The Bea­tles

Irish Examiner - - People - Ed Power

The White Al­bum ★★★★★

Re­view­ing the White Al­bum is a bit like pass­ing judge­ment on Michelan­gelo’s ceil­ing doo­dles for the Sis­tine Chapel or won­der­ing why James Joyce didn’t use shorter sen­tences in Ulysses.

That’s even with the ac­knowl­edge­ment that on its re­lease 50 years ago, the fol­low-up to Sgt Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was re­garded as deeply prob­lem­atic — a sprawl of ideas and in­flu­ences where Sgt Pep­per was, for all its for­mal woozi­ness, fo­cused and di­rect in its am­bi­tions.

A new ‘deluxe’ an­niver­sary reis­sue pulls back the cur­tain in the tu­mult John, Paul, Ge­orge and Ringo were go­ing through when they as­sem­bled at Abbey Road in 1967 (next door to the stu­dio where a fledg­ling Pink Floyd were putting to­gether Piper at the Gates of Dawn).

What the myr­iad of out­takes con­firm is that, what­ever other is­sues ailed the Bea­tles as they en­tered the fi­nal stages of their time to­gether, creative sta­sis was not one of them. Among the as­sem­bled out­takes is the great lost Har­ri­son track, ‘Not Guilty’, Macca’s semi-com­pleted ‘Junk’ (which would pop up in more pol­ished form on a solo LP) and Len­non’s ‘Child Of Na­ture’, the melody which he would re­cy­cle for ‘Jeal­ous Guy’.

The big treat for au­dio­philes, mean­while, is an over­haul of the orig­i­nal 29 tracks by Giles Mar­tin (son of Ge­orge). Much as he did with last year’s Sgt Pep­per reis­sue he de­clut­ters the ex­ist­ing mix, adding sharp­ness and con­trast with­out pre­sum­ing to carry out ma­jor re­con­struc­tive surgery.

What he can’t do, of course, is bring any or­der to the bonkers con­trast of tones which de­fined the White Al­bum. This was the Bea­tles in the kids-in-candy-shop phase of their creative ex­is­tence, with the record by turns ac­com­mo­dat­ing McCart­ney’s feral blues work­out ‘Hel­ter Skel­ter’, Len­non’s proto-shoegaze’ Dear Pru­dence’ and ‘Hap­pi­ness Is A Warm Gun’ and Har­ri­son’s ‘While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps’.

It’s a work of ge­nius — but a by turns frus­trat­ing and scat­ter­shot one and the new edi­tion nei­ther di­min­ishes its reck­less am­bi­tion nor wres­tles with its thrilling in­co­her­ence.

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