Monday, 16 April 2012

The Beatles vs The White Album

I had my doubts at first, but The Beatles’ 2009 remasters are indeed worth it. The sound is richer, crisper, and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to yet again delve into that wonderful world of effortless pop genius. Obviously the songwriting has never been in doubt, but it’s both comforting and somehow reassuring to hear tiny (and not so tiny) guitar delights and McCartney’s busy bass lines that had previously escaped my attention.

However, for me it’s been all about that huge, classic, sprawling 1968 self-titled monster. The White Album. Adhering to the principle that the more great songs there are on a record, the better, lots and lots of people have proclaimed it The Beatles’ greatest achievement. After all – 30 songs, surely more than 14 of those would be nothing short of amazing (I say 14 because that’s the standard number of songs on a Beatles LP; up to 1967 in any case).

So it may be, but even with all the irresistible twang of this remastered sound I can still count only (that’s a relative ‘only’, mind you) 5 out of these 30 songs that make my brain and heart tingle ecstatically. Those would be “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Savoy Truffle”, “Cry Baby Cry”. Shamelessly subjective, I understand, but there you go. Out of the remaining 25 songs, five or six are no good at all (of which more later), and most are your minor, average Beatles classics. Average but classics. Classics but average.

It has never really worked out between me and this record. On The White Album Lennon and Co show off their confident songwriting and maturity, but at the expense of a true magical spark. For this here listener, too few moments on the album come close to the chorus of “If I Needed Someone” or the harmonies of “And Your Bird Can Sing”. So here goes a list of 15 songs I would have gladly dropped and relegated to a nice and solid little compilation of rarities, outtakes, etc. For in all honesty – it’s there that they belong.

“Glass Onion”. An excellent, driving song by Lennon, but it’s as if something is missing about that melody. Maybe one true, Beatles-worthy hook?

“Ob-la-di Ob-la-da”. Knocking this piece of infectious pop silliness from McCartney would be foolish, but you inevitably grow tired of it. It has no staying power - by The Beatles' standards, that is.

“Wild Honey Pie”. 50 seconds of Paul having fun. Harmless, but doesn’t amount to anything.

“The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill”. I absolutely adore the verse melody, but the chorus is way too cheesy and embarrassing. Yoko Ono on the background vocals doesn’t help things either.

“Rocky Raccoon”. I do like this catchy country-western number, and sing along like an idiot while it’s on. Still, it feels too much like a throwaway, however funny and amusing.

“Don’t Pass Me By”. Written by Ringo Starr and not called “Octopus’s Garden”. Need I say more? Capable, but not something I need to hear on a classic album by The Beatles.

“Why Don’t We Do It On The Road”. Another novelty offering from McCartney. Interesting for one listen or two, but it’s not really much of a song. Is it? In the context of the album, it just messes the whole thing up even more. Organically, you could say.

“I Will”. Depends on how much sugar you are prepared to take with your pop. Lovely lilting tune, but somehow “Martha My Dear” had an edge. This one doesn’t.

“Birthday”. A pretty straightforward rock’n’roll screamer from Paul. We knew they could do those. The energy and the guts are appreciated - sadly, though, the actual melody is nowhere near as exciting.

“Mother Nature’s Son”. An acoustic ballad from McCartney. Not as good as “Blackbird”. Very pretty, but his early “I’ll Follow The Sun” sounded so much more inspired.

“Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey”. I love this one, and it shouldn’t really be on the list. However, you can’t get away from the fact that this is just not top-drawer Beatles material.

“Long Long Long”. Once again, a strong tune. Harrison couldn’t contribute too many songs to The Beatles’ albums, so he took great care that the ones he did contribute were good. But why is it so inaudible?..

“Honey Pie”. Typical McCartney’s country-esque pop. Too sugary, schmaltzy and pedestrian this time.

“Revolution #9”. If you listen to this on its own, and take it as an experiment, you will be amazed at what a successful experiment this is. Mozart compared to Lennon’s first solo records with Ono. Sadly, I don’t have much use for it on a Beatles album.

“Good Night”. And, probably fittingly, they end it all on an orchestrated, sentimental, oversweetened note. Interestingly, composed by John. For an album like that, it’s just what the doctor ordered, but ‘an album like that’ is exactly what I’m opposing here.

So overall much of The White Album feels like diversity for the sake of diversity. Take these 15 songs out, and you get yourself a brilliant precursor to Abbey Road. As it is, the album is a worthy, entertaining mess. Much as I hate to admit it.

And don’t give me that shit about an album being bigger than the sum of its parts. Clearly this is not the case.

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