Entry #36 – The Beatles (a.k.a Genre Whiplash)

While this isn’t the longest it has taken me to write a review (I’m still trying to finish Be Here Now), this entry about the White Album has taken a solid month for me to get through. I started writing it in the early hours of December 19th 2022. It is now mid-January and this introduction is actually the last part that I am writing.

A double album like The Beatles was never going to hold my attention for a solid hour and a half because it is a striking mish-mash of songs to say the least. The genres that the band play with over the span of two discs change faster than British springtime weather. And, let’s get the main criticism out of the way, with thirty tracks on offer some of these are going to sound like filler. Songs made for the sake of it to pad out the discs. And with the boys now at the point where tensions were mounting between them, it was hard to keep songs like these in check.

Despite all that though, the White Album is typically one of the first albums you hear about when you touch upon the Beatles’ work. Heck, when I was getting to set to hear the fab four for the first time back in 2020, the White Album was the first I thought of tackling. That is until I saw its runtime and I thought better of it. But it must do something right if it’s one of the more famous efforts.

So, we’re nearly three years on, I’ve grown accustomed to the Beatles in the late 60s trying to flex their creative muscles, and I’ve gone through the White Album bit by bit.

Let’s see what holds up and what doesn’t.

Track #1 – Back in the U.S.S.R

As far as Beatles openers go this one is most definitely a favourite. Jaunty, easy to listen to, evokes the excitement of flying in a plane and preparing to touch down, and the droppings of the title (“Back in the US, back in the US, back in the U.S.S.R!”) aren’t going to leave your head in a hurry. Bonus points for being wonderfully ballsy for the time as I can imagine a song built on Soviet imagery and making the motherland a comparative heaven would’ve gone down like a cup of cold sick for many.

Track #2 – Dear Prudence

Influenced by the Beatles ill-fated trip to India in terms of both musical style and content, about Mia Farrow’s sister who locked herself in a room for days at a time. A relatable topic post-lockdown. Dear Prudence gets progressively tripper with the ‘aaaaah’s in the background, the repeat of “look around” and a brief increase in tempo influenced by the drumming. I feel like it should be a favourite but there’s something about it that feels tacked together, as if you can see the gaps between the pieces of the jigsaw. Speaking of which, Ringo’s not done any drumming yet.

Track #3 – Glass Onion

One book I’ve been reading on and off as of late has been Ian McDonald’s Revolution in the Head, an overview of the Beatles’ songs track by track (Sounds like a familiar way of doing things, dunnit?). During his analysis of the early albums it’s noted at one point that John Lennon didn’t really give a toss when it came to writing lyrics, with his mindset being tune first, words second. With that in mind it makes songs like I Am the Walrus and Glass Onion, songs designed to take the mick out of those who spend their hours poring over the Beatles’ lyrics, all the better. Love the swirly strings too.

Track #4 – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Ah, the infamous Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. I honestly don’t mind this, even as a guy who has a general indifference to Paul McCartney’s music hall-style numbers. It’s catchy but not overly annoying. Not single material though, not by a long shot.

Track #5 – Wild Honey Pie

54 seconds too long.

Track #6 – The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

A good friend of Cul-De-Sac Colin, Bungalow Bill’s story isn’t really a gripping one although I do love the whistles at the end that cement the folky sound of the song. I absolutely hated the applause on initial listen, I thought it was just self indulgent, unowned, and took you out of the moment. But then I discovered that was the point as the song was a derogatory tale about a hunter John came across in India. Felt like a bit of a div after that. Plus, in a meta sense, I guess clapping each other on is heartwarming considering this was when the Beatles were starting to drift apart, a fact that will become increasingly obvious as we go along. On a related note, it is a bit jarring hearing Yoko Ono on a Beatles record. It’s even more jarring hearing her actually sing.

Track #7 – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

On a musical level John Lennon is my favourite Beatle. But on a personal level my favourite is George as he brings a lot of heart and soul into his songs. There’s something fresh about them, the earnest nature of songs such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps seems genuine as opposed to the faux-love present in a lot of early Lennon-McCartney material. Having Eric Clapton play guitar most definitely helps. It’s the highlight of disc one.

Track #8 – Happiness is a Warm Gun

Ok the title aged like milk but the song’s a good ‘un. John can always be relied upon to add grit and depth to Beatles records and here he definitely delivers.

Track #9 – Martha My Dear

The opening few seconds sound like the theme tune to Postman Pat. I couldn’t take it seriously after that. Less so when I read up the fact the titular Martha was Paul’s dog. Even less so when he’s the only credited Beatle who worked on it, again because of the strained relations between the fab four at the time. It all kind of feels like a bit of a pisstake.

Track #10 – I’m So Tired

I’ve talked a couple of times already about how there’s something disingenuous about John’s lovely-dovey lyrics from past Beatles records. This time though he truly means what he says (The way he calls himself a stupid git sums it up) and we get a romantic number about being unable to get someone we love out of our heads to the point we lose sleep over it. I might make it sound melodramatic but it’s sweet, really.

