Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)


(Apple)

!!! A+ RECORDING !!!

There are a lot of things you can argue with about Abbey Road, the Beatles' penultimate studio album and the last one they recorded; but in this case even more than Sgt. Pepper, laying out and identifying the flaws paints you as a petty and joyless individual. From a cynical standpoint, the record sounds like high-and-mighty rock stars casting their celestial powers with immunity, but the great paradox of the Beatles is that they thought they were incredible ("the best fucking group in the goddamned world," as John Lennon put it), and they were correct. Hence, more fun to listen to than any other Beatles album, this singalong amusement park ride is guarded and calculated, but never claustrophobic. Its faults do not become clear until after it has faded; and strangely, even if its songs and music are settled and closed-ended in a way that the White Album and Get Back never were, its magic never fades, perhaps because it is the most populist creation in the group's discography -- keyed to the pleasure of the broadest possible audience.

And it is magic -- a career summary of sorts that makes clear the Beatles' awareness that their story was finished, or more appropriately, complete; if only other guiding lights of the '60s had reached similar conclusions around this time. (One reason for the Beatles' prolonged reign as the most popular band in rock past or present is that they knew when and how to leave their audience in a permanent state of yearning.) After being semi-estranged from the group during the Get Back project, George Martin was brought back into the fold and with his help, the Beatles cast it all as a nostalgia trip, a sort of clip show of everything the band (and their producer) had accomplished and were still capable of doing. You get the straight-up rock & roll, though maybe too little of it, the wicked humor, some friendly experimentation, and lots of tracks that segue and slide in and out of attention at will, sending hearts back to the mind-expanding summer of '67 when a world had opened up that already seemed to be fading after just two years. There are probably traces of every other Beatles album somewhere in this one.

Side One offers most of the conventional songs -- two of John's, two of Paul's, one each from Ringo and George. Side Two, aside from Harrison's breezy and moving "Here Comes the Sun" and Lennon's gorgeous but overly precious "Because," belongs to Paul almost fully, if not in terms of the makeup of its compositions or performances then certainly in its overall thrust. Here is the famous "Abbey Road medley," with its eight-song rollercoaster of unfinished ideas and minor puff pieces -- the emptying out of their notebooks another signal that they were packing it in -- built into a stunning crescendo for the band's entire career. Lennon's songs are funny but fluffy with conviction, the best being the energetic "Polythene Pam," initially -- like "Mean Mr. Mustard" -- written in India and demoed for the White Album but never finished; the medley concept made such an act superfluous. McCartney's portions are either bizarrely endearing ("You Never Give Me Your Money," "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window") or unabashedly schlocky (the beautiful melodrama "Golden Slumbers")... and yet, somehow, the whole thing not only comes off, but comes off beautifully.

"You Never Give Me Your Money" in particular, despite fragmentation that calls the scourge of the "rock opera" to mind at one end and the glories of the more languid and perverse "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" at the other, occasions what may be the most purely emotional moment in the band's catalog, certainly in Paul's career, which is impressive in a song whose overall meaning amounts to nothing much: this is when Paul adopts his bluesy Elvis voice to announce with wistful but unflappable assurance that "soon we'll be away from here / step on the gas and wipe that tear away / one sweet dream came true today," and for just a moment, the direct connection of all this to the bleak slide from the '60s on into the '70s, from the Beatles to Watergate and Vietnam and arena rock, ceases to matter and Paul seems to be communicating completely out of time, talking to any of us and all of us, assuring us that we can go on, which -- as the prospective fan grows older -- becomes increasingly important. To return to this moment is to access a hopefulness and charge that we are sometimes lulled into thinking is only accessible in our youth. Like the Beach Boys at their best, the song dares to look ahead by looking backward, and does so with unfaded defiance. Fine music was in Paul's future, but never a moment of such unforced and ageless romance, never one that swells the heart and forces it open like this. There are similar moments of odd transcendence in "Bathroom Window," all of them in the performance itself; Paul's ability to tap into his reserves of feeling in a singing voice that can sometimes seem all too calculated enlivened the already brilliant "Penny Lane" and the otherwise goofy "Lovely Rita," and it reappears here when he comes across as sounding absolutely free of himself, free of any baggage, when singing utter nonsense like "though she thought I knew the answer / well, I knew but I could not say."

The b-movie director Edward D. Wood Jr., or at least the biopic about him directed by Tim Burton, had an unconscious point about the worst ideas being the best ones if they're presented with the right enthusiasm. The Beatles, of all people, have the dubious honor of making that clear by stacking drunken inanities like "Sun King," "Carry That Weight" (which occasions a clever reprise of "You Never Give Me Your Money") and "The End" together until they add up to something. It is strictly a studio triumph, of course, all the tweaking and knob-twisting of Sgt. Pepper perfected at an almost inhumane, overly professional distance, but a hell of a hummable one. And when taken as an elegiac look back at who the Beatles had been and who they became, the entire piece is touching in a way it could never be if divorced from the full context of the band's story. Please Please Me and Sgt. Pepper, in other words, are what make the medley work.

That said, it's now clear that Side One is the more consistent of the two divisions, at least when you break its individual songs out of this context. It offers the album's most substantial composition and greatest performance -- John's wounding "Come Together," a gloriously played Chuck Berry homage that slows down and amps up until it sounds like total sleaze, infectiously so, and fulfills the promise of "The Word" by featuring the writer's best-ever sloganeering (with a side of the sublimely absurd), "Give Peace a Chance" and "All You Need Is Love" be damned -- and throws bones both to the Beatles' sophisticated followers in George's lovely, undeniable (if overproduced) classic "Something" and to the fans of dirty-ass rock & roll with Paul's "Oh! Darling" and John's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." Vocally, the former is flawless; musically, the latter is. Both men could write far better songs than this, however, and Abbey Road often seems like a gigantic curtain hiding people who are saving their best ideas for when this gig is finished. (Unfortunately, "Oh! Darling" is one of the last good ideas Paul would have until 1973 or so.) "Something" is a notable exception, and prompted the band's first A-side that wasn't a Lennon-McCartney composition, eventually becoming an actual standard. Like several of George's other songs from this era, it's better stripped down in an acoustic version that was eventually released in the '90s with a much looser, more soulful vocal from George; but it's foolish to deny how effective the master recording is as a grand, deeply felt piece of soft pop. And for once, neither it nor "Here Comes the Sun" (a more appropriate home for the album's atypical gloss) comes equipped with any of George's odd cynicism and scorn toward the women he sings about. The corner he has turned, it seems, is allowing himself to be seduced.

Ringo Starr, curiously but as on Sgt. Pepper, supplies the most human touch of all. His second full-fledged composition "Octopus's Garden," though it's clearly "Yellow Submarine Mark II," is surprisingly magnetic and may have more lasting appeal than anything here aside from "Come Together." That's in part because of the sheer force of enthusiasm, and Martin's litany of sound effects helps elevate it, but it also fits the ecstatic mood of the record in a manner that "Yellow Submarine" didn't, never quite gelling with the druggy paranoia of Revolver. Surprisingly, the lyrics add a great deal to this; a fantasy of "no one there to tell us what to do" is one thing, but longing for people to live in circumstances "knowing they're happy and they're safe" gets at something deeper, a utopian ideal that must have seemed attractive to the sickly boy who'd grown up to be a working class musician and eventually an endlessly mobbed rock star, but resonates even more to anyone in the Beatles' far-flung audience for whom "safety" is an inherently beautiful concept. In the end, it's a childlike dream that matters more than its obvious, more famous antecedent because it's secretly about something obviously more real, and therefore more touching.

