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Old 03-06-2012, 08:42 PM   #148 (permalink)
Janszoon
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Join Date: May 2007
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Rubber Soul

First of all, thank you very much to Burning Down for sending this my way! And now, a brief anecdote...

A month or two ago I was sitting in bar near my home, listening to a pretty good jazz band, when they started weaving this familiar, heartbreaking sounding melody into what they were playing. I couldn't quite place it so I asked a guy sitting next to me if he knew what it was. In a tone of voice that let me know my question was an enormous inconvenience to him he said, "It's the Beatles".

"Which song?" I asked.

He grumpily leaned over and asked his friend, then turned back to me and said, "Norwegian Wood".

I think that was the exact moment when I starting thinking I should engage in a little Beatles reappraisal. The thing I love about this song is something that was vividly illustrated to me by that experience: the melody is gorgeous. Yes, the arrangement is great, what with the sitar and Lennon's lilting vocals, but the simple fact is that melody is amazing, heartrending and evocative no matter how it's employed. In at mid-60s pop song or from the pianist in a bebop band, it doesn't matter, it transcends its environment, something I consider quite an accomplishment.

"Norwegian Wood" is definitely the high point of Rubber Soul for me, but there are some other great tracks to be heard here for sure. "You Won't See Me" has a wonderful vocal melody on the verses, if somewhat lame choruses. "Michelle" is another one by these guys that I had forgotten about but hearing it now I find it incredibly sweet. Believe it or not, until a few days ago I never actually noticed that part of it was sung in French, nor what the song was about. "In My Life", probably my second favorite track on the album, is yet another Beatles song I had forgotten about—man, do I love the piano on the bridge on that track. Finishing up the album, "Run for Your Life" is another pretty good song, though one whose lyrics have creeped me out ever since I was a child.

Several pages back, Engine referred to Rubber Soul as "a way better version of Revolver". I have to say I noticed parallels myself, even before reading that comment, but to me it cuts the other way: Rubber Soul feels like a rough draft of Revolver. The five songs I just mentioned are the only tracks on this album that I'd consider great in any way, most of the rest are just sort of okay. And remember how I mentioned how impressed I was with how improved the guitar playing was on Abbey Road? I was specifically thinking of two tracks on this album when I said that: "Wait" and "What Goes On". "Wait" could have been a decent song I guess, but it's ruined by George Harrison's amateurish fumbling with the tone pedal for his guitar. And "What Goes On" is an unmitigated disaster. Not only is it structurally dull, with flat vocals and a boring beat, both courtesy of Ringo, but someone—I can't quite figure out if it's Harrison or Lennon—turns in some truly awful guitar playing there. It literally sounds like a nervous thirteen year old playing in front of an audience for the first time and makes the track absolutely unbearable to listen to for me.

All that said, this is still a good album. Most of the tracks are a least okay and fully a third of it is music I would describe as great. Will I continue to listen to it for pleasure? Probably, but not as often as the other albums I've reviewed so far, and with definitely with a finger resting on the skip button.


Up next: The Beatles
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