Track #11 – Blackbird

We shift gears a bit and get our first political song since Back in the U.S.S.R, disguised as a stripped back acoustic number. And I love it, for both the tune itself and the double meaning between the call of the blackbird and the show of support for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. Hands down one of my favourite songs from Paul McCartney.

Track #12 – Piggies

In truth, there was no better song to follow up Blackbird than this song, continuing the Beatles’ dipping their toes into late 60s politics by contrasting the clean and elegant Blackbird with the dirty and classless Piggies. As hero worship has evolved over the years this would be a good song to use to take the piss out of them. Unfortunately Charles Manson kind of scuppered that one…

Track #13 – Rocky Raccoon

So far on this album we’ve had Chuck Berry-esque rockers bathed in politics, music hall dashed with ska, a folk pastiche, and now we’ve got a murder ballad to the tune of country music. Talk about a melting pot. Rocky Raccoon is decent, I like the tale it tells and the tune is simple enough that it doesn’t overshadow Paul’s singing. Not for the first time though, it’s a Beatles song written by Paul that I would probably prefer if it was covered by Nick Cave (The other is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer).

Track #14 – Don’t Pass Me By

Sound the filler alarm because holy cow is this a prime example. It was written by Ringo several years prior and it does sound like a throwback to the faux-love lyrics penned by Lennon and McCartney in the early to mid-60s. The carney-style tune is also just plain irritating. Better was to come from Ringo down the line.

Track #15 – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?

It’s about monkeys shagging. What else is there to say?

Track #16 – I Will

Perfectly pleasant if not a little one-dimensional, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome at under two minutes. I’d say I Will is a step up from the last two songs.

Track #17 – Julia

A heartstring tugger to finish the first disc. While the gradual splitting of the Beatles is often to this album’s detriment, this song most definitely benefits from it. This is John’s song to his Mum and his alone. Just him and his acoustic guitar, pouring his heart out for a few minutes and gently calling out his mother’s name. It’s impossible not to love this one.

Track #18 – Birthday

Let’s see here. Catchy guitar work, a quick and upbeat tempo, and rock-n-roll style scratchy lyrics? This is the right way to open up disc two. Kudos for capturing the excitement of a birthday.

Track #19 – Yer Blues

“Yes I’m lonely/Want to die”. Well tell us how you really feel, mate.

Track #20 – Mother Nature’s Son

The Beatles’ trip to India and all the spiritualism that washed over them while they were there manifests itself in Paul’s sweetest song on the album. Very much one for the hippy wishing to relax in their quest to contact the Earth.

Track #21 – Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

To my relief, not another one about monkeys bonking in the road. To my annoyance, it’s not really one that gives me a lot to talk about. Let’s just move on.

Track #22 – Sexy Sadie

It’s impossible to talk about this one without going over the context, and why the Beatles’ time at the spiritual retreat came to an early end. While Dear Prudence was holed up in her room it was alleged that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had made sexual advances to sister Mia, leading to John writing the song as he prepared to return home.

Once he calmed down a bit, he swapped the Maharishi for Sexy Sadie and what we get is a cynical song about someone the narrator clearly once thought a lot of but now has nowt but disdain for. With that little bit of energy fuelled by the lingering disgust, Lennon and co. turn in one of the better songs of the second disc.

Track #23 – Helter Skelter

NOISE. BEAUTIFUL LOUD NOISE. SLASHED GUITARS. TWATTED DRUMS. RIDE THAT HELTER SKELTER. RINGO’S GOT BLISTERS ON HIS FINGERS.

I bloody love this song. It’s that earlier energy from Birthday turned up to eleven and the fab four are firing on all cylinders, most of all Paul screaming his heart out piece by piece with each word. And that final minute of music, what an outro. Dearly wish I could hear this one performed live.

Track #24 – Long, Long, Long

Before listening I was worried that after Helter Skelter this might be an abrupt comedown. Here are the notes I wrote after the song began:

  • Ooh hello, psych rock, how I have missed thee.
  • And some Hammond organ! I’m in heaven.
  • Haunting reverb of Ringo’s drums keeps you on your toes, as does his rapid fire pounding during the last 30 seconds.
  • Nice and spooky. Comedown, yes. But it fits the narrative.

Track #25 – Revolution 1

We’re back to political songs which have been a highlight so far. While the guitar work, both electric and acoustic, is fab as always there is something that is just not clicking for me. Maybe it’s the fact that the lyrics are a bit too on the nose. Think back to Blackbird and its double meaning of the Civil Rights movement and the beauty of the titular animal. Here it’s just 4 minutes of espousing ‘That revolution of yours? Sounds like bollocks’.

Maybe it’s just this version of the song specifically, as there is another version that serves as the flipside to Hey Jude. Once we’re at the end of the album I’ll listen to that and then compare. For now though let’s press on to the end because frankly I’m getting a bit tired.

Track #26 – Honey Pie

Oh God, not more music hall. Why is it that of all the genres that the Beatles have tried their hand at during this album, music hall is the one that we get again? At least Paul is clearly having fun doing his vocals and humbly showing off his range.

