The Beatles (“The White Album”)
The previously tight knit Beatles began to splinter by 1968. The group’s support team had changed with the death of manager Brian Epstein, while George Martin was less involved than usual. Lennon’s new partner Yoko Ono was also present for recording, which made communication difficult for Lennon and McCartney.
The Beatles booked Abbey Road for long periods, allowing them to record gradually, and the album feels much less focused. There’s less of a band feel; Starr quit the band for some of the sessions, so that McCartney plays drums on some of his own songs, while only 16 of the album’s 30 songs feature all four Beatles playing. It’s hardly surprising that The Beatles often feels more like a compilation of solo tracks than a fully fledged Beatles album. One pleasing development is the emergence of George Harrison as a major songwriter, and he clearly deserves more than four songs here, as ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and the baroque harpsichord social commentary of ‘Piggies’ are among the highlights.
Like a lot of double albums, The Beatles is a sprawling lucky dip of an album. It runs the gamut from throwaways like ‘Wild Honey Pie’ and the blues of ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?’ to experimental pieces like Lennon’s sound collage ‘Revolution #9′. While there are plenty of songs that I often skip, there’s plenty of great stuff here, and it has more great songs than any other Beatles’ album. Highlights for me include Lennon’s multi-part ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, McCartney’s frenzied ‘Helter Skelter’, pretty piano pop like Lennon’s ‘Cry Baby Cry’ and McCartney’s ‘Martha My Dear’, and gorgeous acoustic songs like Lennon’s ‘Julia’.
There’s an embarrassment of riches here, and any serious Beatles’ fan will need to hear The White Album; just don’t expect to love the whole thing.