** 1/2 "BACKBEAT", Music From the Motion Picture; Virgin

Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Dave Grohl (Nirvana), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Don Fleming (Gumball) may be superstars of grunge or alternative darlings, but they're no Beatles. Which was, apparently, precisely the point in casting them for this movie soundtrack: spirit uber imitation.

For the drama documenting the Beatles' early-'60s days as a Hamburg bar band, producer Don Was filled the audio roles to suggest the band's presumed generic pre-punk thrashiness, rather than the pop prodigies the world would soon know.

It's nothing special for Beatles nuts, but a swell party tape on its own extra-Fab terms. The 12 hectic songs here--all familiar tunes like "Long Tall Sally" (no Lennon-McCartney titles)--were recorded in single sweaty takes with maximum vim.

If, in the context of the film's mix, the recording sounds a little too clean and contemporary to suddenly be emanating from the amps of the Star Club, as CDs go the album does come off appropriately primitive. That the Beatles started off brash shouldn't come as a revelation to any but the very young; that this loose homage is good, disposable fun shouldn't surprise any but the most curmudgeonly.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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