The Beatles, “The Beatles (White Album) Super Deluxe Edition”
The Beatles (White Album) Super Deluxe Edition
In a place between the meditative calm of a prayerful stay with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and the personal division and derision within the quartet that found over fifty session musicians involved in its recording, The Beatles’ eponymous 1968 epic is the schizophrenic sound of longtime friendships and musical camaraderie splintering, yet persevering for the common good.
It is the true quadrophenia: four angry, separate, already-uneven characters recording for their own devices, ultimately coming together (somewhat) despite their interpersonal messiness. The White Album is like three and a half debut solo albums by the Fab Four. Its tension was so thick, Ringo at one point quit the band. And yet, if not for that fissure amongst its ranks (let alone that which was going on—good, bad, and troublesome—with each man), the lustrous brilliance and weird experimentalism would not shine quite so bright fifty years later.
Splayed across seven discs (the 2018 mixes are bold, stinging, and happily more bass-heavy and dense than the original), with a kit of rare photographs and handwritten lyrics, the look of the new “Super Deluxe” fiftieth anniversary White Album is stellar. The innocence has gone out of the faces of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr in these photos, only to be replaced by world-weariness. There’s also a psychedelic, spiritual ebullience in their eyes (unless that was the LSD) based on their time spent with the Maharishi. That was the goal of the trip—to bring each member back to the other, and to a higher plane beyond them. That auspicious holy meeting (with bad vegetarian dining options, quipped Lennon), its purposeful limitations (no access to electric gear), and its unified meditations is what fueled the finest aspects of this weighty package: the acoustic Esher demos.
Long considered the missing piece of Beatles demo lore, this is the White Album stripped to its core—before it ever began—with songs written during the India trip and casually recorded at George Harrison’s Esher estate with the boys sounding jocular and jovial on each tune. Even the slower moments—Lennon’s “Dear Prudence,” McCartney’s “Blackbird,” Harrison’s stately “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—are buoyant and filled with the cheer of old buddies chumming up to each other’s ideas and experimentations; some of these ideas wound up White, some of which wound up on Abbey Road (“Mean Mr. Mustard”), some of which became solo classics such as McCartney’s “Junk,” Harrison’s “Not Guilty,” and Lennon’s “Child of Nature,” whose Indian travelogue and melodic elements later became “Jealous Guy.” And for an acoustic workout, the Esher demos breathe, pulsate, and rock in a raw fashion few other Beatles records do, as cuts like “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and “Honey Pie” groove deeply and elegantly in a loose, unconfined manner.
The Super Deluxe package’s three discs’ worth of studio sessions are at the opposite end of that positivist pole, fascinating in the degree to which each Beatle stretched himself, take after take (e.g. several differently paced versions of “Helter Skelter” and “Blackbird), but slowly revelatory in detailing how a band of brothers falls apart. With that, this Technicolor version of The White Album is more of a diary than the classic we remember—a day in the life from sweet to sour.