Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Beatles - Let It Be . . . Naked (2003)

As I noted in my review of the original 1970 Beatles album Let It Be, efforts to make a solid album out of the Beatles' live studio recordings from January 1969 fell short; Glyn Johns had made from those tapes two different albums that seemed ragged, while Phil Spector's released attempt was too overpolished and relied too heavily on his trademark reverberation and orchestral overdubs.  The improvements in recording technology made by the dawn of the twenty-first century, however, afforded Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (George Harrison approved of the project before he died in 2001) a much better chance to create anew the album they'd intended - namely, a straightforward pop-rock album.  Hence Let It Be . . . Naked, released in 2003.
Let It Be . . . Naked is the album that the original Let It Be should have been. It achieves the warmth and freshness of live musical performance promised by the self-aware liner notes of the original 1970 release.  The music is so pure that it sounds like the Beatles are in the same room with you.  One original objective of Let It Be that could not be fulfilled here was avoiding edits or a couple of previously recorded overdubs - the original tapes were so haphazardly recorded that such post-production to make some of the tracks more presentable was necessary - but Abbey Road Studios technicians Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse, the de facto producers of Let It Be . . . Naked, weren't going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Let It Be . . . Naked works well with its remixed versions of the original 1970 album's recordings, such as a crisper "Two of Us" and a cleaner, meticulously edited "Dig a Pony," while "I've Got a Feeling" and "Don't Let Me Down" (the latter song was not included on the original album) are each composites of two separate takes from the rooftop sessions; both tracks manage to capture the magic of that historic outdoor performance.  George's "For You Blue" benefits from remixing with a more subtle acoustic guitar track, and John's "Across The Universe" - actually a recording from February 1968 - is presented as a straight, honest piece of music that rivals previously issued remixes of the song, even Spector's.
The best moments, though, are an alternate recording and a mix that didn't make the original LP.  "The Long and Winding Road" is represented here by the January 31, 1969 take from the Let It Be movie  - with slightly different lyrics from McCartney - that sounds fuller and tighter than the January 26 take used by Spector for the 1970 album (the unadorned, de-orchestrated version of that earlier take appeared on Anthology 3), while this remix of "Let It Be" is boiled down to the essentials, re-instating John Lennon's bass line and using George Harrison's steady guitar solo from the movie.  You don't miss the stinging guitar solo from Spector's LP remix of "Let It Be" (George Martin's remix for the March 1970 single release of the song used a different solo), and the song sounds more poignant and wistful.  On both these tracks, Billy Preston's organ and electric piano certify anew his place as one of rock's greatest keyboardists.
The result is a Beatles album that is every bit as sharp, basic and grounded as the group's earlier LPs, with a tight sound delivered with a sense of professionalism and respect for the listener - no inside jokes, no inane studio banter, no grandiose arrangements.  An album that took 33 years to bring to fruition, Let It Be . . . Naked brings a definite sense of closure to the Beatles' work that the original Let It Be album failed to do.  Even if the Beatles couldn't get back to where they once belonged, Let It Be . . . Naked , seeks to end the Beatles' story on a high note . . . and it passes the audition.   
(Note: Let It Be . . . Naked includes a bonus disc with 22 minutes of studio chatter and some brief song run-throughs, including an unused Lennon-McCartney song, "Because I Know You Love Me So," as well as a sketch of an original Ringo Starr song, "Taking a Trip to Carolina." The newly discovered material is tantalizing, but there's little here that's really essential.)

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