Sunday, November 24, 2013

Abbey Road -- The Beatles -- Review

The cover of Abbey Road has no printed words. It is a photo of the Beatles, in side view, crossing the street in single file.
Abbey Road (1969)
Rating: 15
"Oh, that magic feeling / Nowhere to go"
Best Song: The entire second side
Worst Song: Come Together

       Awwwwww yeahhhhhh. As much as I love The Beatles, my adoration of it lies mainly in the fact that it attempts everything, and then proceeds to do everything successfully. However, while it is indeed well-structured, I still don't get the feeling like I'm listening to some grand "statement". It's just a bunch of really fantastic (hell, perfect) songs that...honestly have nothing to do with each other. This isn't a major flaw, just a simple fact. This thing, however, is where the band really grabs me by the jugular and refuses to let me go. THIS is their ultimate triumph, and I say this from both a personal and an objective viewpoint. 
       Simply put, this is one of the few Beatles albums that really gives me the "sensory overload" that I talked about in the introduction. For example, in the chorus of the doo-wop-influenced "Oh Darling" I genuinely have a hard time deciding on what great aspect I want to focus on! The banging piano? Paul's awesome vocals? Those incessant, biting *CLANK* guitar chords? Ringo's brilliant drumming? The awesome, 50s-ish backing vocals? Here's yet another example of the Fabs giving me what I personally crave in music -- brilliant songwriting PLUS brilliant, chock-full arrangements and production. No "Taxman"-esque emptiness to be found here, folks.
       Well...except for maybe the opening "Come Together". I know, I know, it's generally accepted as a classic, and it's one of the band's most famous numbers, but it's never been one of my favorites. The gibberish lyrics are rather silly, the arrangement is rather barren (although the pounding chorus is admittedly spectacular), and the melody just isn't catchy enough to completely hold my attention. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine song, but as far as major classics go it's always seemed a little weak to my ears.
       Everything else is sheer perfection, though. There's literally something for EVERYONE here. Don't care for the childlike fun of Ringo's cheerful "Octopus's Garden"? Well, I don't know why you wouldn't (it's the best thing he ever wrote), but just in case you don't, you'll probably find something more to your tastes in John's disturbing jazz-rock/proto-metal fusion monster "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". And while I could go on for hours about that one, I think the phrase "jazz-rock/proto-metal fusion monster" does a pretty decent job of summing up why that track is so unbelievably awesome...but I'll still go on about it anyway. The jazzy verses are wonderful in themselves, but it's the headbang-inducing heaviness of the chorus section that really sells this one for me. That looooong, gruesome fade-out has got to be one of the most memorable moments in Beatles history, and when the song finally drops out only to be replaced by the happy acoustic strums of "Here Comes the Sun", it's a wonderful effect.
       George's brilliant "Something" is also a highlight (if you don't get chills during that positively thunderous "You're asking me, will my love grow..." section, I'm fairly sure you don't have a soul), as is Paul's quirky murder story "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". I know a lot of people think it's stupid, and...yeah, it kinda is, but it's catchy, it's fun, and I love all the small (but effective!) touches throughout. Whether it be the cute, chipmunk-esque "Maxwell must go free!" backing vocals, the hilarious anvil sound effects, or the truly unique (and quite futuristic) synthesizer lines, there's always something going on here that puts a smile on my face and attracts my attention. 
      But as wonderful as all of these other tracks may be, the album's true genius is shown in the medley found on the second side. This story has become infamous by now, but I'll tell it anyway -- Paul and John had an assortment of random song snippets lying around, but both of them felt that these short snippets didn't deserve to be expanded into full-length songs. As such, they agreed to, for lack of a better word, smush them all together into one long, perfectly flowing medley. And, in my humble opinion, it's the best thing The Beatles ever did.
       While most would argue that the medley begins with "You Never Give Me Your Money", I often think of the previous track, "Because" as being in the medley as well -- the haunting, ethereal vibe of the piece just flows perfectly into the unsure, tender opening to "Money", doesn't it? Whatever the case, both songs are absolutely brilliant; "YNGMYM" in particular is absolutely classic, throwing a bunch of brilliant (and ridiculously emotional) ideas into something of an anthem. I'm especially fond of the joyful, ragtime-y "Out of college, money spent" section, and, of course, the moment right when Paul yells "Nowhere to go, uh!" and the rest of the band busts through with that insanely uplifting, triumphant scream of "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH-OOOOOOO!" is overwhelmingly brilliant, to my ears.
       And it's not like the rest of the medley is any worse. "Mean Mr. Mustard" features a fun character sketch from Lennon, and that fuzz-bass-driven groove is mighty tasty. "Golden Slumbers" is a perfect, ridiculously anthemic piano ballad, "Sun King" is one the band's most beautiful and soothing moments, and "Polythene Pam" is easily my second favorite rock song about a cross-dresser. Oh, and "Carry That Weight" just might be the best part of the whole thing -- those primal yells of "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight / Carry that weight a long time!" just SLAY me, and when the horn section kicks in....well, it almost makes me tear up a little. And of course, I think it's brilliant how elements of "You Never Give Me Your Money" are worked back into the track, as well; it really gives the whole medley a feeling of being an actual collective whole, as opposed to just a collection of random songs. 
       There's also a killer guitar solo, a goofy drum solo, and a completely self-deflating encore that keeps the whole affair from becoming too pretentious. But if ever pretension was deserved on a rock album, this is certainly the one that should earn it. In the end, Abbey Road is The Beatles' most touching, most emotional, most well-written, best-produced, most flat-out perfect album. It defines musical nirvana as I know it, and in the world of popular music, its stature is unassailable. If you've never heard it, you've never experienced one of the true examples of perfection in the world of mass art. 
       There, now is that pretentious and serious enough for you?

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