Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Past Masters, Volume Two -- The Beatles -- Review

Past Masters, Volume Two (1988)
Rating: 14
"Don't you know it's gonna be / Alright!"
Best Song: ????
Worst Song: Old Brown Shoe

       The Past Masters train rolls on as we track the band throughout their true glory years. And yes, this is one hell of a compilation, one that should be owned by everyone. The disc kicks off with "Day Tripper", a song known by virtually everyone. What can I say -- it's catchy, the riff is immaculate, blah blah blah. Its b-side, "We Can Work It Out", might be even better, though. The melody is wonderful, the harmonium is a great touch, and I love how the tempo and mood keep shifting around throughout the whole track. Pretty freaking progressive for a pop single from 1965! (I should also mention that Stevie Wonder's little-known cover of this track is positively EXCELLENT.) Both of these songs are great, and I have absolutely no clue why either of them were left off of Rubber Soul (they were recorded during the same sessions) for substantially weaker material.
       Similarly, I have no idea why "Rain" and "Paperback Writer" didn't make it onto Revolver! Both tracks are FAR greater than anything like "Good Day Sunshine" or "Doctor Robert", and had they made it on there I might have even raised the score a bit. Ah well, we can still listen to them here, and they're both brilliant. "Rain" in particular is a stone-cold classic, filled with some AWESOME harmonies and what is quite possibly Ringo's best ever drumming. Oh, and dig that simply bizarre ending as John's vocal is filtered backwards over a sea of trumpet samples. Strange. Of course, "Paperback Writer" is no slouch either, but I'm sure you already know it by heart.
       Elsewhere you'll find hilarious novelty numbers ("You Know My Name"), one of George's best, most underrated Indian excursions ("The Inner Light"), and alternate versions of a few songs from Let It Be ("Across the Universe", "Get Back", and the title track) that are generally quite even with the original versions. You'll also find "Hey Jude" on here, which is still a classic...even if you've heard it 1,098,234 times. Sure, maybe the "na na na" coda winds on for a bit too long, but I still get chills when those horns kick in. Its B-side is hardly any worse, though -- "Revolution" is probably the Fabs' hardest-rocking tune ever, a complete jolt to the senses that thumps along with an intensity that one would expect on something like Led Zeppelin II, not a Beatles compilation.
       Paul's ridiculously catchy piano rocker "Lady Madonna" is also here (man, I love that saxophone line that kicks in from time to time), as well as John's rollicking "Ballad of John and Yoko" (man, I love those biting guitar leads that kick in from time to time) and his ridiculously emotional, powerful "Don't Let Me Down", one of my very favorite Beatles tunes (and one of my very favorite love songs ever, period). Why it didn't make it onto Let It Be is anybody's guess.
       And now we come to the problem of rating the album. There's no denying that the songs here are on the same level as the tracks on the "big four"; however, there is absolutely no "grand artistic scope/vision" here to push me over the edge into giving it a 15. (It also doesn't help that the singles are arranged strictly in chronological order, as opposed to simply placing them in a fashion that flows well like some other compilations.) I'll happily give it a 14, though, placing it firmly in the category of "not a completely perfect, groundbreaking artistic statement, but an undeniably essential addition to your music collection". And yes, I'm rating it higher than Rubber Soul and Revolver -- sue me.

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