The White Album and other hot messes
Over at Hey Dullblog, the Beatles blog for today's modern listener, Mike asks readers for their favorite unreleased Beatles song. This turned into a skewering of the White Album:
That's my biggest issue with White, how it's totally fashionable and false, just like most Beatle's solo output, and not like what came before. Both it and Let It Be seem like the triumph of each band member's persona over their authentic selves; they are their final refusal to change, when change was what The Beatles did best. Lennon's "honest" and politically aware (in a rockstar way) and intentionally grimy. McCartney's that much more eager to please (which is why his music hall thing gets out of control). Harrison's either wafting away on a cloud or acidly angry. Starr is a good ol' boy who just happened to be born in the North of England...I don't like the White Album anymore than I like The Beatles' cartoon, for the same reasons.
There follows a spirited back and forth with the almighty Dev, who decrees:
It's all a matter of what you hear. If you hear something and love it, you'll find ways to give personal context to the importance it has to you. If you don't like it, you'll find those reasons. What you hear as "the Beatles' final refusal to change" I hear as drama--four individuals joined under the skin, that skin withering and wearing, their unity telepathic even as their verbal communication breaks down, fighting within the skin to work together and push the group to new lands: and all of that without, I believe, any conscious intent. White, in the best Beatle tradition, doesn't intend, it IS. Whereas "Abbey Road" for all its magnificent passages is an acquiescence, an abrogation of conflict for bliss, consequently lacking (overall) in drama and even a little inhuman.
White Album is the first principle and the last. It is Moby-Dick. And you thought you were fed up with the praise before!
("Everyone Knew Her As") Nancy steps in, to smooth some feathers:
There's something spooky about the White Album's tendency to engender intense, often negative feelings, both at the time and now. Much as I love parts of it, I can rarely listen to more than a couple of songs from it at a time.
Devin, I agree with you about the way John's comments ("backing band") color the way we hear this album. Certainly there was plenty of tension and bad feeling, but listen to a song like "Dear Prudence" -- what amazing collaboration, especially between Lennon's melody and McCartney's sublime bassline. The evidence of collaboration and enjoyment in many songs makes the overall effect of the album all the sadder.
A lot of food for thought. Great stuff!
And—sorry, Mike—I fall into the pro-White Album camp...I was utterly thrilled when I listened to it for the first time (long before I read any rock crit); if memory serves, a local radio station played an old "classic" album in its entirety every Friday night, beginning at 11. I taped The Beatles off the radio in its entirety, marveling at whole continents of stuff I'd not heard before. Still thrills me. Still have the tape, for that matter!