John Lennon famously said that if you listen to The White Album, you can hear The Beatles breaking up. You can certainly hear that each member had a lot of things to say, and with many different ways to say it musically speaking, from traditional rock n’ roll, to wistful bucolic folk, to quasi-baroque black humour, to proto-prog excursions, to noise-rock, to the churning collage approach of avant garde, and beyond. The fact was, the band was going through a metamorphosis even as the political and cultural landscapes were changing all around them, drifting into darker territory from the multicoloured promise of the hippy dream just one year before.
They’d drifted pretty far from those shores themselves since their manager Brian Epstein died, the man who kept them together as a group with a common purpose. They’d come to find themselves on different paths from each other, too. Even in the band photos on the inner sleeve of this double disc magnum opus, there isn’t a group shot to be found. Rather we find John, Paul, George, and Ringo in separate quadrants looking a little worse for wear. Even in the middle of all of that, they made one of their most striking and influential works, even if on some tracks they performed as solo artists who used “The Beatles” as a banner under which to produce their individual material, rather than as a band. So what you can also hear on this record is them trying to find their voices as individuals, all the while using any voices they had to hand.
Among many other things which The Beatles represents, my friend Graeme and I are joined once again by musician, podcaster, and critic Alex Kennard who celebrates this album as his favourite of their catalogue. As usual, we discuss our favourite tracks, and we talk about how to approach this listening to this album given its magnitude. Unusually, maybe, we don’t talk about whether the record should have been a single disc. Because that would be dumb.
And Alex has a pop at Clapton, and praises “Revolution 9” to the skies.
You can decide if he’s right yourself by listening to the episode right here.