George Martin was a great producer precisely insofar as he was the Beatles’ producer. His other great discovery was America, and nobody compares him to Christopher Columbus, so why mention him alongside Jerry Wexler or Timbaland? Praise Lennon-McCartney, then, that this Martin-produced — really, Martins-produced; son Giles cochaired — soundscape, which melds some hundred Beatles songs into music for a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza titled The Beatles Love, is far from a redundant exploitation. In fact, it’s LOVEly — the suite side of Abbey Road extended to seventy-eight minutes.
The loveliness comes at a predictable cost in breakaway energy. Only six titles, including a fan-enhanced live snatch of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” are from before 1966, with Rubber Soul reduced to thirty seconds of “The Word.” Even in the late catalog, Martin highlights the sweet, cute and orchestral — no “Yer Blues,” “You Never Give Me Your Money” or “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road.” Trivialities like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Octopus’ Garden” are on full display, while “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” briefly signifies a chaos that inspires cries of “Help” and is quickly righted by “Blackbird/Yesterday.”
Nevertheless, most of Martin’s trickery is great fun, from the choral, tweet-tweaked “Because” to a “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” variant more forthright than the original. The “Revolution”/”Back in the U.S.S.R.” segue makes a slightly tendentious political point; “Within You Without You”/”Tomorrow Never Knows” contrasts George Harrison’s style of spirituality with John Lennon’s. And always another great melody waits in the wings, ready to take you higher. These melodies weren’t all or even most of what the Beatles gave the world. But only rockist sentimentalists dismiss the Apollonian detachment of the world’s greatest rock & roll band’s late period. Played too often in one twenty-four-hour period (twice, say), George Martin’s vision of the world’s greatest rock & roll band could give a person a tummy ache. But as desserts go, it’s got some spice.