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THE BEATLES

The Beatles

 

Proto-Prog

4.15 | 536 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars It is, of course, nonsense to say that the White Album revealed the death of Paul McCartney. But it might be possible to say that hidden within its famously oblique lyrics is a different revelation: the death of the Beatles. The band had begun composing the album whilst on retreat with the Maharishi but left disillusioned with the guru; by the time the recording sessions were other, they were thoroughly disillusioned with each other. This album marks the point of no return; after this, the band would be caught in a death spiral of constant disputes and regular departures - Ringo actually left during the recording, only to return before his departure was officially announced. The band would shamble on in this state of living death through their last few albums, and it's probably a sign of how talented they were that they were still able to make an acceptable album under such conditions.

Things start off well. The first four songs are all gems - a couple of heartening and fairly straightforward singalongs from Paul and some psych gems (one gentle, one hard-edged) from John. But then things go a little off the rails - Wild Honey Pie and The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill aim for whimsy but hit irritation, both coming across as undeveloped ideas which could have used a little work. George Harrison makes a fine attempt to put the album back on course with the excellent While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but the momentum's been lost. It's not the experimentalism per se that makes them not fit - Happiness Is a Warm Gun, possibly the oddest song on the first side, is actually damn good - so much as the way they come across as solo demos that their respecting primary songwriters believed in but the rest of the band didn't.

Side two has another strong opening selection of tracks - Martha My Dear gives the proceedings a little elegance, whilst I'm So Tired has a clever mix of languid sections and fraught bridges which puts you in mind of Lennon tossing and turning during a sleeping night. But then Harrison follows up the gentle and thoughtful political message of McCartney's Blackbird with a naive and crude little message in Piggies. McCartney's Rocky Raccoon takes the bands' habitual borrowings from Dylan to a tedious extreme, and Ringo's sloppy and unfocused Don't Pass Me By is one of his worst contributions to a Beatles album. Things do pick up towards the end of the side, with two nice little song fragments from Paul, but it closes on another downer with Julia, which is pretty enough at first but is a bit too repetitive and is dragged out for so long that by the end it becomes intensely irritating.

Side three includes a number of unconvincing attempts to do some hard rock (Birthday, Helter Skelter, and Everybody's Got Something to Hide...) or blues (Yer Blues), and also includes Sexy Sadie, a somewhat mean-spirited and half-baked song from Lennon, and Long, Long, Long, one of Harrison's more forgettable numbers. And side four includes the plodding Revolution 1 (nowhere near as good as the single), the pointless Revolution 9 (I won't dignify it with the term "experimental" because that would imply Lennon was actually trying to achieve something with it), another version of Honey Pie (really, one version was more than enough), a forgettable Savoy Truffle from Harrison and a Good Night warble from Ringo. Really, the only song worth the time on this last side (to me) is Cry Baby Cry.

The thing about the White Album is that there's a damn good Beatles single album in there, swollen up to double album size by a lack of filtering and quality control. But then, trimming it down would mean agreeing to remove some of the songs, and the Beatles were in absolutely no state to be making such concessions to each other at this point in their career. There's a five star album wanting to get out here, but I can't give it more than a three - and that's generous for a double album whose songs I want to trim so savagely. What I will say about it is that which albums you'll want to skip over will probably differ from the songs I personally dislike, which I suppose is a testimony to just how disjointed the whole thing is; maybe if you had an extremely broad taste in music you'd be able to appreciate every single song on here - but I can't think of any situation in which I'd be in the mood to hear *all* the songs on here.

Warthur | 3/5 |

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