I'm even partial to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," a music-hall routine backgrounding another of McCartney's long-winded articulate jokes, this one a black comedy that with a few twists could well have turned into his "Lady Godiva's Operation"; it's less a song than a loopy comedy sketch, so it's no wonder Lennon hated it (though his participation certainly sounds enthused enough), but could any band except the Beatles twist what amounts to a murder ballad into a grinning, playful singalong without alienating anyone?

None of the Beatles really appear to be running out of steam, bored as they may have been with the outlet by now; the reason they come across as more buoyant here than on Get Back is perhaps inherent to the flaws of that concept, though it's more likely that the writing was on the wall for them and that Abbey Road was produced, played, written the way it was and in a mood of relative peace because it was known, or at least suspected, that it was a last hurrah for the Beatles as a unit. At any rate, they continue to be wholly devoted to their craft. George Martin's work has evolved yet again, and it's surprising that the Beatles signed off on the record's extremely polished nature due in part to the new eight-track tape machine at the studio; they had rebuked the slick, overly professional sound of the pre-fame records they made with Bert Kaempfert and Tony Sheridan for Polydor in Hamburg, but Abbey Road is no less slick, which does slightly hamper its vitality even as it affords new opportunities like the entrance of surprisingly tasteful Moog overdubs and the most flattering stage George Harrison had for his guitar work on any record up to this point. If some tracks can be sugary and overblown when you listen too closely, the extra space also allows something like the harrowing conclusion to the eight-minute "I Want You" to sound as apocalyptic as "Revolution 9" with only the power of a stack of guitars and white noise in tow. Martin must have been in heaven with the possibilities eight-track offered for his ornate, baroque pop ideas on Side Two, but it's hard to miss that the greater difficulty in crafting Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, and their harder, rawer sound, make those records considerably more exciting than this one.

But again, Abbey Road isn't meant to move further down the road. It's a celebration of the road itself. It sounds like it was meant to be "a suitable ending," and it is -- slightly corrupted by the flawed epilogue Let It Be, but thematically flawless in the way it presents itself as a specifically sanctioned finale to the Beatles' story. Paul had asked George Martin if they could make a record "the way they used to," and Martin agreed on condition of basic obedience. Had they not pulled themselves together long enough to make this happen one last time, the Beatles' legacy might have always seemed somehow incomplete. But they did, and it doesn't.

***

[Expanded from a review originally posted in 2003.]

Sunday, November 18, 2018

War is over (if you want it): October 2018 music diary

If you were one of those people who wished it could be (1968 again) and didn't care to look in on new music at all but wanted just to dwell on the past, you'd nevertheless certainly have no shortage of exploring to do this autumn with massive archive dumps from the Kinks, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and of course the Beatles. I'm not even touching the Lennon, Dylan and Kinks stuff yet but lifelong passion couldn't keep me from carving out time for the new collection of White Album outtakes and they are indeed lovely, putting forward a whole new narrative about that era of the band and about what happens to be my favorite of their LPs. It's also wonderful to have perhaps the best Beatles bootleg item of all, the Esher demos, finally out in the world in complete form officially. A full-fledged review of the super deluxe boxed set will have to wait -- it's in the Beatles queue, as it were, and I'm still debating whether I need a physical copy of my own; I skipped the Pepper set except electronically and haven't regretted it yet -- and I haven't even listened to Giles Martin's new remix as of this moment, but you can expect a dissertation on the matter in due time. That long blues-dirge "Helter Skelter," the Elvis cover and the instrumental proto-new wave version of "Me and My Monkey" are giving me all kinds of much-needed life, though. For now, it's back to modern-day obligations, and we seem to be winding down a bit, or maybe I'm the one who's doing that...

Jlin: Autobiography (Planet Mu) [r]
Pretty much a Jlin demo reel, a groovy package embodying her whole bag of tricks to date with the usual immersive sonic challenges and restless, furious sampling and creativity. It doesn't reveal anything new, but there's a reason: rather than a conventional studio album it's a soundtrack of sorts for a Royal Ballet dance suite, so it amounts to something like Jean Vigo's Taris, a great artist working on commission and using it as an opportunity to experiment while delivering for her own brand and portfolio. As such, it's a must for those who loved Black Origami and/or Dark Energy but we'll have to wait a bit longer to learn where she's going to take us next. This does make me want to see the Wayne McGregor piece it's meant to accompany, though.

Tim Hecker: Konoyo (Kranky) [r]
The first Hecker release I've heard that I found more than just tolerable; that may not speak well of my taste in adventure, as it's clearly his least ambitious and most conventional work, with a laid-back and almost soft rock-evocative sound despite its wordless, often unmusical ambiance, as if someone took away all the singing and instrumentation on a Chris Isaak album and left only the vibes.

Phosphorescent: C'est La Vie (Dead Oceans)
I really hate Matthew Houck's appearance (fair game because his damn face is plastered across the front of this), persona, vibe, lazily button-pushing derivative sound, so it frustrates me to the extreme that this is basically competent alterna-mood music with textures that capture the hopeless late night feeling of the stuff that made me feel comforted in my echo chamber of depression as a teen, though specifically it calls to mind the masterfully miserable one-shot with the long title I don't feel like looking up by Primitive Radio Gods. I never heard that album but I was told it was garbage and completely avoided living up to the sound of the radio song. Well, I guess now we get to hear a whole full-length record of it, and divorced from major label marketing to boot, so if this is your scene I'm not going to yell at you about it. "New Birth in New England" is perfectly lovely junk, '70s adult contemporary AM filtered through the Postal Service.

Fucked Up: Dose Your Dreams (Merge) [r]
This sprawling, sonically varied punk rock paean is the easiest time I've had with a Fucked Up release so far, whatever that means. Abraham's vocals continue to grate, but he isn't always the one singing, and when he is it's often the not-entirely-unappealing sound of somebody screaming over Owen Pallett's string arrangements. The mixture of voices helps a lot, not just the MVP backup singing but lead spots like Jennifer Castle's country rock interlude "Came Down Wrong." Like Titus Andronicus (newly labelmates), the group offers as dynamic a sound as we get from punk rock, much less from hardcore; like Titus Andronicus, at their best they are triumphant and defiant in their pain ("Joy Stops Time"). With touches of new wave ("Normal People"), shoegaze (the complicated, beautiful "How to Die Happy") and the occasional Medieval-sounding guitar lick ("Tell Me What You See"), plus a title track that sounds like Hall & Oates reimagined Pretty Hate Machine, there's something here for everyone, which is a good excuse for how ridiculously long it is; the entire album has a cumulative and welcome vibe of rejuvenation. It's never going to be a part of my day to day life, but still, well done.

