When I think of The White Album two songs stick out: “Back In The USSR” and “Piggies”. Yes, there’s far more relevant tracks, but these two have very specific meaning for me. “Back In The USSR” was my favorite Beatles song as a little kid and I’d always ask my mom to put it on the record player in the living room so I could hear it. She would oblige, and sometimes even play it over again before letting the needle continue its journey across the vinyl. The other song, George Harrison’s “Piggies”, reminds me of Long John Silvers. My brother worked at LJS right out of high school and he would tell me that at the end of the night when there were just a few people left in the lobby eating their greasy fish planks and hush puppies they’d play “Piggies” over the intercom as a gag. That always made me laugh, imagining senior citizens and the sad and lonely of Warsaw, Indiana feeding their faces to George Harrison making pig noises overhead. I imagined my brother raging against the stagnant, content, and bourgeoisie of the Lake City as they grotesquely fed upon their chicken and fish baskets. Paper hat and blue LJS shirt in the back, he was getting the last laugh as they “lived their piggy lives, clutching forks and knives”. Of course, my brother was probably just high and though it was funny.
Let The White Album memories begin.
I know, how many more versions of Beatles albums are we going to be subjected to? It seems as if every couple of years since 2009s remasters(in both stereo and mono, natch) there’s been some other mix, master, redo, rethinking, or repricing of every Beatles album that we’ve already purchased in some form or format two to three times over. When will it end? I supposed when us hardcore mop top fans all die off and there’s nobody left who remembers the greatness and wonder that the Beatles brought to our sad, meaningless existence on this blue rock.
Last year when the 50th anniversary remix/remaster of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out I was pretty skeptical. I just didn’t see a point in messing with greatness. How do you improve upon such a monolithic record as Sgt. Peppers? Well, for one have Giles Martin meticulously remix the tracks. And second, well, you don’t need any other reason. Once I heard that 2017 remix I felt like I was hearing Sgt. Peppers for the very first time. Changes were subtle, but immense. Background vocals were slightly louder, pianos chimed a bit more, and the psychedelic nature of certain tracks came through with just a hint more of technicolor shine. It was overall just an absolutely amazing transformation that took one of my childhood’s greatest musical memories and reconstructed it into something equally great.
For 2018 The White Album is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a Giles Martin remix as well, along with a slew of alternate takes, demos, and the infamous Esher Demos which opens this classic double album up like a journal the band wrote in and left their thoughts to sit and commiserate with each other. The results are a whole new listening experience with an album you’ve likely heard more times than you could count. To say The White Album 2018 Remix is revelatory is an understatement.
So you guys know this album. There’s no reviewing these songs. Everyone has their take on them and everyone is affected by them in their own way. What I can say about this remix is that these songs feel as if they were recorded last week and not 50 years ago. There’s a 3D quality to the songs. Tracks like “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and “Blackbird” seem to buzz with some sort of newfound energy. They sound fresh as if they’re newly formed in our tired ears. The garage-y vibe of the album seems to have been revamped to sound like the guys had the luxury of modern technology to add a shine to the songs. They’re not drastically changed more than certain aspects of the songs are in sharper focus now. Lennon’s vocals in “Dear Prudence” sound breathier to me. Like maybe they could even be an alternate vocal track, but I doubt it.
It really is mind-blowing to hear these songs in such a brighter, invigorated state.
Every song sounds like this. They all are brought into a much sharper focus here. As good as it is to hear this album with fresh ears, what’s almost as revelatory is hearing The Esher Demos in full. There were pieces strewn throughout the Anthology releases from the 90s, but here we have them in all their glory. Hearing these iconic songs in their raw, naked form is quite eye(and ear) opening. Highlights of these demos are Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea”, Lennon’s “Child of Nature” that became “Jealous Guy” from Imagine, and McCartney’s “Junk” that would end up on his debut solo album. “Circles” is Harrison getting all existential(and even sounds a bit like the Zombies), while Lennon’s “What’s The New Mary Jane”, which was on Anthology 3 in a different form, is an example of John’s penchant for the off kilter melody.
One of the highlights of the alternate takes is the nearly 13-minute take of “Helter Skelter”, which comes across like some garage rock psych-out dirge. It’s as if the Beatles sat in on the Hooker n Heat sessions and cooked this bit of musical voodoo up. The Beatles never sounded this rough and tumble before or after.
The White Album was like an indie rock record before there was a thing called indie rock. The White Album is the kind of album a band makes when they have nothing left to lose. It’s a make it or break it kind of album. Throwing in everything including the kitchen sink because you may never have the chance again, so you just go for it. Except that in this case it’s not some band on their last leg and just going for it one last time. It was the biggest band in the world going into the studio and making a gritty, scuzzy double album that ran the gamut from 50s rock and roll, showtunes, buzzing rock and roll, and pretty much whatever else tickled their fancy. Thanks to Giles Martin, The White Album is brought back into sharp focus and is made wholly new once again. It’s a magnificent journey.
9. 5 out of 10