Most Beatles fans probably felt mild anxiety or eye-roll apathy when they learned of Love, the soundtrack remix LP for the titular Cirque du Soleil show. Why fuck around with perfection, especially in a divisive format—the mash-up—that had already become a cliché by the mid-2000s?
But that record wasn’t a display of lazy ProTools splicing, nor gimmickry for the sake of gimmickry. Under the guidance of George and Giles Martin, Love re-contextualized melodies and words that had seemed codified for decades, teaching us to hear The Great Rock Songbook with new ears.
Paul McCartney had already dabbled in remixing with the 2005 Freelance Hellraiser collaboration Twin Freaks, which added an electronic spin to his solo tunes. But after the success of Love, why not get more ambitious with that concept? McCartney III Imagined is a different kind of remix record, inviting a creatively far-flung crew of A-list artists to experiment with his latest LP—aiming for sprawl over symmetry, contrast over consistency.
On paper, it looks like fun but frivolous filler, a low-stakes stopgap during a touring drought. And at first, it feels like exactly that: Beck’s “Find My Way” kicks off with static dance-rock drums and a muted, funky bass riff, layering the overdubs around McCartney’s original vocal — the exact kind of approach you’d expect from a skippable “extended dance mix” on the B-side of an ‘80s 12-inch single. But one-time SoundCloud rapper Dominic Fike takes a more expansive approach on his “Kiss of Venus,” revamping McCartney’s “Blackbird”-like, fingerpicked folk ditty into a stadium-tailored soul-rock singalong.
Several standout cuts are similarly reconfigured from the bottom up: Phoebe Bridgers adds frosty indie-pop magic to “Seize the Day,” utilizing some overdriven guitar leads and massively reverbed electronics; Khruangbin spin “Pretty Boys” into one of their signature psych-funk jams, riding a bottom-heavy groove that comes off like a not-so-distant cousin of the trio’s own “Time (You and I)”; Blood Orange sprinkles jazz piano chords and Hendrix-y reversed guitar onto “Deep Down”; and St. Vincent casts a noir-like shadow on “Women and Wives,” surrounding McCartney’s gruff vocal with growling baritone sax, cosmic harmonies and a delightedly fully warped blues-guitar solo.
Sadly, the album does sputter to a close with a rambling, 11-minute electronic version of “Deep Deep Feeling” by Massive Attack’s 3D RDN—it’s the only track here that feels more like one of those B-side remixes than a real reimagining.
Perhaps it’s the uniform thrill of aiming to impress a Beatle. Perhaps it’s the source material on McCartney III—a home-brewed project with no-nonsense arrangements that lend themselves well to tweaking. But most of these artists strike a rare rework/remix balance, preserving what made the original tick while infusing enough of their own identity to justify the new take. Imagined could have been a diehards-only distraction. Instead, the album’s somewhat Love-like: It helps you see a revered artist from a different angle.
Ryan Reed is a Contributing Editor at SPIN and Ultimate Classic Rock, the Monday night news editor at Rolling Stone, and a freelancer for outlets like Relix and The New York Times.