It’s difficult to review Let It Be . . . Naked without drowning in the welter of vexed issues that shattered the Beatles. For a start, Naked is being hyped (in a musical nod to the “director’s cut”) as the “band’s take” — that is, the stripped-down version of the album the Beatles intended to make as they embarked on what was then thought of as Get Back in 1969.
This notion, of course, is ridiculous. The unfortunate truth is that John Lennon and George Harrison are dead, and, whatever its merits, Naked exists essentially as an excuse for Paul McCartney, after decades of complaining, to finally remove Phil Spector’s production effects from “The Long and Winding Road.” As a result, the song — a technologically souped-up version of the take in the Let It Be film — now sounds like a vaguely interesting demo, rather than the lavish (and frankly emotional) epitaph for the Beatles that Spector turned it into.
Does an artist of McCartney’s stature deserve to have his songs sound exactly as he wants them to? Absolutely. But here, on the other hand, is Lennon’s assessment of Spector’s work on Let It Be: “He was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something out of it. He did a great job.” Both Lennon and Harrison went on to work closely with Spector, who produced Plastic Ono Band, Imagine and All Things Must Pass — arguably the three best albums of the Beatles’ solo years.
So, put simply, Naked is McCartney getting his own back. That said, it’s nice to have the sparer rendition of “Across the Universe” that Lennon recorded, and the sonic improvements to the album as a whole are undeniable. Casual fans, however, will wonder what all the fuss was about; novices should still get the original. And Beatles fanatics will likely be disappointed that Naked has little to do with the early bootlegged versions of Get Back — which, for better or worse, really are naked — and is just as much an interpretation of what the album was supposed to be as Spector’s effort was. Let it be? Not a chance.