Sound — 5
The White Album is quite simply the album that marked the true beginning of the end for The Beatles. The death of Epstein and the visit to India had brought individual musical directions to the forefront; Rubber Soul saw this individualism spawn, the White Album saw it take over their whole sound. The individualism on this record mirrors the events that occured during its construction. Cracks were appearing in the Fab Four. Ringo Starr left for Italy during the recording in order to escape the rows and Lennon's growing enfatuation with Yoko Ono angered the rest as it was the catalyst for Lennon's disillusionment with the group. So varied are the sounds of each of the band members that at this point (notably Lennon and McCartney) that it very easy to spot which of them wrote a song credited to both of them. The writing of individual songs was nothing new (again Rubber Soul saw this flourish) but on that and the subsequent 2 albums the different sounds gelled; on this they do not. Paul's music (such as Ob La Di, Ob Lad Da and Rocky Raccoon) hallmarks his solo career, as does the efforts of all the others (notably Harrison's "While my Guitar Gently Weeps"). Quite simply, this album is the soundtrack to a band break-up.
Lyrics — 7
However disjointed the band may have been that this point, the individual and group talent was still very much for all to listen to, in particular the song writing. As each of the four got more personal, so they wrote songs that mattered to them and not necessarily to fit a timescale to release a new album (a fact which I feel lets down a couple of their earlier albums, notably With The Beatles). Lennon's "Julia" and McCartney's "Helter Skelter" are two of the best songs the band ever recorded and so their divisions may have even helped their musical creativity. What's more, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" is the first true sign of John Lennon's breathtaking vocal ability; an ability he would later show off in his first solo album. Having said that, there are some bad eggs in the basket lyrically. I point only to Ob La Di, Ob La Da; that should never have been on any Beatle's album.
Overall Impression — 4
This album (and indeed the band's other works) has always been a great mystery to me; especially in terms of critical approval. Not one Beatle album is labelled as unspectacular by the mainstream press, often for the reaosn that they were innovators and therefore made the 5 of the 10 greatest albums of all time (see the Rolling Stone Top 500 list for reference). However, I dislike the thought of this being why so much of their work is brilliant; being first at something in terms of chronology doesn't make you the best eternally. Despite my reservations over of this critical appraisal, I agree that I love most Beatles albums and always will; but this one is the stark exception. It has good parts, there is no denying that. I particulalrly like Lennon's obviously solo efforts and "Helter Skelter". It is well made, it covers multiple genres in a way no other band had done up until this point and it is the best selling Beatles album in the USA. But I do not like and never will like it for one main (slighly petty) reason; it isn't the Beatles anymore. It's 4 people playing their own stuff and throwing it onto 1 album. A lot of the stuff is good, but listening to the whole thing paints this picture of 4 brilliant men sat in opposite corners of the room writing alone and waiting for the time that they can get away from each other. I confess that Abbey Road and Let it Be were written later on and during more intense personal disagreements; there's just something about the White Album that makes listening to it rather sad. The former two I mentioned have almost a spirit of final unity; a last-gasp attempt at a group piece. This is a myriad of solo efforts disguised as a group work which shows to all the ending of a great musical era and that is the reason I so rarely listen to it.