A year ago Paul McCartney opened the vaults to the Freelance Hellraiser, who smashed the back catalogue all to, well, hell by mashing up mediocre Macca till it sounded brighter than the solo Beatle ever did all by his lonesome. Now comes the old pro himself, Sir George Martin, attempting to do the same to the Beatles' stash for a Cirque du Soleil production; no shit. And it's as terrific as advance word promised if not essential, then at least enjoyable enough to merit putting the post-Rubber Soul discs on the top shelf for a while, since this will suffice quite nicely. That's because there's nary a pre-1966 "rocker" on the record ("I Want to Hold Your Hand," fine) as Martin makes it all sound so wonderfully gooey, poppy, and perfectly pleasant: "Julia," "Yesterday," "Because," "Here Comes the Sun," "Hey Jude," "All You Need Is Love," scrubbed and rinsed off original masters till it all sounds and smells fresh as the day it was made. Martin never completely reinterprets the work, as McCartney and the FH did; he's not bold enough to milk the cow and kill it straight away. About as adventurous as this gets is layering the vocals for "Octopus' Garden" over the music for "Good Night"; guess it works, but who really needed that? Better off are the vocals-only "Because" (like a church choir, amen), "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (bare-bones and lush; go figure), and the from-a-demo-to-a-masterpiece "Strawberry Fields Forever," which provides a you-are-there glimpse heretofore unimagined, heh. But, like, we're done with Beatles reissues, right? A boy can dream. Robert Wilonsky
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