Twenty One Pilots: Trench (Atlantic)
Won a Grammy before I'd so much as heard of them, and I wasn't alone -- that particular event prompted Ann Powers to tweet about how the number of people making similar remarks were very clearly betraying the absence of young teenagers in their lives. It wasn't any more off-the-wall, in its fashion, than Arcade Fire winning, when a lot of us rejoiced and pointlessly mocked the people who were wholly clueless about what had just happened and why. Twenty One Pilots, meantime, are no more brainless and dunderheaded than the lazier end of what passed for modern rock when I was in high school -- the waning days of mall punk, the very early days of emo -- and there's no point chattering about being "too old" when, in fact, I remember feeling completely baffled when I first walked into a Hot Topic in 2001, at age 17, and had heard of almost nothing being played or peddled. Presumably, if you're older or younger than me and are a music nerd now, you could tell the same basic story. In other words, very little has changed, and this safely bland, fake-socially conscious duo from Columbus are more or less just a stopgap between the craftier pop world and whatever mature interests and eventual nostalgia they will set off themselves in their audience. I listened to this, found the vocals annoying, the music competently catchy, the production antiseptic, and the whole thing devoid of any kind of appeal I'm going to remember, but that's because I'm not who it's trying to capture, and I don't have the basic interest in mainstream rock past or present to warrant any intellectual or emotional attachment like I might have with bubblegum or R&B targeted to kids. My response is the same as it is for Justin Bieber or Backstreet Boys (who had great songs) or Panic! At the Disco or the fucking Archies (who didn't), just thank god it's not whatever mean-spirited dullards are analogous to Limp Bizkit, the Knack, or the Eagles who are capturing the hearts and minds of the young.

Elvis Costello: Look Now (Concord)
I like Costello but I'm not part of his cult; however, I'm part of others and so I understand how this works -- those who worship him at his best will find plenty of note here, while the more casual followers will stick their noses in, recognize that he's still at work and still recognizably Elvis Costello, and move on. From my distance the one thing that sticks out at all is "Suspect My Tears," and that's because it sounds convincingly like bottom-of-the-barrel AM sleaze circa 1978, the ubiquity of which seems to be precisely what "Radio Radio" was decrying.

Daniel Avery: Diminuendo (Phantasy Sound EP) [r]
Not sure how effective the sneak-attack release strategy is when you're not on Beyoncé's level, but this is a nice and immersive supplement release, the second short-form set this year from the prolific DJ; it's scarier, more assaultive than his excellent album Songs for Alpha and clearly aims for a livelier setting despite its often brooding textures. It's '90s rave with 2010s drugs.

Sheck Wes: MUDBOY (Interscope) [c]
This 20 year-old Harlem rapper's debut, riding in on an inept top-ten hit from last year, is aimed specifically enough at naughty high schoolers that it would never have been on my radar if not for an outrageous rave in Pitchfork recently; it's beyond insipid in its rote, amateurish "hard" chanting and the lazy muck of its dank, bleak Soundcloud beats (see "WESPN"), and lacks the wit of fellow acquired-taste weirdos like Young Thug and Lil B. I don't think hip hop is dead or in trouble but people talk about the indulgent, stagnant, circling-the-drain feeling of rap ten years ago and then praise this? Then again I wasn't much for trap in the first place -- never even liked Future, who was nothing if not a nightmarish minimalist whose stuff could have all sorts of sociological claptrap positive and negative read into it -- and who am I to say "Mo Bamba" is a laughable dirge if I'm listening to it while sitting in my office drinking Diet Pepsi with a cat in my lap? Sheck Wes isn't selling this crud for just any setting, he wants to pump you up, and for what it's worth I can't think of any form of rock music designed to pump me up so thoughtlessly and primordially that I don't hate. (Remember Fang Island? Remember "We Will Rock You"?) Fortunately, our guy has a built-in explanation for the monosyllabic pap that's supposed to be a whole lot of nothing, say the defenders, that's occasionally interrupted by the serious self-regarding "commentary" plugged by the other defenders: "Why I say bitch so much? Let me explain it. It's the only word... where I can feel and hear all my anger. It don't got nothin' to do with like bitches. It's just, bitch! Bitch!" Naughty by Nature's etymology digressions at least rhymed, and Ice-T's "bitch" tirade was at least funny. But I'm so old I don't know who 21 Pilots are.

Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound) [r]
"Broken" is the right word for this shambolic series of wavering vocal rants, weird production choices and half-songs that spin their wheels on invisible chords and often go full minutes without anything resembling a hook. It's daunting and addictive at its best; when she does go pop, like on "Natural Skin Deep," she overruns the track with so many intrusive sound effects (your ride's here) and mocking tricks it seems to dare you to enjoy yourself. It's the opposite of Tierra Whack's album, which gave you so many ideas and refused to run with any of them; this expounds at great length on its most unappealing tangents, punishing instead of just challenging. It's not avant garde exactly -- too exacting in its message, too thrilling in its delight at its execution; too much Sly Stone, baby -- but an artist dismissed in the mainstream as a one-shot going off like this is certainly braver by orders of magnitude than whatever, hmm, Nada Surf is up to (if anything).

Yoko Ono: Warzone (Chimera) [r]
I don't know if this will be Ono's last studio album. I hope it isn't, because the original material on her last two had such vitality that I don't want her to cap off a brilliant musical career spanning six decades with a revision of old music, similar to past remix and cover-oriented projects but in this case with actual re-recordings and rearrangements. Nevertheless, there are far worse ways for her to send us away than with a breathtaking version of her late husband's signature song "Imagine," in a performance of grace and stark hesitation that brings out all of the complications and yearnings that Phil Spector drowns out on the original recording. This track isn't just a bookend to Imagine, John Lennon's 1971 album that was reissued in a lavish deluxe package this fall; nor is it just a bookend to Ono's uncomfortably public entrance into household-name status that began fifty years ago with her whispering into a tape recorder at Abbey Road, as also suggested on a lavish deluxe package out this fall, and capturing the meaningless ire of a racist, misogynist, possessive public that that had already spent five years turning a gifted band into dogs rolling over for them (an almost inevitable consequence of just how gifted) -- I haven't checked online to see who is outraged by this new "Imagine" and how much, but I'm sure it's quite delicious. No, this is a bookend to a united front, a story, a message that goes back even further, back before Ono's experimental films and art and performances and back even beyond the '60s, to Lennon sixty years ago on a stage belting out "Puttin' on the Style" and living-emitting the first traces of a philosophy of performance, liberation and abandon that no lyrics, hackneyed or precise, could ever wholly capture -- no longer alive to impart that message, he implicitly trusts his wife with it, and she carries it on into the darkness, and whatever you think of both of these people, that fucking means something. I don't mean the lyrics, I mean the absolute conviction of what was behind them in the specific moment they were being delivered by first one vessel and now another, and how any great song affords such rich opportunities for true artists like these to surrender, command, and live inside a song; she makes it so much her own, without ever discounting the ghost in the room, she could be some alternate-universe Billie Holiday, or Angelique Kidjo fusing the abstractions of "Crosseyed and Painless" with experience: lost my shape, indeed.

