Review Summary: Well fuck, they really are that good
As I casually browse my local music store, one band in particular catches my eye.
I had always put off listening to The Beatles, I found myself worried that the legend surrounding their discography left me with expectations they could never meet. Yet curiosity prevailed and I finally decided to dive head first into “the single greatest band of all time”.
And thus, I purchased “Rubber Soul”.
Not quite sure what to expect, I tentatively slide the disc into my computer and hold my breath.
Often there may be a song that you hear, and whilst it may not be of particularly high quality, you enjoy it due its “catchiness”. Conversely, there will often be songs of a very high musical quality that you simply do not listen to often because it is not catchy, despite acknowledging its musical quality. What “Rubber Soul” displays is a near perfect mix of both these musical traits; it maintains an incredible amount of catchiness without sacrificing artistic integrity and song writing. Opener “Drive My Car” immediately showcases this, with groovy and fun bass work as well as tasteful and precise guitar leads along with solid drumming and very well executed vocals which is, in turn, supported by it being LETHALY catchy. What is displayed in the opener is what you can expect from the basically every single song on “Rubber Soul”; short and catchy songs that also contain excellent musicianship and structure.
Whilst a fourteen track album with only one song over three minutes initially lead me to worry that some of the compositions may be rushed and possess little substance, I immediately realised that the complete opposite was true. The short song length coupled with the albums consistency makes it virtually impossible to get bored with “Rubber Soul”. In many great albums you may find yourself wishing some of the songs were shorter or less repetitive, yet this record avoids such problems by not only holding to the aforementioned consistency, but also the occasional use of musical styles that are completely different from the 60’s pop rock-esque feel of the album. Songs such as the almost Jewish sounding “Girl”, to the slow, sombre droning of “Michelle” ensure the listener does not become bored with one particular sound or style.
Musically “Rubber Soul” displays a fantastic balance of quality across all four members, with each handling a multitude of instruments throughout. Harrison’s bass is possibly the biggest standout instrumentally with it proving incredibly effective in backing McCartney and/or Lennon’s guitar work (or indeed taking the lead, such as the verse of the aforementioned “Drive My Car”). However Harrison also displays his skills as a songwriter and vocalist with the excellent “Think For Yourself”, which helps to support claims that Harrison deserved a larger role within the band.
Ringo Starr never commanded nearly as much respect as the other band members, yet his work within “Rubber Soul” is mistakenly overlooked all too often. The drums plays a deceptively crucial role in determining the pace and groove of a song, and Starr’s intelligent work behind the kit helps to bolster the already fantastic song writing of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison (namely “In My Life”).
Of course the vocal and instrumental work of Lennon and McCartney is beyond stellar. Their harmonies never seem to be forced or awkward, especially in “The Word” and “Drive My Car” where they gel to near perfection. Their guitar (and sneaky sitar) work is usually handled in a minimalistic fashion, favouring smartly placed leads and chords working in tandem with Harrison’s bass over a multitude of riffs and solos (such as the very simple intro lead in “In My Life” that is repeated multiple times to fantastic effect). This type of near humble use of guitar coupled with their song writing skills and overall excellence of every band member creates a fantastically varied and full performance, rather than a band known almost exclusively for riffs and/or vocals (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest). This consistency of each Beatle is given strength by the production that pays each instrumental near-equal respect. Not much more can be said of Lennon and McCartney that has not already been said, yet it must be stated that they are simply masters of their craft.
“Rubber Soul” is often regarded as the first true “legendary” Beatles album. What is displayed is a fantastic balance of instrumental work that showcases the quality of each member. Coupled with Lennon and McCartney’s (and Harrison on “Think For Yourself”) famed song writing abilities that skillfully balance catchiness and integrity present a deservedly legendary album that served as the perfect introduction for my Beatles journey.