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Published: 2003/11/28
by Mike Greenhaus

Let It Be… Naked – The Beatles

Capitol Records

Let It Be is the bastard child of The Beatles' canon. Originally
conceived as a live-in-the-studio special titled Get Back, the
laborious project morphed through several production stages before being
resurrected by Phil Spector in 1970 as The Beatles' final album. Arriving in
stores as The Beatles publicly parted ways, Let It Be left a sour
taste in the mouths of most involved. Despite the disc's potentially
powerful songs, which were waiting to be nursed through adolescence, The
Beatles have gradually disowned Let It Be. Paul McCartney was
especially vocal about Spector's string heavy Wall of Sound pop production,
which marred the composer's gentle "Long and Winding Road." Yet reworking
Let it Be is a bit like separating Sophia Coppola from Godfather
III: it might taste good, but it’s just not kosher.

Despite its moniker, Let it Be…Naked is actually the most fully
realized version of the album currently available. While the classic edition
of the disc mixed remastered live performances, studio banter, and Phil
Spector's Wall of Sound treatment, Let it Be…Naked is simply raw rock
and roll. Scrapping the Fab Four's studio gibberish and reworking studio
outtakes as a bonus "Fly on the Wall" demos CD, Let it Be…Naked
essentially becomes The Beatles' garage rock album. McCartney, who though
not directly involved, half-birthed this reissue. He has described the album
as the way Let it Be sounded while he was recording it. Let it
Be…Naked has the raw meat of an early Beatles album and the
special-sauce polish of their psychedelic era masterpieces. More
importantly, it's a more structurally cohesive version of the album, though
far more impersonal.

Playing a loose, muddled collection of half-baked songs and resurrected
rockabilly cuts from their Quarrymen days, The Beatles aimed to revisit
their greaser roots with Get Back. While Let it Be…Naked
doesn't sound like Chuck Berry, it does evoke images of another retro-act:
The Velvet Underground. George Harrison's fuzzy, electric guitar guides
straight-ahead rock and roll numbers like "Get Back" and "One After 909,"
while McCartney's title track is the bloated, guilty-pleasure pop that makes
Strokes fans come in their pants. It's garage rock recorded on a million
dollar budget and, more often than not, it works. Unleashing their loosest
material in years, The Beatles fashion themselves as a rock band for the
first time since 1965. Guest organist Billy Preston also gives the disc a
bit of soul, an adjective scarcely used while describing The Beatles. Let
it Be…Naked's stripped-down approach simply enhances this roots-rock
feel. Yet it also rolls over some of the charming sloppiness by erasing the
band's technical boo-boos.

Without Spector's lush production, The Beatles are allowed more room to
breath. "Across the Universe" recalls the fragile folk unearthed on The
White Album, while "Long and Winding Rock" becomes a vocal showpiece for
McCartney. In general, the album feels looser and less polished, the
conceptual change the group aimed for after Sgt. Pepper and Magical
Mystery Tour. Between the disc's acoustic underbelly and folk
foundation, the reissue might be the quartet's most organic effort since
Rubber Soul and, in many ways, their least self-indulgent. But Let it
Be…Naked also sounds a bit manufactured, though, as producers carefully
edit out any extra noise. No longer manic children, Let it Be showed
The Beatles slowly breaking up, through slow, reflective, and lyrically
poignant numbers. Let it Be…Naked tries to reunite them, by erasing
the sloppy tension trapped in that studio.

Perhaps the most disconcerting part of Let it Be…Naked is the absence
of studio banter. John Lennon in particular seemed to come alive between
takes, and these fragmented phrases helped add a human quality to rock's pop
princes. While Let is Be…Naked is a more cohesive compilation, it
lacks the project's original spontaneity. A born comedian, Lennon's sarcasm
made the track "Let It Be" easier to swallow and gave the disc a comfortable
feel. That his biting comedy was erased post-humorously is a bit suspect.

Let It Be…Naked's track organization also symbolizes its thematic
evolution. On the album's original incarnation, the tender "Two Of Us" opens
the disc, foreshadowing a gentle, string heavy piece of pop. Naked
opens with "Get Back," one of the quartet's purest rock and roll songs. With
strings erased and a few minor guitar licks moved around, "Get Back" is a
gateway to an album of pure, empty rock. Removing the group jam "Dig It" and
"Maggie May," a number resurrected from the days before Beatlemania,
Naked is consciously a more professional affair. Replacing those
sophomoric tracks with The Beatles' finest later day song "Don't Let Me
Down," a subtle guitar masterpiece that foreshadowed reggae-rock, The
Beatles rewrite history. It's a wise decision given the song's strength, but
also a bit smug. But if anyone can get away with this, it's the Beatles.

Beatles songs are akin to Shakespearian sonnets. The group's three lyricists
layer enough emotion into their phrasings that their lyrics and melody can
live without their songs. In that sense, it's always interesting to restage
these numbers within a slightly different context. Let It Be's songs
have been available in several variations (single edits, Anthology
III, and the heavily bootlegged rooftop concert) and Naked once
again tests each song's endurance. To the group's credit, none of these
dirty-pop songs have cracked with age.

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