As for the rest, only four tracks are revisions of songs that come from stronger albums: "Now or Never" from Approximately Infinite Universe, "Woman Power" from Feeling the Space, "Why" from Plastic Ono Band and "I'm Alive" from Between My Head and the Sky; these also tend to be the highlights, with the interesting exception of the title track which opens the record in a moment of discord and chaos and was originally recorded for the multimedia New York Rock project. The rest focuses heavily on the mostly forgotten 1985 Reagan protest album Starpeace, and while these versions sympathetically given a skeletal modern twist by Ono (coproducing with Thomas Bartlett, who also contributes piano and progamming) improve on the originals in this case, they're not among her best work, but it's understandable that she focuses on them because of their politics, antiwar messaging and optimism. Like the sloganeering and aforementioned, fearless performance-of-self she initiated with Lennon, it's all inarticulate and messy but it couldn't possibly be more timely to the world we now live in, and because her vocal power is undiminished -- has, if anything, gotten stronger and harder to shake or escape in her eighties -- she is right in front with playfulness and confidence that breathe new life into the songs, even if no moment resonates quite like the new, chillingly urgent meaning the line "I hope someday you'll join us" now has. Because if they don't join us, where does that leave us?

ALSO RECOMMENDED:
- Tunng: Songs You Make at Night (Full Time Hobby) [the beta band]
- Interpol: Marauder (Matador) [the definition of Interpol is "doing the same thing over and over again and wanting the same result"]
- Sauna Youth: Deaths (Upset the Rhythm) [punk is so nice and neighborly these days]
- Paul McCartney: Egypt Station (Capitol) [sings like his life depends on it, writes with imagination but little resonance, but his sheer nonchalant functionality remains a miracle when laid against almost any other '60s rocker, excluding Yoko but including Dylan, whose growl through "Things We Said Today" of a few years back delivers an accidental revelation in this regard; "Hunt You Down-Naked-C Link"/"Happy with You"/"Fuh You"]
- Kandace Springs: Indigo (Blue Note) [these foolish things remind me of you; "Unsophisticated"/"Piece of Me"/"People Make the World Go Round"]
- Lonnie Holley: MITH (Jagjaguwar) [found-art folk artist records weirdest blues album I ever remember hearing, making Willis Earl Beal sound like Ben Vaughn]
- Denzel Curry: TA13OO (Loma Vista) [aggression in search of a target, eventually found but it takes three (brief) discs; "SIRENS | Z1RENZ"]
- Adult.: This Behavior (Dais) [hard house and synthpop melded with aggressive chant-singing, with the occasional twisted and beautiful moment and a song that cops its bassline from Vince Clarke by way of the Kinks -- pure entertainment; "Violent Shakes"/"Silent Exchange"/"This Behavior"]

ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES:
- Oliver Coates: Shelly's on Zenn-La (RVNG Intl.)
- Chilly Gonzales: Solo Piano III (Gente Threat)
- Ital Tek: Bodied (Planet Mu) [intensify your routine]
- Sarah Davachi: Gave in Rest (Ba Da Bing!) [all gloom all the time]
- The Field: Infinite Moment (Kompakt)
- Haiku Salut: There Is No Elsewhere (Prah) [feel good lost; "Occupy"/"Nettles"]

FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME:
* Kristin Hersh: Possible Dust Clouds
* Cat Power: Wanderer
Exploded View: Obey
Mudhoney: Digital Garbage
Swearin': Fall into the Sun
St. Vincent: MassEducation
Graham Parker: Cloud Symbols
Colter Wall: Songs of the Plains
Matthew Dear: Bunny
Georgia Ann Muldrow: Overload
Empress Of: Us

REJECTS:
Menace Beach: Black Rainbow Sound
Eric Bachmann: No Recover
Cher: Dancing Queen
The Joy Formidable: AAARTH [NYIM]
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs: King of Cowards
Marissa Nadler: For My Crimes [NYIM]
Jose James: Lean on Me
Lady Gaga: A Star Is Born OST
Marie Davidson: Working Class Woman
Molly Burch: First Flower
Eric Church: Desperate Man
Adrianne Lenker: Abysskiss
John Grant: Love Is Magic
Tom Morello: The Atlas Underground
How to Dress Well: The Anteroom
Cloud Nothings: Last Building Burning
MØ: Forever Neverland [NYIM]
Maribou State: Kingdoms in Colour [NYIM]

ORPHAN TUNES
Maribou State ft. Holly Walker "Nervous Tics" [Kingdoms in Color] {note: this contains a synth sound I recognize from Depeche Mode's "Leave in Silence," thus bias may be in play}

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Beatles: Yellow Submarine (1969)


(Apple)

Delayed by a few months to avoid competition (?) with the White Album, this film soundtrack is much less a Beatles album than the corresponding packages for A Hard Day's Night and Help!... in England, at least. In the U.S., in order for Capitol to squeeze maximum sales potential out of each and every recorded Beatles track, the soundtracks removed all non-film numbers and padded out the running time with scoring and orchestral tidbits. Ken Thorne's score for Help! was mildly interesting, enough to get partial credit for introducing George Harrison to the sitar, but hardly constituted added value for Beatles fans, a bit like expecting Prince and getting Danny Elfman; on A Hard Day's Night, George Martin's lush instrumental rearrangements of Beatles tunes were the kind of half-baked Muzak that appeals only to sickos like me. (When I was a kid I preferred Martin's strung-out "And I Love Her" to the Beatles'.) But this obviously wasn't Beatles music and, by a lot of standards, was therefore something of a ripoff. Among the Beatles' American soundtracks to this point, only Magical Mystery Tour, issued strictly as an extended-play in England, was padded out with actual songs by the band -- the irony here being that the incidental music in that film was actually their own work but has never been properly issued.

The four new Beatles songs on the Yellow Submarine LP were initially to be given the same treatment; with the bonus of the then-unissued "Across the Universe," a 7" EP was even mastered and prepped for release but was cancelled at what seems to have been the last minute. This would have been a more logical home for these haphazard, relatively inconsequential scraps, which on the album itself are joined not by "Universe" but by the title song, originally from Revolver, and the single A-side "All You Need Is Love," which also figures in the film and, in fairness, had yet to appear on a British LP up to now. It's curious that the Beatles opted to sign off on an album that commits the same basic consumer fraud as the UA and Capitol records from overseas; only Side One is by the Beatles, whose name is plastered on the cover; the rest is George Martin's score for the animated film. It's even more curious that this odd package has retained its place in the Beatles' discography ever since, and officially Apple even considers it one of their studio albums, which is a rather laughable redefining of terms. Further irony -- or, perhaps, an explanation -- is provided by the perverse truth that Martin's half of the record is far stronger than the Beatles'.

