Album Review: “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”)
Writing anything about the “Fab Four” is damn near impossible. Rightly or wrongly (it’s really a matter of taste), they’re undoubtedly the most celebrated musical act of modern music. They’re held in the highest esteem; credited with shaping not only pop music for years to come, but also artistic expression (The Beatles sits firmly in the latter camp). In other words, 50 years on from their first record, Please Please Me, it’s all been said. Every major critic, from contemporaries like the ‘dean of American Rock critics’ Robert Christgau, to retrospective web-zines like Pitchfork. Still, in 2013, maybe one more should try to rationalise why The Beatles is such an important record.
The Beatles, for many, signals the beginning of the end for the group. After Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely regarded as one of the finest records in existence, the group splintered. The Beatles in many ways juxtaposes it’s 1967 precursor. The razor-sharp production is gone. The conceptual approach is thrown, in favour of a bloated, thrown-together mish-mash. The record typifies the relationships within the group. They were, effectively, four individuals doing whatever they damn well pleased. A far cry from their generally unified approach. Only McCartney was there every day for recording at Abbey Road, and the group could barely stand to be in the same room as each other. You had McCartney improvising with the classic pop structure; an acerbic Lennon exploring the avant-garde with a certain Yoko Ono; Harrison constructing psychedelic rock music; and Starr… well, trying to get away with whatever he bloody well could. The result is a record overflowing with fresh ideas and genuine beauty.
McCartney thinks it was “a very good album”, but also “not a pleasant one to make”. The latter is clear from the get-go. Unlike previous offerings, Lennon’s and McCartney’ offerings seem totally detached from each other, even though they’re all credited under the ‘Lennon-McCartney’ umbrella. This is most obvious at the start – McCartney’s raucous ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ is followed by Lennon’s slower, more introspective ode to the other Farrow sister, ‘Dear Prudence’. In parts, it was some of the group’s most ambitious writing – the likes of ‘Helter Skelter’, and, in some ways, ‘Revolution 9′ – “probably the most universally loathed piece of music the Beatles ever released” according to Terry Burrows. In others, it’s some of their most simple compositions – the haunting beauty of McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’, and Harrison’s ‘Piggies’. Lennon’s ‘Yer Blues’ is another, little more than simple 12-bar blues – yet it has the slight Beatles edge, and it’s a joy to behold. The record is stripped-down, and is arguably The Beatles at their most vulnerable. It’s an eclectic melting-pot of ideas and influences, resulting in a rich tapestry encompassing every whim of the broad genre of rock music.
Of course, at 30 tracks, some may think it’s fair to say some of The Beatles is pretty dispensable. And yet that undermines what’s so compelling about the record. Sgt Pepper’s was almost clinical in it’s perfection, it’s beauty. However, The Beatles was human. It was filled with failed concepts and half-baked ideas. But it’s through this that, somehow, you feel alot closer to a band whose image often went before them. True, it’s all over the place in terms of sequencing, but this adds to the charm. A wonderful record, but in a completely different way to the friendlier Sgt Pepper’s or Abbey Road. Delve into the album and lose yourself in it’s golden offerings.