Sunday, March 20, 2016

Classic Album Review: The Beatles - Let It Be Naked (2003)

After posting the album review for The Beatles’ Love, it occurred to me that it took some 375 posts before everythingsgonegreen finally got around to covering The Beatles in any detail. Which is a pretty shocking state of affairs when you consider what a monumental pop cultural influence that band has been throughout my lifetime. Even more so when you consider that The Beatles were one of the first bands I truly loved – as a child, before the rather more rebellious teenager, and later, even more cynical adult, came along. Even today though, the band’s Revolver album still rates in any notional all-time top five albums, if I was pressed to name them. With Sgt Pepper not far behind. So, yes, coverage of The Beatles was a long time in coming and definitely overdue. But just like a number 17 bus, you wait an age for one, and then two come along at once. So here’s another one, another classic album review written some time ago. A variation on the same theme – a reconfigured classic album in the form of Let It Be, the 2003 Naked version. Most definitely not a George Martin creation:


It always seemed there was a direct correlation between The Beatles’ decision to stop touring/performing live (post-1966), and a distinct improvement in the quality of the band’s studio output/albums - see Revolver ’66, Sgt Pepper ’67, and the White Album ’68.

That’s a fairly strong run, whatever your poison, and those albums were all pivotal in sealing the band’s standing as iconic pioneers of the album format, far removed from the lovable boy band/singles band status of earlier years.

The same can’t be said about the band’s final studio album however, and by the time the original Let It Be album was released in 1970, The Beatles were a band in name only. Any sense of unity, commitment to each other, or indeed, genuine collective inspiration, had long since disappeared.

Let It Be was a swansong, but despite its undoubted historical significance, and one or two truly exceptional moments, it won’t go down as a classic Beatles album. Far from it - in fact, many of the recordings made in 1969 were originally shelved (others being released on Abbey Road), such was the group’s general nonchalance about the project. George Harrison actually threatened to quit the group while the 1969 sessions were still in progress.

Let It Be represented the sound of a band at the end of its tether, and the fact that the post-production reins were handed to Phil Spector suggests they knew as much at the time. Spector, famous for his “wall of sound” style of production, was belatedly called in to tart up the shelved recordings - something that evidently bugged Paul McCartney for the best part of three subsequent decades. Let It Be Naked is the result of McCartney’s attempt to de-Spector-ise (and remix) the original release. For better or for worse.

Essentially what you get on Naked is Let It Be stripped right back to its bare core - the most obvious development being the removal of the strings so beloved of Spector at the time of the original. The result is a marginally improved album, but certainly nothing spectacular, and sceptics will argue that the release of Naked in 2003 was nothing but another cynical attempt to milk the cash cow that The Beatles’ back catalogue has become.

I’m not so sure I agree with that sentiment entirely, and I’ll take the project at face value - as a genuine attempt to right what McCartney and others perceived to be a long-standing wrong. On Naked, aside from stripping back the excessive production - mostly to discard the decoration and gloss provided by Spector - the track-list also gets something of a minor revamp. This probably improves things slightly, placing as it does a raw version of ‘Get Back’ as a barnstorming album opener, and including the much-heralded ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (absent from the original Let It Be, but the B-side on the ‘Get Back’ single release) as a welcome additional track.

As you might expect, the most obvious changes can be picked up on the best known stuff from the original Let It Be; the era-defining title track itself (the album closer), the epic ‘Long And Winding Road’ (a much improved version here), and John Lennon’s brilliant dream-like ‘Across The Universe’. Even after the exercise in revamping the original versions, it is these tracks - plus ‘Get Back’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ - that stand out as the album’s best cuts. Proof surely, if it was needed, that regardless of any enhancement or additional production, you just can’t beat a quality tune.

Naked is a slight improvement on the original, but Let It Be was always an album of extremes (uneven in terms of quality), and it always contained a little too much filler for my liking.

My CD edition came with a bonus disc, which turned out to be a bit of a throwaway item really, containing mostly conversation snippets and short rehearsal extracts from the original recording sessions. In these post-Anthology days, it represents nothing particularly new or exciting, neither is it an especially riveting listen. But hardcore Beatles fans may beg to differ on these points given that it does offer a brief insight (albeit a limited one) into the inner workings of a band very much on the cusp of self-destruction.

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