It shouldn't have been surprising that just two months after putting out their no-holds-barred double album, the Beatles could only muster up a handful of new tracks, though the rules of quality-of-quantity certainly don't seem to apply to the thinnest, most wanting collection of music they ever released. Three of the four are outtakes from the Sgt. Pepper period and its immediate aftermath, with the upshot that they sound quite anachronistic when hearing the band's output in sequence. The producer of the film Yellow Submarine, Al Brodax, would later complain that he felt he was thrown the bones of rejected material just to be shut up, as the Beatles regarded the contractually-obligated animated feature as something of a nuisance; John Lennon's sole contribution "Hey Bulldog" comes from slightly later (but still pre-White Album, hence just as distant) and reflects a bit more care thanks to its Keith Richards riffage and driving piano, a bit of a silly "Day Tripper" knockoff. While not top-tier material, it's somewhere on a level with the songs they created for Magical Mystery Tour: charming, lighthearted fare with a newly rediscovered zeal -- dating from the tentatively stripped-back "Lady Madonna" period between the psychedelic days and the India trip -- for good old rock & roll. Submarine could have done well with a few morsels of tossed-off, humorous fun like this, maybe comparable to the band's typically strong b-sides from earlier on, but Brodax was right to complain: half the songs he received from the band are genuinely awful.

Paul's "All Together Now" manages to exhibit all of his worst tendencies; it's as bad as "Hello, Goodbye" but thankfully shorter; and the band does seem to be in a less enthused (probably more stoned) mindset for the session. Still, the Beatles fans who see this as more important or vital than "Let 'Em In" are fooling themselves. Being stupid is fine, but cute? Unbearable. Worse, "Only a Northern Song" -- though produced with some audible gusto by George Martin -- is absolutely the worst song George Harrison wrote until Dark Horse, and is in the running as the worst composition released by any of the Beatles in the '60s. The laziness of the songwriting is almost awe-inspiring, particularly the lyrics. "If you're listening to this song / You may think the chords are going wrong / But they're not / He just wrote it like that." "We just play it like that." Excuses, excuses. The melody is typical Harrison: descending notes and a whole lot of self-imposed misery.

Thankfully, Harrison -- this is the only instance when he offers more new material than either John or Paul -- also contributes a much better song, the feedback-filled and power chord-laden "It's All Too Much," a Beatles obscurity that's nevertheless a surprisingly joyous piece of true psychedelia boasting some of its composer's best guitar work on record. The filmmakers wisely used it at the film's exhilarating resolution; accompanied by the visuals, it's a triumphantly delightful artifact of its time that does what nothing else on the Beatles' side of this record manages: it makes you believe for a moment. In fact, while still artistically facile compared to most of the White Album, it's a good enough song that it's quite surprising it has managed to remain almost universally unheralded; the Yellow Submarine album is indeed one of the few effective hiding places left in this catalog. The only caveat, really, is that the released version fades after six minutes, at which point bootlegs allow us to hear that the band proceeds to jam at considerable length, elevating the song a hell of a lot, indulgent as it may be. The Beatles' moment has lasted a long time but they will always be a band of and defined by the '60s, and that's one reason this recording -- which unabashedly celebrates the atmosphere and strangeness of what, by the time it was actually released, was already starting to transform into a bygone time -- is so compelling. It's a pity that the record replaces this climax with the more cloying and obvious "All You Need Is Love," even if it is capable of reaching toward the same sort of curious longing for a brief moment almost none of us now listening ever got to experience.

It's no longer relevant in the streaming era, but back in the CD years, $17 was an absurd amount to pay for four Beatles songs to round out their catalog, unavailable elsewhere until the 1999 release of a remixed soundtrack album with much more generous Beatles content. Everything about this package is a bit off-key and stupid, like the fact that the liner notes are just a perversely hyperbolic review of the White Album (comparing the band to Schubert, of all people); in this case the Americans were less cynical, offering a Tolkien-like explainer of Apple Bonkers and Blue Meanies and other creatures from the feature film. The wise consumer and casual fan is likely to understandably prefer Yellow Submarine Songtrack, gathering every Beatles song heard in the film in newly sparkly mixes, including even those only audible in fragments like "Think for Yourself."

Alas, that doesn't mean this album is devoid of value, even if its place in the "canon" is distinctly undeserved; its artistic virtues, however, have nothing to do with the Beatles. If you are a fan of the genuinely intoxicating feature film, a masterwork of surrealism, resourceful animation and imagination and a true feast for the senses -- so much so that the band was impressed and embarrassed when it turned out their own new songs weren't up to the quality standards of the film -- George Martin's evocative and beautiful score is a must. Skip the Beatles stuff entirely -- it really belongs with Past Masters anyway -- and prepare to be transported. I don't really grade film scores because my standards aren't very well-defined, but I'd rate Martin's work here as operating at the top level of the form; you decide if it's worth the dross, but certainly don't come here expecting the Greatest Rock Band to hold their end of the bargain.

***

[Heavily revised version of a review first posted in 2003.]

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Beatles: Purple Chick deluxe- White Album (1968)


(bootleg [12CD])

RECOMMENDED

I'm writing this at a great disadvantage, because at this moment -- late October of 2018 -- we're on the cusp of an influx: one of the biggest archival dumps in the entire history of the Beatles on record, which is no small event. The forthcoming White Album deluxe reissue contains not only a new remix of the album and the first official release of the complete Kinfauns demo tape (thus making the review you're reading a great deal shorter), but three full discs of studio outtakes dedicated to this specific LP, the most exhaustive such collection of material in their career to date and a major boon to fans and students of their work. The six discs of Anthology material were a slightly bigger deal, of course, but they did not have the time for such a deep-focused dive into any of their individual albums, and the incremental recording methods of Sgt. Pepper made its outtakes considerably less compelling. Throughout this discography, I've tried not to resort to any redundancy in going over bootlegged material; if something's been officially released, I talk about it when reviewing the project that saw it prepared and sold for the public. Obviously, since the new White Album discs are yet to be issued at the moment, I can't be sure I've mapped it all out perfectly, so if you're reading this in the future and I've not revised it, I apologize for any unintentional overlap. That said, close examinations of the tracklist indicate that Apple has mostly resisted plumbing the material we've already heard, choosing instead to offer performances and arrangements that never made it out to the black market; that means a whole lot of actual new Beatles are on the way, and let me tell you, I am psyched, not least because this is my favorite of their albums.

Purple Chick's release is itself a behemoth, a tantalizing twelve discs, though of course it like all of the PC releases is designed by and for completists, so there's a lot the average listener would perceive as redundant or boring. Twelve discs of White Album miscellany isn't, in other words, as amazing as it sounds... but it's still quite fucking cool, and again, it seems that most of it is poised to remain elusive to official release for the time being.

