The Beatles - LoveI finally picked up Love this past weekend, and have since given it a few listens with headphones. As I write this, it’s getting a first spin on the stereo in The Burrow.

And my impressions of the album, after a more detailed analysis, are still incredibly positive.

Firstly, the stereo mix is fantastic. George and Giles Martin did a fantastic job transferring the individual tracks from the multi-track master tapes, and really pulled off some mixing magic that’s most impressive. They had more limitations than Danger Mouse had when he mixed The Grey Album from material by The Beatles and Jay-Z, or djBC when he mixed the two “Beastles” collections from The Beatles and The Beastie Boys: they could only use sounds produced by The Beatles (the lone exception being a new string part composed by the elder Martin for the acoustic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – a perfect sonic marriage, to my ears).

So the most revelatory part of listening to Love is that every one of the sounds heard was recorded in the 1960s – and they sound like they could’ve been recorded yesterday. The Martins smartly stayed away from so-called “improvement technology” like Sonic NoNoise and let the recordings stand on their own: punchy, vibrant and, in many cases, raw. It’s when mixed together that the whole aural canvas is painted with vivid colors: awash in psychedelic clouds, hits of drums, crunchy guitars, booming bass and like-they’re-in-the-room-with-you vocals.

Seriously, the Martins did that well with their mix.

It’s quite clear that Giles Martin was “at the wheel” for most of this, given that his father’s hearing is severely impaired these days. Yet the younger Martin wisely asked the right questions of his father: “what was the level on this?”, or “how was such-and-such effect pulled off?” And he was given free reign to tweak the levels of any – or all – instruments on a track, which allowed him to fully utilize the extra sonic “space” of the digital realm. Apparently, this effect is even greater on the 5.1 Surround mix that’s included with the “deluxe” edition of Love, where the Martins created a whole new audio realization of many core Beatles tracks.

(I’ve also read that the Martins’ work runs very close to the unofficial 5.1 mixes done by Two Of Us Productions, which makes many wonder – myself included – whether proper 5.1 mixes of the original Fab albums are close-at-hand. If anything, Giles Martin has earned the right to do it by his work on Love.)

Some stand-out tracks:

  • “Glass Onion,” which blends in some interesting touches from “Hello, Goodbye” and other songs of its era.
  • “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which opens with the crowd noise and band intro from the legendary Shea Stadium concert, then crashes in with a wonderful stereo mix of the studio recording – very “today” for a song recorded in 1964.
  • “Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing.” In true mash-up nomenclature, this song would likely be called “Word, You’re Doing My Car.” It’s a wonderful mix-and-match of three disparate songs that work perfectly together. To many more “seasoned” critics, this is the most jarring track, but to me, it’s well executed and very catchy.
  • “Help” is presented in its best-ever stereo mix, sounding as if it was recorded this year, with the listener sitting at the mixing desk.
  • “Blackbird/Yesterday,” which melds the oft-covered McCartney walnut with his equally-soft “White Album” track to great effect.
  • “Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows,” which takes two ragas – one Harrison’s, one Lennon’s – and mixes them to a surreal effect. This one probably kicks serious butt in 5.1.
  • “Here Comes The Sun,” which is a very potent, lively mix of the Harrison classic.
  • “Come Together/Dear Prudence/Cry Baby Cry.” The latter two songs don’t figure too much into the mix, which is fine, as this is the best-sounding version of “Come Together” I’ve ever heard. Apparently, the 5.1 mix is even better – I’ve gotta spring for a surround setup soon.
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” As mentioned above, it’s truly beautiful with the string backing, showing that Sir George still has his arranging chops.

Love is truly a standout release for 2006. No, it’s not as essential as the albums released by The Beatles between 1962 and 1970. But it’s an album that makes you really listen to songs that have been in the vernacular for years. I’m still finding new bits and pieces in the mix with repeated listening sessions.

I think that John Lennon would’ve had a kick listening to this album, as he loved in-jokes, funky audio bits, and such.

It’s like meeting old friends again after many years: they’re still the same friends, only a few features have changed a bit. And in this case, that’s not a bad thing at all.

As I mentioned earlier, let’s hope that this marks the beginning of a proper remastering and remixing of the full Beatles canon – and give that young Martin a chance to take the wheel.

You can order Love from Amazon.com – either in CD format or CD with DVD-Audio.