Review Summary: Squiggly and weird, endlessly fascinating.
You do not f*ck with “A Day in the Life”
I don’t care if you’re one of those types that believe Sgt Peppers to be the most overrated pompous piece of music that kicked off the proud tradition of the overhyped piece of drug birthed extravagance, that’s good for you, enjoy your life.
But you do not f*ck with “A Day in the Life”
A painfully brilliant piece of song craft with no chorus and a 40 piece orchestra having a simultaneous and pants-sh*ttingly terrifying acid freak-out that climaxes with the same chord being struck on four pianos like twin skyscraper sized middle fingers rising out of the Atlantic Ocean with a message inscribed upon their extending digits for all other bands to come in its wake, “GOOD LUCK”.
As that final chord faded the music press of the world found themselves forced into a position in which they had to write about the greatest band in history reaching their almost guaranteed peak without collapsing into giddy hyperbole.
“I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.”
The above quote, uttered by an almost certainly biblically stoned Timothy Leary not long after the release of Sgt. Peppers sums up the general reaction of a music public at large. By this point The Beatles were perfect to the point of frustration, it was high time for the fab four to make a bad album already, or at least a mediocre one.
Around the same time, The Beatles were coming to realize that those twin middle fingers standing tall in the Atlantic were pointed at them as well, possibly more than anyone else. They now had the singular task of following Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
. So screw it, they weren’t even going to try, they were going to finally make a bad album. A staggeringly long overindulgent double album crammed with go nowhere experiments, insufferably peppy mariachi jams, odes to doin' in the middle of the street, and an eight minute tape collage that collapses into Ringo Starr singing a straight up lullaby. It wouldn’t just be a bad Beatles album; they were going to make the worst album ever.
Retrospectively, its clear that The Beatles
(Or The White Album
to most) was the only album they could’ve made. If they had attempted a sequel to its predecessor they would have been eaten alive, if they had attempted something poppier it would have been seen as a regression and would have been eaten alive. So they made the opposite of Sgt. Peppers
in every way, a blank album cover, double its running length, and an unfocused sprawl. They were so successful I would say that even if The White Album
isn’t the best Beatles album (Which it might be) it is easily the most interesting.
Unlike Sgt. Peppers
, which falls into an almost uncanny valley state of perfect, The White Album is a fractured mess and is more casually enjoyable because of it. “The Continued Story of Bungalow Bill” wouldn’t be such a wonderfully quirky romp if it weren’t preceded by the shrieking “Honey Pie” to throw its qualities in stark relief. By placing the almost identical length tracks “Why Don’t We Do It in The Road?” and “I Will” back to back the former seems more unhinged and hilarious while the latter feels sweeter and more peaceful. In general, disc one makes for a more even listen, stacked with wild successes like the mid-summers day bliss of “Dear Prudence”, the freakishly forward thinking “Hapiness is a Warm Gun”, and the sweepingly dramatic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Even “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” works if you’re in the right mood (If not, it’s a water balloon of sugar sludge right in the kisser).
Disc two lacks the easily recognizable tunes of one and is more rewarding to explore because of it. Lennon’s “Yer Blues” is a riotous parody of over emotive blues-rock acts (“In the MOAN’IN… WANNA DIE!”), “Mother Natures Son” and “Long, Long, Long” float with the grace of a leaf in the breeze, and “Good Night” takes rivers of cheese and spins it into a peaceful dénouement. But the clear highlight is Paul’s response to being pegged as the sappy love song guy, “Helter Skelter”. Terrifyingly unhinged - during one take George lit an ashtray on fire and ran around the studio - it bends Revolver
’s “Here, There And Everywhere” over the bed and f*cks it until it can’t walk straight.
To find The Beatles
’s predecessor you’d have to look all the way back to Please Please Me
. That album was an attempt to capture the thrill of The Beatle’s live show, messy and unkempt, many songs were first takes and there were almost no overdubs. The Beatles
was an attempt to capture the monotony and restless creativity that comes from endless hours in the studio. It bottles the joy of sudden discovery and of a song coming together after hundreds of tweaks and takes. In it also lies the tension and resentment that results from being in the company of the same people day after day trying to wrestle your artistic vision away from them. The template of following the unquestionable classic with the massive double album has been utilized by everyone from Pavement to The Notorious BIG but it started here, with the wonderful, imperfect White Album