Title: This is the tie-in album for a Cirque du Soleil theatre show of the same name, which was based on and used the music of the Beatles. George Martin and his son Giles mixed the show’s soundtrack from the band’s original multi-track recordings, using 130 different songs and mashing up and cross-editing elements left, right and centre. They had the entire Beatles discography to play with to create their soundscape…
Cover: It uses swishes of yellow, orange and red, presumably to suggest some kind of hippy trip, but it’s pretty bland and corporate.
Best song: For its sheer bravado, the mash-up of Drive My Car, The Word and What You’re Doing is fantastic. The 114-second track takes three songs recorded over a spread of 14 months and makes them seem inseparable. (The guitar solo from Taxman is also thrown in for good measure.)
Honourable mentions: The opening ‘movement’ is extraordinary. We begin with Because’s pure, clean vocals and no instruments, then the famous piano crash from the end of A Day in the Life is played in reverse (so rather than fading out, it ‘powers up’). When that peaks, the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night acts like the swish of the stage curtains: the show has started. Next comes Ringo’s drum solo from The End, thrillingly set to the pumping guitar of Get Back, before the latter song kicks into gear; we then dramatically cut to a section of Glass Onion. This is fantastic stuff, showing real invention and wit on the part of the producers. And the highlights keep coming… Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite! has a sinister new ending: a nightmarish leap into an abyss, using the music from I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and vocals from Helter Skelter. Conversely, one of the album’s most beautiful moments comes when 26 seconds of Blackbird’s finger-picked guitar gracefully acts as an overture for Yesterday. Strawberry Fields Forever is a mash-up all on its own: various takes, including a John Lennon home demo, are blended together with invisible edits. The effect is music that grows in intensity and complexity as it goes along, echoing the song’s original writing/production process. There’s also an anarchic play-out that quotes numerous other songs, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, In My Life, Piggies and Hello Goodbye. One of the most attention-grabbing sections of the album is Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows, which combines the former with the latter’s relentless bassline and drum pattern. It’s a remarkable fit, giving George’s Indian song an almost trance quality. The track then segues into Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds via a deliberately disjointed segment that spaces out the notes of Lucy’s guitar riff. More great ‘new intros’ follow: the music from Good Night is used as an opening on Octopus’s Garden, while Lady Madonna is teased by repeating a drum fill and bringing the saxes up front before the song proper begins. Finally, one of my favourite sections of the whole album is the way Hey Jude merges into Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise). The music drops out, leaving just Paul’s evangelical singing, the backing vocals and the drumming. Then the deliciously plump bass rejoins, followed by the orchestra for a few more iterations of ‘Naaah, nah, nah, nah-nah-nah-nah’ – then the horn section’s notes are stretched out to provide a platform for Sgt Pepper’s rock guitar to kick off. Superb.
Worst song: Whether we need Sun King played in reverse is debatable.
Notable outside contributions: The only new recording on the album is a string accompaniment, written by George Martin, for the acoustic take of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Alternate versions: Three songs worked on at the time but left off the album were Girl, The Fool on the Hill and She’s Leaving Home. The first two were later released as iTunes exclusives: The Fool on the Hill is my favourite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MTMq17m0_0
Review: The Martins showed genuine vision in creating this 79-minute mash-up. As a listening experience it’s magnificent. It couldn’t fail to be with this track listing. And as a formal exercise in remixing, it’s both fascinating and engrossing. Some tracks are essentially left ‘as are’ – for example, other than being programmed into a segueing sequence, Help! and Revolution are presented as we all know them. But the album’s real joy comes when songs crash, collide and cross-pollinate. For those of us who have known the Beatles canon for longer than we can remember, spotting how different elements are being used – a piano part here, a bassline there – is an endlessly enjoyable puzzle. (“Oh, it’s Hey Bulldog’s guitar riff!” “Are those the backing vocals from Nowhere Man?”) Few would suggest that Love betters any of the original productions. But as a fresh, exciting, vibrant, new context for the greatest music of all time, it’s a total triumph.
Ten little hideaways beneath the waves out of 10.