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November 20th, 2006 - click opera
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November 20th, 2006
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 10:32 am

Here at Click Opera we like to keep you up with the biggest cultural developments of the noughties. How, then, could we pass over the exciting news that The Beatles have a new album out this month?

It's called Love, and it's a sort of self-sampling remix project, a piece of creative re-interpretation with a practical application: it's also the soundtrack for a Cirque du Soleil show called "Love".

"My brief," says mash-up remixer George Martin, 80, "was that I could use any sound I wanted, that I'd made with The Beatles since 1962".

"We took all the Beatles catalogue from tape," says his son Giles "2ManyMartins" Martin, who's been roped in as a fresh pair of ears, "from the original Beatles 4 tracks and the 8 tracks and the 2 tracks, and had this sort of palette of sounds and music to create a sound bed where people were sort of reliving the whole Beatles lifespan in a very condensed period".

And so this Frankenstein's monster of a record puts the bassline from "I Want You / She's So Heavy" under the backing vocals from "Oh Darling" and the lead vocal from, you know, some other famous Beatles song. "They just match because it's all the same voices," says Giles.

It gets better; not only is the old music in new places, with lots of new sound effects and stuff, it all sounds so much better than it did first time around. Digital technology, you see. Now The Beatles have access to the kind of studio effects that previously only Coldplay and Oasis did.

"Set to a noisy dawn chorus, complete with fluttering wings, the three-part vocal harmonies of 'Because' arrive with the clarity of an ice blue sky," raves Neil Spencer in The Guardian. "The chugging introduction to 'Get Back' hurtles out of the mix like a train. The pumping fairground organs of 'Mr Kite' reek of steam and sawdust. ...Ever notice the pizzicato violins on the middle 8 of 'Something'? You will now".

Personally, what I noticed about the song "Something" was that it was about sexual longing, about love, about being attracted to the specificity of someone's body. "Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover." I listened to it in Greece, when I lived there in the actual 1960s, so it's drenched, for me, in Greek sunshine. It's of its time, totally embodied. Who knows -- and who cares -- whether I heard the pizzicato violins, and whether they were even there? What I heard was love. And nota bene, the song didn't say "Something about the way she moves makes me think that if you cut off her head and stuck it on Twiggy's body, Anna Karina would be an even more gorgeous woman, not to mention a great circus show." That's because it was a song about love, not remasturbation.

Yes, if there was a word that summed up the music industry in the 60s, it was love. And if there's a word that sums up the same business this decade, it's remasturbation. Paul McCartney thinks it's great, though.

"I would liken it to great people like Churchill, or, you know, great writers like Tolstoy. Their original papers are in museums, they're only getting browner and more crinkly. But the Beatles tapes are getting shinier and newer and cleaner. It's like magic."

The thing is, you'd think the people who used all those backwards guitar and piano effects would understand that narrative goes backwards too. There will be kids who now hear "Tomorrow Never Knows" and think it samples the beat from "Within You Without You". Love's generic crappy sleeve looks like the poster for a production of some nightmare spectacle entitled "The Beatles on Ice!" at the National Exhibition Centre, Manchester. And now, if you put "Beatles" into a record search engine on a store site like Barnes and Noble's, its "View by popularity" default shows you the ugly digipak 5:1 audio DVD of Love as the first hit, the ugly CD of Love as the second, and only then actual records released in the 60s by the actual Beatles, the young, cool Beatles.

And they were cool. Cool enough to commission the beautiful sleeves which are next on the Barnes and Noble list from the leading avant garde artists of the day. The White Album sleeve is by conceptualist Richard Hamilton, the Sgt. Pepper sleeve by pop artist Peter Blake.

Old Beatles (the ones who survive, anyway), to be that cool, would have to have commissioned Martin Creed or someone to do the sleeve for Love. They haven't. But they do pack lots of promo punch, so whatever they do release will obscure what they released when they were cool. At least for a while. Old Beatles might have come full circle back to an appreciation of 2-, 4- and 8-track recording via the basic realization that Ariel Pink is much, much cooler than Coldplay. But they're not that avant garde, so for them being daring is simply delighting in the fact that today's digital soup makes everything infinitely fluid, plunging us into "the mire of options", allowing us to sample ourselves and put on a big show with computerized lighting in an arena where the crew are all old blokes with grey hair, and the audience is too, and nobody remembers Mark Boyle and his exploding lava lamps with insects inside them.

But, like I say, it's these old blokes, with their notably worse skin, hair, bodies and taste than the young blokes who were also called "The Beatles", who are cluttering up the catalogue with Frankenstein stuff, and with remasturbation.

Why is the music biz so bad at telling you when an album was made? If it weren't for small print legal agreements, we'd have no way of knowing what year any given album came from. I think it's because the music biz has a vested interest in "timelessness". It's almost a metaphysical belief -- the idea that some songs and records become "evergreen" and can keep selling forever, and "transcend" the time and conditions of their making. The problem with timelessness is that it's an argument against embodiment -- physical embodiment, technological embodiment, cultural embodiment, temporal embodiment. If records are still records despite losing all association with the young bodies that made them, and their own "flesh" in the form of the sleeves they were given at the time, and their cultural "flesh" in terms of the context of the year and nation they were released in, then you can rehash everything forever. You can be Dr Frankenstein. You can be a remasturbator rather than a lover.

The thing about love is that it's specific, and embodied. "Something in the way she moves..." Young Beatles knew that. But they were into love, not remasturbation.

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