewed here brings startling new clarity and brilliance to the existing material, as well as the newly created pieces. Ringo’s drums snap, McCartney’s bass throbs and soars, the guitars sparkle, the vocals are more in your face, and previously buried effects jump out. It’s great to hear Lennon vocals dry, without the echo and other effects he usually demanded to make up for what he thought were his vocal shortcomings. He needn’t have worried; he had a great set of pipes naturally.

Bring on the catalog in 5.1!

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