Friday, January 8, 2010

Remastered "Rubber Soul"

As I did a while back with the remastered version of Help, I recently sat down with Rubber Soul, gave it a few attentive listens, and took some notes. No surprise: I didn't come away disappointed. I feel only more convicted in the view that Rubber Soul represents one of the two best front-to-back listening experiences of any Beatles album (the other top contender being Abbey Road; to be sure, Revolver isn't far behind). Concerning the digital upgrade, the improvements are once again very noticeable and welcome. The vocals hit your ears more crisply, and each component part of a song is much more distinguishable. I'm starting to think, though, that no Beatle has benefitted as much from the enhanced sound quality as Ringo. I trust there aren't many people who consider him a bad drummer, but for too long his talents have been glibly derided as unworthy of the rest of the band's. That line of thinking is nonsense. The digital remasters underscore what should be obvious: his contributions on the drum kit were both integral to the richness of the Beatles' music and innovative in their own right. Can you imagine "In My Life" without him?

Here are the rest of my thoughts:

- Along with a handful of other songs, "Drive My Car" showcases what a truly great rock 'n' roll voice Paul had. Brisk, direct, and somewhat unpolished around the edges, it could pack a level of vigor that was perhaps unexpected coming from the same guy who so plaintively sang "Yesterday." Any doubters need only listen to "Helter Skelter" for the ultimate confirmation.

- George's use of the sitar on "Norwegian Wood" is so expertly calibrated for the song's needs and aims. It could've been distracting, but instead it brings life to the song. It lends "Norwegian Wood" a texture that's shimmering while also sort of serrated. The atmosphere that results from this - one that's inviting like a pop song should be, but still a little different, a little weird - is fitting for the curious narrative that unfolds. As John himself admitted, it's an account of adultery. Or more precisely, it's a veiled confession of unfaithfulness directed at Cynthia. With the lyric, John doesn't elaborate much on what exactly happened, and some of the details he does supply only deepen the story's elusiveness. Like what exactly is meant by "norwegian wood?" Why does John sleep in the bathtub? Was it because his new acquaintance wouldn't have sex with him? And what does he light at the end? Was it just wood in a fireplace? Or did he feel so hotly spurned by this, um, dick tease that he set her house aflame (as some have intriguingly speculated)? George's sitar suitably guides the action of these events and adds to their sense of mystery. It also sounds really cool, and the digital upgrade only accentuates the crispness of each pluck on the instrument.

- There are few songs in the Beatles' catalogue that go down with the ease and charm of "Michelle." It's just surpassingly smooth, like an afternoon cocktail. It's cocktail-pop.

- I love this line from "What Goes On:" "It's so easy for a girl like you to lie." Coming from Ringo, it seems to take on added meaning. Maybe it feels truer.

- I've spoken the praises of "Girl" in the past, and each subsequent encounter I have with the song only seems to make me more and more smitten. At the risk of lapsing into hyperbole, I'd offer that it features flawless execution and deserves to be considered one of the Beatles' ten or fifteen greatest songs. Final comment: that guitar solo has an unmistakably Eastern European feel, and is mesmerizing.

- "In My Life" is another perfect entry on the album. It's uncommonly beautiful for a pop song, and makes for a moving experience. And as I mentioned above, Ringo is a major factor in its appeal. Especially when contrasted with the florid elegance of George Martin's piano solo (and especially on the remastered version), the stuttering snap and hiss of Ringo's drum part is a wonder to hear. Intuitively, the style he employs wouldn't seem to fit "In My Life." But, as it turns out, his drum-work provides a stunning counterpoint to the song's light and lush sounds. It serves as the anchor, keeping the rest of "In My Life" from more or less floating away.

- Lastly, although it's a nasty and sinister song, and John openly regretted writing it, "Run For Your Life" always gets me going. In fact, it's one of few Beatles songs that arouses something like a physical response from me. It builds up energy within and then makes me want to unleash it. Part of this is attributable to how punchily the song moves along. But I think more of it owes to John's vocal, which is utterly convincing. It's all too obvious that his abusive and vengeful words of warning come from an authentic place within him. For whatever reason, this translates into addictive energy.

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