The first four discs are, as usual, the canon material, here covering twice as many discs because this is a double album. The "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" single, the first Apple release, is also included under this umbrella by the compilers. Discs one and two are stereo, three and four mono; famously, the Beatles and especially Paul had caught wind of the more obsessive contingent's tracking and pot-fueled discussion of differences and anomalies between mono and stereo mixes of their work, and on this last occasion (this was the final Beatles album with a dedicated mono mix, though Yellow Submarine saw the light of day as a fold-down and true mono mixes were made for an unissued EP; in America, the White Album only made it to stores in stereo) they evidently sought to have a bit of fun with this by making many of the tracks deliberately different, sometimes so radically so -- most notably in the case of "Helter Skelter" -- that they can barely be considered differing mixes as opposed to full-on alternate versions. The specific alterations are too numerous to lay out, but the general heavier bass and the many oddball exclusions (handclaps on "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?") or additions (watery effects on the solo in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," an extra guitar in "Honey Pie") and full-on bizarre divergences like the goofing around with animal sounds on "Blackbird" and "Piggies" and the speed change on "Don't Pass Me By" make the mono version a fascinating and fun listen. It's quite difficult to prefer one over the other when they are so different. (One strange feature of the PC transfer of the mono album is that they do not replicate the one fold-down included, of "Revolution 9." Rumor has it that "Revolution 1" is also a fold, but that's faithfully reproduced.) Also, while not part of the album, "Revolution" is so clearly superior in its raucous mono single mix that even Lennon remarked on it in interviews when complaining that the Blue Album used the comparatively gutless stereo mix.

The two major outtakes from the White Album sessions, "Not Guilty" and "What's the New Mary Jane?" saw release on Anthology 3, but many fans considered those mixes -- prepared for the cancelled 1980s album Sessions -- bastardized, with modern echo effects and strange editing added. Bootlegs have preserved the original versions; in fact there are many versions and mixes of both songs on the collection, and while "Not Guilty" eventually wears out its welcome despite it being very nice to hear the complete version without Geoff Emerick's alterations, "What's the New Mary Jane?" is just bizarre and freeform enough to entertain in all its various iterations. Also presented as an "outtake" but not actually one is "Sour Milk Sea," a fine George Harrison rocker demoed during the Kinfauns gathering and eventually given to singer Jackie Lomax, whose record is a popping, crackling single that somehow went nowhere, but its major significance is that it features all four Beatles plus Eric Clapton and Nicky Hopkins. We'll talk more about that recording in another time and place but on this set, as has been popular practice on bootlegs for a while, we get faked out: Lomax's vocals have been mixed out and Harrison's from the demo awkwardly flown in. It's a bit superfluous but not entirely a bad listen.

A few modern mixes from Love and Anthology follow the first presentation of the album, the most intriguing being the 2007 orchestral version of George's gorgeous acoustic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" performance, which was already superior in every way to the canonical White Album version and is made even better by a new tasteful, enveloping string arrangement from George Martin -- his last official work before retirement, captured movingly on the documentary film All Together Now. That solo George version of the track is also offered in unedited mono, with his count-in and charmingly jarring coda "let's hear that back!". The only other major extra on the mono discs is a corrective to my only big criticism of the mono LP, the mono mix of "Don't Pass Me By" restored to its correct speed, and it sounds great.

In this spot you would originally have read a few paragraphs about the wonderful Esher demos that compose the totality of disc five, recorded at George's house after the India trip, a rough acoustic gathering of the songs that would later comprise this album plus a few from Abbey Road and even some future solo records, and a fascinating set of "unplugged" alternate versions that are often ridiculously lovely. It's the best lengthy collection of booted, unreleased Beatles music in existence, but as of a few weeks from when I'm writing this, that's poised to change with the entire tape about to find its way to record stores and streaming services the world over; as a result, I'll be talking about the Esher tape in its entirety as part of my review of the deluxe White Album collection when I get to that release. Just one comment, though, is that the demos are so good and engrossing they would've been a major release all on their own, and easily rate "highly recommended" status if taken in separately. (It does seem that the bootlegged demo tape, which was originally sourced from John Lennon's personal copy of the sessions, has a few unique items in comparison to the forthcoming official release, but most are of fairly marginal consequence, and in all cases the official versions appear to be superior and more significant.)

That said, discs six through eight offer an interesting alternative to the officially released session tapes, mostly consisting of material that won't be on Apple's new boxed set, and are both a more haphazard (because of the erratic song selection) and scholarly (because of the volume and extensiveness) lot of music. We start with an inferior version of perhaps the last "new" Beatles bootleg item to date -- manufactured "multitracks" excluded -- and one of the most intriguing, take 20 of "Revolution 1" -- which made it out into the world in much better quality around the time Beatles Rock Band was released, and at a point when even unofficial new material from the Beatles was major news of the world, particularly when it was of this caliber. Take 20 is lifted from the same source performance as the released version of the song but finally explains completely how the chaotic jam and breakdown of the song led directly to the creation of "Revolution 9," and suggests strongly that splitting the two tracks apart wasn't necessarily the best possible decision. (Note: this is the only time you will ever catch me saying even a slight word against "Revolution 9.")

It involves a great number of strange, disturbing overdubs that have a kitchen-sink surrealism but also reflect a level of seriousness, menace and depressive worldliness that reflect how much the Beatles had changed since their last big crop of material, Magical Mystery Tour -- though some of that project's cynicism certainly does continue here. As the music breaks down, chaos ensues and the noise and violence of revolution itself seem to overtake, a drama played out by the sounds and vocals of the Beatles and especially Lennon, to eventually be joined by the tape loops that would comprise the remainder of "9." The version that's currently on Youtube is at the wrong speed, but a little searching should turn the correct one up and you can patch it in to the PC disc, which still has the old bootleg hybrid of the take accidentally captured via playback by Yoko Ono ranting in her Dictaphone in the control room, so her voice overshadows the whole thing -- a specter that itself influenced the final recording. (Take 18, on the new box, is apparently quite similar to this but is missing several overdubs.) It's a remarkable recording, and among the most engrossing, singular and delightfully unhinged Beatles performances ever captured, somehow defining so much about their infinite ambition and capacity for surprise.

As usual we're at the mercy here of what seemingly random extracts have leaked out over the years, keeping in mind that -- judging from the official commentary about the new deluxe box -- even EMI didn't fully know or understand what existed in their vault. So a lot of songs are disproportionately represented, like "Blackbird"; it seems we have almost the entirety of that session, comprised of Paul busking with Ringo and John in close quarters, and an absolute heap of takes, false starts, rehearsals and dialogue, plus an otherwise nonexistent but seemingly sketched-out song called "Gone Tomorrow, Here Today"; for a glimpse inside Paul McCartney's head while hard at work, it's fascinating if repetitive, and at times charming and funny... but as with the later Get Back sessions, it needs to be stressed: these are people working hard at an actual job, and like most actual jobs when it gets down to their nuts and bolts, it's not built to entertain outsiders.

The sixth disc is rounded out with the non-Sessions mix of the alternate take 5 of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," cutting out a lot of the reverb added in the 1980s by Emerick; "Revolution" appears without its lead guitar overdub; and we get the famous-ish "Peter Sellers tape," a bunch of fragments given to the actor by Ringo and featuring various rough mixes of eventual White Album touchstones, with most of them missing certain elements or offering a subtly different experience, never in especially strong quality; "Blackbird," "Don't Pass Me By" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" offer some intriguing moments but not enough to reward extremely close or repeated listening.

