Wednesday, March 2, 2011

#49 The Beatles-Rubber Soul

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Artist: The Beatles
Album: Rubber Soul
Label: EMI
Year: 1965

Revolver has grown in stature in recent years to their finest moment, and while there are several moments of absolute brilliance, Rubber Soul is more consistent. Maybe it's because Revolver marked the beginning of the third (of four) eras for The Beatles, while Rubber Soul took everything the band had been perfecting after the initial rush of Beatlemania and did it one more time. Stacking Beatles albums against each other is a difficult task, but this is where The Beatles lost their youth, lost their innocence, and their songs really start to reflect that they are aware of their youth being gone. The Beatles by Rubber Soul are really clear and reaching maturity, and with albums that came after it, that maturity would manifest itself in a more abstract, poetic way. But Rubber Soul is direct, and their inward reflection would not seem like this at all until the group was ready to call it quits.
(Note: I do not hate any of the Beatles songs I'm about to mention. I love them all. Please keep that in mind.) Look at the evolution of the songs. A Hard Day's Night is the last album where they sing about love in a really simplistic fashion. "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" and "And I Love Her," are so simple. "I give her all my love/that's all I do/and if you saw my love/you'd love her too." With Beatles For Sale there are new dimensions of love (namely: heartbreak) that they sing about, but still in a simple way. In "No Reply" John can't figure out why his woman would leave him, because he loves her more than anyone else. This simplistic view of love litters the album. In "I'm A Loser," is it just a coincidence that the one romantic regret in his life is the girl who left him, and not vice-versa? Help! continues these lyrical themes, even "Yesterday" with general lyrics, emphasizes the way they are composing. With Rubber Soul, the details get more vivid, the songs (even the somber songs) are more lively.
With Rubber Soul, The Beatles begin to use objects for the idea of a song to revolve around. "Drive My Car" is about a man chasing a woman who has big dreams...and eventually she realizes her dreams are out of reach, but at least she has the man who has believed in her the whole time. "The Word" reaches for that word "love", purposefully over-simplifying the impact of a single word. The album as a whole is incredibly even.
"Michelle" is a simple love song by Paul, and whereas his later stuff is often a bit kitschy or too poppy, "Michelle" is so simple, it works. All he wants to do is expressive his love, a feeling we all know and adore, especially early in a relationship. George's songs are also dark on this album, a theme he's continued since "Don't Bother Me." In "Think For Yourself" he does everything he can to distance himself from a woman. He sarcastically continues this with "If I Needed Someone." Both of these are two of his best songs ever.
But the best songs on the record belong to John. "Norweigan Wood" reflects on his days of sneaking around on his wife. It's unbelievably brilliant, and not just because of the sitar melody. The details of the song are magnificent. And "Nowhere Man" and "In My Life" are some of their most reflective and effective songs. "Nowhere Man" takes aim at those looking for direction in the world through other people. Along with "Revolution" it's one of the few times they are addressing a societal problem, and not personal matters. "In My Life" is just the opposite, but just as effective, and it's odd, because it's one of their most general songs. But it sticks because you know that John is just feeling, "Shit, the world is big out there. There's a lot to life."
The most important fallout of Beatlemania is the group looking outside of themselves. With Beatlemania, all the world cared about was them, and when they were able to start escaping it, and looking back on the world, their new perspective graced their music beautifully. It's no longer "If you saw my love, you'd love her too" because the world is far too complex to know how he feels. Instead, Paul is content just knowing he has Michelle, and Michelle knowing that he loves him. This is their most personal record they'd ever make, as the music that came after is, like I said, more abstract and more obtuse and more poetic. Rubber Soul is their best album of the early period, and of course, points to the further genius they'd produce.

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