It's probably best to begin with an explanation, or an apology, or something. First off, I love The Beatles. Grew up with 'em, thought my dad was a Beatle, etc. But this, this is, well...hmmm...at least Paul McCartney is keeping himself busy. And it's at least, ah, interesting. Just look at the facts. For example: Liverpool Sound Collage is an audio CD composed by McCartney, prepared to accompany artist Peter Blake's About Collage installation at the Liverpool Tate. Who did you say? That's right, Paul McCartney of The Beatles! Plus, The Beatles! (Well, snippets of studio banter featuring the Fab Four.) Plus, more contemporary clips of McCartney interviewing Liverpudlians with such intriguing questions as, "What do you think of The Beatles?" No kidding. Really giving David Letterman a run for his money. Adding to the pure aural pleasure: English pub noise, wind and/or loud breathing into the microphone noise, traffic noise (sirens and horns: check!), background noise, English preconcert fanfare, and a guided tour of the city by Paul McCartney! "Atmospheric" is a nice way of putting it.
Of course, there are some surprises. Or at least, one surprise: Wales' own Super Furry Animals. The cheeky Welshmen add their own electronic touch by remixing material McCartney sent them after a chance meeting at the NME Brat Awards. The Animals' remix turns out to be the only true melodic piece in this experimental misfire. Which brings up this question: Are all audio accompaniments to art doomed? No, but they require some key elements, namely, the goods to stand alone. Audio/Visual minus Visual means Audio must be compelling in its own right. Hear Stereolab's Music for the Amorphous Body Study Center, the audio side to a visual art exhibit by Charles Long. Amorphous is Stereolab at their peak, innovatively delivering enough hooks to catch a school of fish. Unlike Amorphous, Liverpool contains no explanation of its purpose and no obvious message. Lacking any lasting motif, melody, or anything to hold it all together, it's simply a mess.
The first track, "Plastic Beetle" (not "Beatle") is introductory noise. Track two, "Peter Blake 2000," is the first Super Furry Animals remix job. It's almost 17 minutes long, but only about half of it is not annoying. It contains the "Free Now" motif (Paul singing, "You gotta be free now," atop a simple hip-hop drum loop, with a catchy guitar riff), which is condensed to the more club-friendly three-minute length on the last track. (Noteworthy is the fact that three of five "songs" are more than 12 minutes long.) "Real Gone Dub Made in Manifest in the Vortex of the Eternal Now" is every bit as tedious as its title. Same drum loop and choral sample as the rest, but this time with enough spacey sound effects to fill the Star Wars trilogy. Deep dub-esque bassline, lots of reverb, Moog-treated noise, and yes, more sirens!
Liverpool Sound Collage
After listening to 10-plus minutes of noise, any kind of consistent beat is refreshing, which makes the good stuff on Liverpool listenable only by default. In short, as I said before, the Animals' "Free Now" remix is the only redeeming contribution to this project, thanks to the fact that a remix requires a backbeat, a backbeat gives experimental noise form, and form is conducive to listenable songs. "Free Now" is almost as good as any DJ Shadow song, and a welcome departure from random street noise and even more random street interviews. Sure, it's cool to hear John Lennon talking in the studio, but I think The Beatles Anthologies already covered that. In fact, that's the whole problem with Liverpool--it lacks originality, even though that would seem to be the project's strong suit. McCartney was a clever songwriter, and now he's trying his hand at audio collage, experimental music, which unfortunately fails to incorporate his greatest talent: composing melody with artful storytelling. His attempts at art-rock play like the work of a first-year film student: sketchy, awkward, over-ambitious. And, sorry, just plain bad.
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