As Christmas approached and Apollo 8’s crew prepared to circle the moon, arts critic Peter Altman gave what came to be called “The White Album” a lukewarm review in the Minneapolis Star. Altman, who went on to become the Guthrie Theater's literary manager and artistic director at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, exposed Star readers to the term “obscurantist,” which he no doubt usually reserved for his classical music reviews.
By PETER ALTMAN
Minneapolis Star Critic
Minneapolis Star Critic
Invention, not creativity, is the salient quality of the Beatles’ new two-record set.
The album, called simply THE BEATLES (Apple SWBO-101) and packaged in a plain white wrapper with a fold-out poster enclosed, is sporadically clever but not truly inspired or equal to “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul” or “Sergeant Pepper.”
Had it been produced by some other artists, perhaps this album would be more satisfactory critically. It is impossible for the Beatles not to suffer from extravagant expectations, and not become the victims of claims made in their behalf.
|August 1965: The Beatles invaded Met Stadium in Bloomington. (Minneapols Tribune photo by Kent Kobersteen)|
“The Beatles” reveals confident and canny performers far past the crises of developing their art. The casual and assured eclecticism of the record could only have been achieved by shrewd, intelligent musicians of wit and imagination. But the total performance nonetheless has an air of decadent dilettantism, and this diminishes its excellence.
There are innumerable strains and influences on “The Beatles.” The purposefulness of “Sergeant Pepper,” where all kinds of musical ideas were used to achieve one specific atmosphere, has been discarded in favor of a more relaxed, stylized and playful approach.
This is in many respects a musicians’ record, on which things are done simply for their own sake; some of the things are worth doing, some are superficial, and there is no over-all feeling or setting to cover up the mistakes.
The best things on these four sides are very good. The infectious, quasi-Nigerian “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-di” [sic] is charming, funny and fresh. “Dear Prudence” is a typically graceful and transparent ballad. “Rocky Raccoon” is a shrewd, completely winning parody of western gun ballads motivated by a natural ingenuousness that assumes, for example, that the Gideon’s bible must be left in hotel rooms by some man named Gideon. Isn’t that logical?
There are some moments of trenchant satire.
“Bungalow Bill” surgically dismantles the virility cult of the American male with verses like: “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun. In case of accidents he always took is mom” and its refrain of “Hey, Bungalow Bill, what did you kill?”
The record contains too many moments, however, when satire gives way to gratuitous tweaking of the Establishment’s nose, and at other times the music degenerates into self-parody.
Just as the photo-collage of the poster is in spots coyly taunting of social conventions (nudity), so songs like “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” are little more than childish challenges. “Glass Onion,” with its references to previous Beatles songs and its hint of providing a key to earlier mysteries, is an obscurantist’s footnote rather than an artistic statement.
The concluding “Good Night” is a silly bit of sentiment camp, and the sound[s] of “Wild Honey Pie” merely are noisy and vexingly monotonous.
Very small record stores sold hundreds of copies of this album the day it went on sale, and no critical caveats can keep “The Beatles” from being the most common Christmas tree item of 1968.
Nor do I wish to put down the Liverpool quartets, to imply that they are frauds or finished. There are, after all, numerous things to admire on their latest collection. But this is hardly their most exciting or most persuasive album.
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