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Beatles for sale -- again

By Simon Hooper for CNN
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(CNN) -- The release on Monday of a new Beatles album provided fresh evidence, as if any were needed, of the enduring popularity of the most successful pop band of all time.

In an experiment worthy of the group who featured in the first-ever live transatlantic satellite broadcast in 1967, Monday's launch offered Web users the chance to simultaneously tune into an exclusive live streaming of the album. The site crashed within minutes as fans overloaded the site.

"Love" is actually a 71-minute re-working of Beatles material, produced by the band's original producer Sir George Martin -- now 80 and partially deaf -- with a little help from his son, Giles Martin.

Produced over the past three years as a soundtrack for a Las Vegas stage show by the group Cirque de Soleil, the album doesn't bring anything new to the mix expect for the mix itself -- with familiar Beatles sounds woven together in new ways.

"Tomorrow Never Knows" crashes into "Within You Without You," "A Hard Day's Night" morphs into "Get Back" and "Penny Lane," Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Hello, Goodbye" are rolled together seamlessly.

Forty years after the release of "Revolver", the album which launched the Beatles into the most experimental and creatively successful stage of their career, "Love" is intended not just for original fans but as a fresh introduction to the era-defining band of the 1960s.

Giles Martin, born in 1969, the year the Beatles split, told The Associated Press his job had been to "make things different" and bring "fresh ears" to the band's sound.

"We encouraged them to mess around as much and more than they wanted," said Sir Paul McCartney at the album's Abbey Road launch on Friday. "[It's] the Beatles stuff getting showier and newer... It's like magic."

Yet other critics suspect the release of another "new" album by a band last seen playing together on a London rooftop almost four decades ago, may be spurred more by commercial than creative imperatives.

Traditionally the Beatles kept a tight rein on how their material was used. While other bands sold records on the back of ads for jeans and chewing gum, the Beatles refused to cash in on their back catalogue so cheaply.

Yet there has been a steady stream of Beatles releases since the mid-1990s, usually aimed at the lucrative Christmas market.

That trend started with 1994's "Live at the BBC," a collection of early recordings, followed by "Anthology", a three-volume set of demos, out-takes and live recordings released in 1995 and 1996.

In 1999 an updated version of the movie soundtrack to "Yellow Submarine" was released. One year later came the all-conquering "1" collection of No. 1 singles, which sold more than 28 million copies worldwide.

And in 2003, a remastered and remixed edition of the 1970 album "Let it Be" offered fans the chance to hear a fresh version of an album that McCartney had considered ruined in its original format, recorded as the band was being pulled apart by internal disputes.

Having preserved their legacy so carefully for so long, some now argue the surviving Beatles are tarnishing their own history.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, music critics Mark Espiner said: "Couldn't it be that in this remix project the Beatles have pirated their own work and broken with their own ethics?

"The Beatles canon is a high point of 20th-century pop music, indeed culture. Mucking around with that changes what it is: an absolute finished product that should stand on its own account."

But, with "Love" earning enthusiastic reviews from most critics, perhaps those who have questioned the project's legitimacy are merely a little too reverential to a canon of work that was beginning to sound a little (whisper it) dated.

That certainly seemed to be the opinion of UK alternative music magazine, the New Music Express, which perhaps might be expected to be found championing young bands rather than pondering the merits of music from a distant era.

Concluding that the "class of 2006 doesn't come off well by comparison", the magazine concluded, "The overall effect is to transform tracks so familiar you barely hear them anymore from historical documents into living songs, in startlingly clear, modern sound."

Arguably, it might even be argued that the best person to oversee a Beatles re-interpretation for the 21st century is not Martin and son or McCartney but those for whom the music is not grounded in myth and memory.

Such experiments have already been attempted. In 2004 the producer Danger Mouse (now of pop duo Gnarls Barkley) released an unauthorized mash-up entitled "The Grey Album," which mixed "The Beatles" -- more commonly known as the "The White Album" -- with rapper Jay-Z's "The Black Album."

In the same year Welsh psychedelic band Super Furry Animals produced a McCartney-endorsed soundscape "Liverpool Sound Collage" featuring spliced loops of old Beatles tapes.

Ultimately though, what an official project has over such material is the licence to make money -- and lots of it. While Beatles fans may make less noise than in their heyday, there are still enough of them out there to ensure every new release is a cash bonanza.

"The Beatles were always a commercial machine," concludes Espiner. "From the count-in of 'I Saw Her Standing There,' they were primed to sell records."

After all, the band best known for singing "All you need is love" was also the band behind "Gimme money (that's what I want)."

The Beatles set off to tour the U.S. in 1964 at the height of their fame.



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