The Beatles, “The Beatles (White Album)” (Capitol)
The Beatles’ self-titled 1968 album has a king-size reputation — the biggest album (30 songs!) by the biggest band in the world at the time. But, to paraphrase a Beatles song, it was all too much, and its producer, George Martin, and at least a couple of its participants, George Harrison and John Lennon, would be among the first to agree.
A half-century later, little has changed, at least in the marketplace for more Beatles. Despite a $138 price tag, a new 50th anniversary “White Album” boxed set is No. 2 on the Amazon CD/vinyl sales rankings. It’s a 4-pound doorstop: six CDs and a Blu-ray disc containing the original album, 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session tracks plus a hardcover book. The mix, by George Martin’s son, Giles, is immaculate, and in many ways the Beatles have never sounded better or more intimate.
But is the actual music worth the fuss? The album undeniably contains some of the band’s finest songs. But does it really make the case for the Beatles in late-career overdrive, or is it a wildly erratic hit-and-miss hodgepodge that could’ve been better served as a single album?
Other than an early version of Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and a ragged but thrilling run through “Helter Skelter,” the three discs of studio extras will largely appeal only to Beatles obsessives. In the same way, the “White Album” now feels more than ever like an indulgence from a band that was no longer in sum-is-greater-than-the-parts collaboration.
Even though the Beatles were coming off 1967’s landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” their interpersonal relationships were in disarray. Lennon was drawing greater inspiration from Yoko Ono, who accompanied him to the sessions, than he was from Paul McCartney. Only two weeks before “The Beatles” was released, Lennon and Ono issued their debut, “Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins,” with its scandalous nude cover image.
One of the casualties of the widening McCartney-Lennon rift was the checks and balances that the two main songwriters typically imposed on one another’s work. Tensions ran so high that Ringo Starr briefly quit the band, recording engineer Geoff Emerick exited the sessions altogether and producer Martin, feeling underutilized, took an unannounced vacation and left the recording in the hands of fledgling engineers Chris Thomas and Ken Scott.
“The White Album” was too much. It was an opinion echoed by Harrison and Lennon. The record would have been a classic had it been trimmed to 12 keepers. Everything else doesn’t match the high standards the Beatles had previously set for themselves.
GREG KOT, Chicago Tribune
Lil Peep, “Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2” (Columbia)
Arriving a year after his death, this album is a sad postscript to the life of the rapper/singer who died at 21 of a fentanyl and Xanax overdose. With a spate of mixtapes and EPs, he established himself as a leading light among a downcast generation of emo-rappers.
“COWYS2” consists of songs Lil Peep recorded on his laptop that his mother, Liza Womack, entrusted to her son’s producer-friend Smokeasac to bring to life. The songs sit on the cusp between rock and rap and express timeless teen angst with sluggish and slurry vocals that convey me-against-the-world suburban desperation and defiance. On “Cry Alone,” Peep sings: “I hate everyone in my hometown. Tell the rich kids to look at me now.” Lil Peep was probably on his way to being huge when he was alive. Now that he’s dead, he almost certainly is.
dan deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Kanye West, “Yandhi”
• Rita Ora, “Phoenix”