The Beatles Let It Be (Super Deluxe) Out Friday
Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
The Beatles, who split up 51 years ago, have never gone away. Their compilation 1 is Britain’s fourth best-selling album of this century, behind only Adele (twice over) and Amy Winehouse. Never mind Jesus – The Beatles are bigger than Ed Sheeran.
And soon they’ll be here, there and everywhere. Next month Paul McCartney publishes The Lyrics, a handsome hardback telling the stories behind his songs. He has included so many of them – 154, spanning 65 years – that the book comes in two volumes.
Later in November there’s a documentary on Disney+ from Peter Jackson of The Lord Of The Rings fame. The Beatles: Get Back is based on Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film about their final days.
Jackson, being Jackson, has turned it into an epic trilogy. There may be hobbits.
Hired by John Lennon (above) to polish Let It Be, Phil Spector infuriated Paul McCartney by adding a wall of saccharine
The barrage begins with a bumper edition of Let It Be, the last studio album The Beatles released, though it was recorded before Abbey Road. An LP that once lasted 35 minutes now sprawls over six CDs.
Costing at least £110, it makes McCartney’s book (about £75) look a bargain.
Let It Be was The Beatles’ most difficult child. It went through three producers: George Martin, their father figure; Glyn Johns, their young engineer, who compiled the unreleased LP Get Back, included here; and finally the talented but now disgraced Phil Spector.
Hired by John Lennon to polish Let It Be, Spector infuriated McCartney by adding a wall of saccharine.
With this edition, the Martin family strikes back. The producer is George’s son Giles, who shares his sharp ear and gentle wit. He likes to quote his dad’s line on Let It Be: ‘produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector’.
Born, like the album itself, in 1969, Giles has now subtly remixed four Beatles LPs, starting with Sgt Pepper. ‘Let It Be,’ he says, ‘sounds like a break-up album when it wasn’t’
Born, like the album itself, in 1969, Giles has now subtly remixed four Beatles LPs, starting with Sgt Pepper. ‘Let It Be,’ he says, ‘sounds like a break-up album when it wasn’t. And Abbey Road was a break-up album, but doesn’t sound like it.’
The sessions, crisply captured here, veered from heartfelt to half-hearted. McCartney brought the ballads – the title track and The Long And Winding Road, both classics – plus the defiant euphoria of Get Back.
Lennon brought the bile, cracking bitter little jokes. The only glimpse of his greatness was a rough draft of Gimme Some Truth.
That left more scope for George Harrison, who rose to the challenge with For You Blue, the breeziest of blues numbers, and I Me Mine, a waltz-rock hybrid whose theme – self-absorption – is still topical today.
Ringo Starr, as ever, brought swing and social skills.
The Glyn Johns album lives up to its name by getting back to basics. The whole package demonstrates The Beatles’ musical differences – but also their magical chemistry.
Back in the present, the gig of the week was by Scritti Politti. Performing their masterpiece, Cupid & Psyche 85, in full, they proved that there’s still life in the old white funk.
Their frontman, Green Gartside, has shrugged off his stage fright and hung on to his falsetto, while Rhodri Marsden, on keyboards, supplies everything from the bass to the brass.
Scritti return next month, opening for OMD: you won’t find a better support act.
James Blake Friends That Break Your Heart Out now
Did you have a song that got you through the long days of lockdown? Mine was James Blake’s sublime cover of Stevie Wonder’s Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer.
It takes courage to step into Wonder’s shoes but Blake, like George Michael before him, has the guts – and the lungs.
Still only 33, Blake is the most influential British musician since Radiohead. His elegant minimalism has inspired everyone from Beyoncé to Billie Eilish.
It takes courage to step into Stevie Wonder’s shoes but James Blake (above), like George Michael before him, has the guts – and the lungs
His speciality is the anguished electro-ballad, which could be a problem now he’s found domestic bliss in LA with Jameela Jamil, the actress and DJ. But he does tend to look on the dark side of life, so he’s still brooding about break-ups – from friends now, rather than lovers.
It’s a smart move, examining a type of bruise that everybody knows, and it plays to Blake’s strengths. You’ll have one ear on his golden voice and the other on his audacious production, which goes from a click of the fingers to a blast of church organ.
Minimalism can be chilly, but in Blake’s hands it’s addictively soulful. Less is more-ish.
He varies the pace by roping in gifted rappers such as SZA and JID, but the magic lies in the ballads, from the hauntingly intimate Say What You Will to the fearlessly vulnerable Funeral. I’m hoping they’ll be covered by Stevie Wonder.