The next few discs delve further into marginalia, which in the case of this particular album is not exactly inappropriate. We've heard some of these bits and pieces officially, like Lennon cracking up at some of the "What's the New Mary Jane?" lyrics, and Harrison calling out George Martin for being "very negative" during the "Sexy Sadie" sessions -- this slipped out during the obligatory bit of the Anthology documentary about the tension during this period. Such tensions, by the way, are present here and there in certain moments, but by and large the band still seems to work rather well together apart from some understandable miscommunications and annoyances, most of which aren't easily audible; my thinking remains that the band took out their confusion and exhaustion in musical terms rather than blowing up at each other in the studio -- not to mention the fact that Paul and George both seem a bit too passive-aggressive, Ringo too passive period, to give vent casually to any problems rather than letting them fester and blow up, as evidently happened outside the confines of the studio, or slightly later in the band's history.

"Sexy Sadie" occasions a few weird, jammed-out sidelines, like something called "Fuck a Duckie" that sounds like a murderer flipping out, or like the Beach Boys' "Ding Dang," take your pick. Lennon sings the hell out of an improvisation labeled "Brian Epstein's Blues," which carries a note of tasteless bitterness since it comes so soon after the title figure's sudden death. We don't get to hear the original "Sadie" lyrics, when it was still "Maharishi, you fucking cunt," but John does interpolate the next line, "who the fuck do you think you are?", at one point. Obsessives might end up wanting to crank the dial way up to hear some of the conversations playing out over various monitor mixes. For the rest of us, there's a very dry mix of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" that's missing a lot of vocal overdubs and tracking, and boasts some extra screams at the end that sound extra "Revolution 9"-ish, suggesting that the Beatles -- or at least Lennon -- wanted very much to preserve that particular burst of dreadful energy for the very end of the record. There's a discarded organ or harmonium fragment for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (take 1, the acoustic version) and lots and lots of goofing off during the "Hey Jude" sessions, captured as well on monitor mixes, including a short take on "St. Louis Blues" that apparently made it to the new box.

Some other intrigue abounds related to "Hey Jude." Many years ago, when I was about eight years old, my dad was friends with a bona fide Beatles collector who let me copy all of his BETAMAX tapes of various Beatles-related visual materials, which is how I saw the last three of their feature films, all of which were then (and one of which remains) out of circulation. Also in the mass were an episode of the godawful Beatles Saturday morning cartoon (the one with "Slow Down," which Ringo (!) sings to a runaway donkey) and, oddly, the then-unreleased Rolling Stones film Charlie Is My Darling, and then a washed-out, tantalizingly inexplicable fragment of what appeared to be the recording session for "Hey Jude." As it turned out, this was a bootleg of a BBC documentary whose cameras in fact captured much of a full day of Abbey Road rehearsals -- on July 30, 1968 -- of the song (which was ultimately recorded at Trident Studios), and all I really had was a small extract. Twenty full minutes eventually made their way to Youtube. But for years I thought I had something really special and unique; you can hear all the musical parts of the video here.

There's a short burlesque of the song labeled "Las Vegas Tune"; a take that has some vocal mugging from John and George's infamous answering guitar line, subject of a huge rift between him and Paul that may have led to him sitting around chatting during the film clips instead of actually participating in the rehearsals. John and Paul try to break the tension in their usual fashion with facetious arguing and joking; for all their problems down through the years, John seems to be the only person who really knows how to "handle" Paul in his most coldhearted asshole mode, and in turn is the one person who seems able to snap Paul out of it. Across all the session material we have, we rarely come across a situation when John is ornery or unreasonable, his attitude always is to dissipate or break tension with silliness or joking. This probably just means he too had a passive-aggressive streak, as inclined as he often was to speak his mind unfiltered; because in later years he'd always complain that Paul got what he wanted in the studio more often than he did, which baffled George Martin -- undoubtedly because John never fought for the records the way his partner did.

The rest of the actual outtakes are more scattered across the expanse of the eventual two-record set, and even outside of it. We get to hear how George's "Not Guilty," which probably belonged on the album more than "Piggies" and would eventually be rerecorded on one of his own records, the Beatles' version released in truncated form on Anthology 3, dissolves into an impressively hard jam. As if to prove it wasn't just Lennon who could stare into the void with his increasingly unmoored singing, there's a truly hellish vocal fragment of Paul working up his fury for "Helter Skelter," followed by an unedited master of that song missing a few overdubs. Remember the non-song "Can You Take Me Back" buried between "Cry, Baby, Cry" and "Revolution 9"? You can hear the whole thing here, in apparently longer form than on the official deluxe set that's coming, along with some attendant diversions: the kissoff joke "Down in Havana," the released jam "Los Paranoias" that here goes on forever, and "The Way You Look Tonight" refashioned with "I Will" lyrics. We get a fragment of "I'm So Tired," take 14, that's much harder than the released performance, or at least seems so; and while I'm usually not much for monitor mixes, this one is kind of cool, with a crazy guitar-organ opening that sounds amazing and an extra guitar toward the end. The six-disc set out in November includes two takes of "I'm So Tired"; hopefully we'll be getting some of these elements in more audible form.

Such substantial morsels are the exception, but the smaller treasures aren't without appeal. For those of us to whom "Dear Prudence" is -- along with "Long, Long, Long" -- the most sublime moment of the Beatles' finest album, even such tiny revelations as a backing vocal fragment, and a bit of chatter after the fade, or extra vocals on alternate mix (and a lot more processing on John's lead on another early mix) are a joy to hear even if not as much as real outtakes. Other behind the scenes tidbits are a little more superficial but still fun: some weird organ rehearsals, George flubbing his "Piggies" lines ("in the sties with all their baking... fuck") and an unused creepy-laugh overdub for that song, an even creepier organ overdub for "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" with some other additional instruments that render it a bit too busy; and Paul's charming coda to "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?": "Do you think I could do it better?" There are a few rough mixes preserved, including an early "Mother Nature's Son" on which we can hear some Paul laughter and more of the horns. Finally, there's an early stereo mix of "Hey Jude" with a soulful, bluesy McCartney vocal all in the left channel, and a much cleaner, more tinkly-sounding piano; because of the awkward separation of instruments, the sound is overall less robust.

This portion of the set ends with something called the "Postcard Sessions"; what is this? This is the 1968 Beatles, on their very best behavior, chilling with Donovan and playing acoustically for a while, that's what. It's charming but its appeal is probably limited to whatever overlap still exists between big fans of both artists. I like Donovan okay but everybody sounds a little tired and phony here.

