November 7, 1998
In the fine tradition of finding any excuse to celebrate the work of the most radical and loveable outfit in pop history, here we have a repackaged '30 years ago today' edition of their longest and mo
8 / 10
IN THE FINE TRADITION OF FINDING ANY excuse to celebrate the work of the most radical and loveable outfit in pop history, here we have a repackaged '30 years ago today' edition of their longest and most diffuse album. The collector gets all the attractions of the original vinyl issue - poster/lyric sleeve, individual moody post-meditation Fab portraits - in scaled-down CD size. And the lover of aural Fabbery will find nothing has been tampered with, added or taken away.
How could it be otherwise? The record known as 'The White Album' presents the alpha and omega of Planet Beatles. From the cheery, teeth-grating pap of Macca's 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' to the frazzled sound collage of Ono-Lennon's 'Revolution 9'. From the serious concern for the group's dwindling esprit de corps on George's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' to the lusty debunking of Fab fanaticism on John's 'Glass Onion'. A sweetener for every bitter pill, with even Lennon - scabrous and nerve-shredding on 'Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey' - providing a final, soft-cushioned landing on the dreamily orchestrated, Ringo-sung 'Good Night'.
Their first album released on their own Apple label, 'The White Album' was conceived in a mood of increasing insularity allied to a 'we can do anything' confidence. Certainly there are songs where aloofness or polished technique - George's 'Piggies', Mr Mac's tiresome '20s pastiche 'Honey Pie' - stand in the way of feeling and substance. But the sheer abundance of material, particularly that produced by a newly activated Lennon emerging from his LSD-laced cocoon, ensures it remains a flawed, funny, mischievous and cranky masterpiece.
As even the twisted brain of Charles Manson found, 'The White Album''s array of sonic terrorism, pop disposability and finger-plucked acoustic dreamscapes provides something for everyone. Mac's heavy metal 'Helter Skelter'; John raging and suicidal on 'Yer Blues', glacial and confessional on the dead-mother-tribute 'Julia', and caustic and Maharishi-roasting on 'Sexy Sadie'.
The exuberant, opener, 'Back In The USSR', takes their ability to transform influences (namely The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry) to a soaring new level. Though the prevailing mood is towards post-Pepper studio simplicity, 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun' is the album's scintillating epic, Lennon at his most musically daring and emotionally complex.
Making a virtue of the internal dissent which would upend them over the course of the next 12 months, 'The White Album' is many things. The work of practised professional craftsmen, musical archivists, spiritual seekers (Harrison's redemptive 'Long Long Long' one of many hidden delights) and agit rockers out to capture the tenor of the times ('Revolution 1' and 'Revolution 9'), it shows that, even stretched to the limit, The Beatles' riches were manifold. Their instinctive conceptual genius was unmatched in '68 and remains unchallenged 30 years later.
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