This initiative is the latest in the series of collaborative ventures involving Lush Spa Therapists, The Sound Approach and the assorted musicians and singers and arrangers from the folk, world and fusion scenes who loosely make up the Fresh Handmade Collective. A set of four discs forming the aural equivalent of the Lush spa treatments - Validation, The Spell, From Source To Sea and Synaesthesia - came out in 2011, with the last-mentioned pair being reissued last year in the shape of luxurious solid-state album packages comprising a top-grade audiophile vinyl LP, lavish artwork and a companion USB stick containing high-quality sound files and additional media tracks (in this instance, a DVD video of the Collective performing the set of songs live in Liverpool). Epitomising the label's mission, this award-winning format is again adopted for Hard Day's Night Treatment, in order to provide the ultimate enhanced listening event, an experience far removed from the throwaway, faceless digital downloads that are now the industry commonplace.
Project coordinator Simon Emmerson is keen to stress: "It was important to us that we did not just churn out a predictable album of Beatles covers - but that we approached the music as we do all the spa treatments, thinking about the feeling of being immersed in a sensation". The phrase "relax and float downstream" is never more apt, I suspect, but you won't need to turn off your mind entirely…
Each individual song inhabits a soaring musical landscape all its own, notwithstanding the common thread of Beatle authorship. However, the project's title gives a misleading indication of the provenance of its18 tracks, for it turns out that only one (the title number) actually comes from the Hard Day's Night album (others originate on Rubber Soul, Beatles For Sale, Revolver, Help!, The White Album, Please Please Me, Sergeant Pepper, Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour and chart-topping 45s). One track (Down By The Docks) isn't even a Beatles song at all, but a 2½-minute soundscape collage compiled by Simon Emmerson that brings together samples of traditional songs (In My Liverpool Home and I Wish I Was In Liverpool) with snatches of radio documentaries.
The reimaginings (a more accurate word than covers in this context) are invariably creative and for the most part offer an interesting new perspective on the original songs. Particularly impressively done are I'll Follow The Sun and Blackbird (both the province of Marry Waterson), while lullaby specialist Jackie Oates delivers a gorgeously-sung take on Golden Slumbers that conveys its essence in a way that McCartney's version never did it for me. Rosie Doonan ingeniously reworks A Hard Day's Night as a lazy, soulful come-down with a nice touch of gospel sway, while Fixing A Hole becomes an industrious, sultry bossanova in the hands of Eliza Carthy. The sun theme is well catered for, and Martha Tilston's limpid take on Here Comes The Sun is innocent and charming, contrasting with her knowingly psych-infused Ticket To Ride with The Imagined Village in tow. There's a slightly disoriented cross between gamelan and Flying Lizards on the backing track for Stealing Sheep's insistent reworking of I Want To Hold Your Hand, and indie-pop band One EskimO closes the album with an eerily woozy Michelle. The spirit of Flying is accurately translated by The Space Cadets, and Norwegian Wood retains a certain amount of its eastern exoticism (but loses the lyric); Angie Pollock's Sun King warbles attractively but doesn't really add any insight, while, on the minus side, I Will is rendered nigh unrecognisable as an ambient instrumental by Palm Skin Productions.
But what's arguably one of the most notable features of this collection of reimaginings is its sheer unpredictability, and it sometimes comes as both a shock and surprise that it works as well as it does. These reimaginings can never surpass - let alone replace - the Beatles originals. But in the majority of cases, these new treatments clearly understand the original versions, while observing their own takes on the songs, which, during the listener's subsequent thought process, unashamedly discover new aspects of what may seem simple sentiments, however well written. It's a different kind of magic, and to be celebrated as such.
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