Purple Chick gives the last four discs, or two groups of discs each, their own subtitles. Nine and ten are assigned the irresistible label The Beatles Go Too Far, and is primarily concerned with audio evidence of the more avant garde portions of the White Album sessions. While very little of the finished record qualifies as any more avant garde than, say, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the moments that do reflect those impulses on the part of three of the four Beatles certainly color most widespread memories of the album, and obviously played a huge role in its cultural legacy, in both good and (live shot of Spahn Ranch) bad ways. Nearly the entirety of the ninth disc is taken up with the sessions for take 20 of "Revolution 1" -- the first full track undertaken for the record -- the performances and playbacks of which are captured, it seems incidentally, by Yoko Ono's tape recorder as she dictates her personal diary or various random private thoughts, some of which ("you become naked," etc.) would find their way to the album. While the ethics of hearing this are somewhat questionable, and while most fans will bow out very quickly because there's so much Ono and you have to strain a bit to hear what's interesting about it -- largely a glorified, very very long series of monitor mixes -- to Beatle-heads, for me personally the cumulative effect is unforgettable. Somehow, this random act of rambling while a band plays in the background manages to become nearly as strange, remarkable and oddly admirable a piece of avant garde rock & roll as "Revolution 9" or Two Virgins. It's a completely unintentional (probably) piece of "found art," really, but for this listener it's perhaps the most enjoyable disc in the entire set, next to the now-redundant Esher demos, and of course this is hardly something that's ever likely to see the light of day in an official sense (if Apple even still has access to the raw materials).

What it also offers is a stunningly intimate look at a certain moment in the personal histories of the Beatles, specifically John, and Yoko Ono; she's rather bracing in her frankness, discussing the couple's habits during ejaculation at considerable length and rather condescendingly labeling Paul her "little brother" (I love Yoko to death, in fact I'm a massive fan of her music and think she's seemingly a very cool person, and she and John obviously brought a lot of good out of each other, but you do sort of get why her presence often annoyed the piss out of the other Beatles, right?), and sometimes coming off as refreshingly observant in the way only an outsider can be: "There's definitely something very strong," she says with admiration, "between John and Paul." There's a lot of anxiety about getting the other Beatles' approval, a ship that probably sailed before she ever had much of a chance thanks to John's bullish insistence on her occupation at Abbey Road, but most fascinatingly -- and a bit chillingly -- a lot of fear about the other shoe that had yet to drop in the matter of John's marriage. "I'm nervous right now because I'm always trying to find out when Cyn is coming back," she all but whispers. She spends lots of the time talking directly to John as if he's in the room with her rather than on the studio floor, and occasionally she does interact with him when he drops in the room for a playback -- at one point he takes over the recording for a moment for a slightly patronizing, annoyed-sounding reassurance that he misses her too and can't wait to be done for the day. We have plenty of evidence that John never figured out how to be in a relationship while he was a Beatle, and as amusing as this is, it just furthers that impression. Not that it's all any of our business.

What is our business is "Revolution 9," which filtered and compressed all this into a finished recording that remains one of the most audience-friendly pieces of musique concrete ever released, and one of the most impressively audacious things a mainstream rock band has ever put on an album. And for those of us who love the track -- and if you don't like it, no offense but why are you so boring? -- Go Too Far offers something truly special, an actual "alternate mix" that will really fascinate you if you've wasted as much mental space inadvertently committing the thing to memory as I have, for the many differences in the fidelity, placement and length of the various loops is quite absorbing, and suggests that multiple passes were taken at a good number of elements within the piece.

The other main attraction of Go Too Far is "What's the New Mary Jane?", a delightfully weird creation of John and Yoko's that John at one point wanted to release as a single, one of his more batshit ideas that nevertheless has a certain twisted logic to it if you consider that "Strawberry Fields Forever," in its fashion, was just as weird and was a worldwide smash. The alternate mixes of "Jane" here offer plenty of good times if you're on the song's peculiar, tossed-off wavelength -- another Beatles song it somewhat resembles is "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," but it's much more threatening -- and are able to hear it more as a Plastic Ono Band experiment. There's a lot of messing about with it in the alternate mixes, including free-jazz overdubs, some bloodcurdling screaming, a great bit of Yoko vocalizing, and some other eccentric behavior justifying John's Anthology 3-preserved chide "Let's hear it, before we get taken away!" It's all great but the one problem is John laughs too damn much throughout the entire recording and mixing process; it's harder to get caught up in the thing's menacing or totally beyond-the-pale qualities when he thinks it's so innocently hilarious, though conversely one thing many people miss about Ono's art and music is the consierable humor in it, so maybe it's a good thing.

Disc ten closes out with fragments and repeats -- including even more monitor mixes of "I'm So Tired," with another rough vocal track and lots of wavering, seemingly a tape or transfer flaw. "Not Guilty" appears again somewhere around here too. For a song that was trashed after 102 takes, there sure was a lot of business around "Not Guilty."

The last two discs, subtitled Whitecasts, are the most disappointing offered by Purple Chick, probably, and you get the feeling there was some sort of reason they wanted to stretch the thing to a whopping twelve CDs, because none of this stuff really belongs. We get the versions of "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" from the songs' music videos (or, in the parlance of the time, "promo films") which were done in conjunction with a mimed performance on The David Frost Show; they're not really live takes, apart from parts of the vocals (it's very cool, however, to hear the "shoo-be-doo-wop" backing from "Revolution 1" on the fast single version), so they don't honestly need to be here, especially with every single slight variance in their transmissions preserved. You get to hear the Beatles play Frost's theme song, but you can hear and see that on the fine Beatles 1+ DVD and Blu-ray, or hell, on Youtube. Of all the boring and repetitive stuff completists foist upon us in these bootlegs, I might find all this the most mystifying. Five barely different versions of "Hey Jude" and it's not even really a live performance in the first place? I love the song, but that's 35 pointless minutes. (The video is wonderful, but even the two versions of it on the DVD set are kind of a stretch.)

Less repetitive but equally ponderous is the full audio, it seems, of Ringo Starr's 1968 appearance on Cilla Black's variety show; Cilla was a Beatles-associated discovery. She used to be the hat check girl at the Cavern in Liverpool, the band's onetime home base. She was taken under Brian Epstein's wing and became a big star in England, not so much overseas, and her intricate associations with the Beatles continued pretty much permanently. Ringo mugs, chats, reads viewer mail, and sings, and no matter how much you love the old dork, it's all insufferable. Purple Chick doesn't preserve other TV appearances like this in these deluxe sets (there's a second set of semi-associated bootlegs, called "Lazy Tortoise," that's supposed to gather all that loose ephemera), so why this one?

I'm somewhat more understanding of the other big inclusion here, the raw materials from the long-unreleased concert film Rock 'n' Roll Circus commissioned by the Rolling Stones. This has a fine performance of "Yer Blues" by John with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell (from the Jimi Hendrix Experience); it's not really Beatles content, but hey, it's a Beatles song, and it is a good rendition, with John obviously thrilled to sing on an actual stage again, though being the aforementioned Yoko diehard I prefer the throwaway "Her Blues" which features her jamming on typically confrontational vocals with the same supergroup to a pretty enthusiastic reception. Ahead of their time, it seems. The problem is all this repeats multiple times with slight mix variations, and I -- and most of you, I can promise -- simply don't care.

Again without much context or explanation, we also get an interview with John by British broadcaster Kenny Everett, practically a baby at the time, and this is actually fun, though it too is repeated for incomprehensible reasons. John torments Kenny to great comedic effect and drops almost no worthwhile information at all -- probably intentionally -- except that "Don't Pass Me By" is currently being recorded. Lennon is as hilarious as ever, strumming a fretless and singing aimless "theme songs" for Everett. It's maddening and weird and funny and slightly mean, like this bootleg... and hey, like the White Album itself.