There are a couple of ways to approach LOVE, a new Beatles album that flirts with heresy by remixing and remodeling the most sacrosanct pop canon of the 20th century. You could figure it as a sop to today’s interactive mash-up culture. Or you could say it’s just extending the medley-ish, segue-happy ethos of Abbey Road to the band’s entire catalog. Really, it’s both, and it’s bliss.
Paul and Ringo weren’t involved beyond approvals, but the album was lovingly assembled by the nearest thing to a Beatle — original producer Sir George Martin, whom many fans consider a ”fifth Fab.” He and his talented son, Giles, were assigned to mess with the masters for a soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name, and tinker they did. The vocal from ”Within You Without You” is married to the Eastern-Zen rhythm bed of ”Tomorrow Never Knows.” It’s mash-up time again — or maybe crash-up? — when the beep-beep-yeahs of ”Drive My Car” become the backing track for ”What You’re Doing,” with ”Word” fragments adding to the gridlock. Beatlemaniacs can anticipate Beatlegasms upon hearing the Martins lay the haunting guitar coda from ”I Want You” over the mad calliope music of ”Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Some tracks wed different recordings of the same song, sequentially (”Strawberry Fields Forever” progresses from demo to finished product) or simultaneously (the surround mix of ”I Want to Hold Your Hand” has the studio version in front speakers and the live Hollywood Bowl recording in the rear).
That cacophony could grow assaultive, but there’s stripping down amid the pile-ons. The exhilarating opener, ”Because,” is now a cappella, and the most glorious choral rock divinity since the Beach Boys’ ”Our Prayer.” ”While My Guitar Gently Weeps” shows up as George Harrison’s solo demo, but with new orchestration composed by the senior Martin; you’ll thank God or Krishna that one George lived long enough to so honor the other.
We’ve looked at LOVE from both sides now, meaning the standard stereo CD and the Audio 5.1 DVD that comes in the deluxe package. By all means, buy the latter (and speakers to play it on), because hearing a merely stereo LOVE after the full surround is like reverting to the mono Sgt. Pepper. The subtlest tweaking of elements lets you hear even excruciatingly overfamiliar recordings — songs many of us have heard thousands of times — as something altogether fresh. It’s ironic that George Martin cited hearing damage when he retired in the ’90s, because in returning for one gracious final offering, he gives us the gift of new ears.