Track #27 – Savoy Truffle

The lyrics are beyond daft but I adore the music. If Quality Street was still worth buying then this would be great for an advertising campaign.

Track #28 – Cry Baby Cry

Unremarkable. File under ‘Filler’.

Track #29 – Revolution 9

Honest to God. I have been staring at my computer screen for the last twenty minutes trying to think of how in the hell you sum up Revolution 9. But you can’t. It is indescribable with mere mortal words. So instead I am going to express my opinion in a suitably avant-garde, off-the-wall, stitch-shit-together way.

Through the medium of Internet memes!

Track #30 – Good Night

Aw, Ringo…

Epilogue – Revolution (Single Version)

Oh my sweet God, that opening riff. That scream from Paul. It took exactly 6 seconds for this to become my favourite version of Revolution by a country mile. What was wrong with 1 was that it was missing was a rawness and a slightly faster tempo, it was far too squeaky clean.

Oh, and a bit louder for the folks in the back: THE GUITARS ARE DISTORTED TO F*CK AND IT SOUNDS AWESOME. While my earlier criticism about the lack of subtlety in the lyrics remains, this is absolutely one of my favourite songs that I’ve heard while I’ve been writing this review. And it wasn’t even on the bloody album.

Conclusion:

So that’s the White Album. To listen to it, you need an open mind because there are songs that you are going to unconditionally love, and others that will inevitably make you shrug, cringe, gag, question your existence, or all four at once. It’s inconsistent to put it nicely, one minute you’ll be listening to some of the best work the Beatles have ever done, the next you’ll be listening to Wild Honey Pie. I think the problem is that these were songs from the Beatles that were designed to satisfy one man only, and that was whoever wrote that particular song. If it satisfied them, fine, they weren’t particularly interested in the opinion of the bandmates, the production team, or the listeners.

Make no mistake, if the Beatles had come together, conducted some quality control and knocked out the deadwood then this would have been a stellar album up there with Abbey Road and Revolver. Unfortunately, circumstances dictated that this album is ultimately a step down as at this point in their careers they were maturing into musicians of their own accord rather than as bandmates. They were gearing up to leave the nest, and this album was them spreading their wings in preparation. Part of them wanted to stay together and make music, but another part of them wanted to split and do their own thing. And those two parts manifest to create the White Album.

As Roy Walker would say, it’s good but it’s not right.

Entry #35 – A New Morning (a.k.a A False Dawn)

A New Morning is precisely no Suede fan’s favourite album. Upon release in 2002 it quickly developed a reputation for being lightweight, blasé, dull, same-old same-old, all the derogatory terms magazines like the NME and Q Magazine could pull from the dictionary to describe a band running on fumes.

So why am I bothering to talk about it on A-Side Glance?

Well not so long ago I finished reading Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn, Brett Anderson’s second autobiography where he reminisces about Suede’s heyday; the release of the self-titled album, the fraught and almost fatal sessions of Dog Man Star, the call to action that was Coming Up, the meandering mess of Head Music, and lastly A New Morning. Note how I don’t give the latter any real description. The reason is because in the book, then and now, Brett and co. seemed confused as to what the hell A New Morning was meant to be.

Option one was what the title suggested; a fresh, clean start designed to keep the band going in a more positive, poppy light akin to Coming Up but with less bite. Option two was that it was a waste of time that the band were trying to ensure was not a waste of money – The album took over a year to make and the band went through quite a few producers. Option three was that the album was an unofficial suicide pact; something on the level of This is Hardcore designed to deliberately alienate fans and essentially kill them with kindness.

An intriguing idea admittedly, but obviously with hindsight it did the band no favours. Whatever the case, it’s been 20 years since the album’s release and I want to judge for myself if it’s a mere refreshing change of pace for Suede, or if it really is a gun to the head in the guise of a bouquet of flowers.

Let’s have a listen.

Track #1 – Positivity

Here’s a choice lyric that a lot of people harp on: “Your smile is your credit card/And your currency is your love”. It’s a very piss-poor start, and as a lead single it killed a lot of enthuasiasm for the album stone-dead. So if we are going for option three of the suicide pact then mission accomplished right out of the gate. However, this is just one song. There could be eleven better ones down the line.

Track #2 – Obsessions

Brett’s mentioning credit cards again. Guess this is his new obsession to replace gasoline. Anyway in all seriousness this is a step up, and the use of harmonica harkens back to the classic glam rock sound that Suede would chase in the 90s. Maybe not as punchy as it could have been had this album been produced under Ed Buller, but Stephen Street does an admirable job and I think Brett’s lower-than-usual pitch lends the song a bit of extra bite.

Track #3 – Lonely Girls

Lonely Girls comes across as something Ed Sheeran could and would cover. But despite that, I actually kind of like this one? Not sure why. Maybe it’s the strings, makes the whole thing nice and breezy in the same way as Everything Will Flow.

Track #4 – Lost in TV

This doesn’t sound like Suede. There’s nothing definitively Suede about it, save for Brett’s vocals. It just sounds like another song, the kind of thing you’d hear everyday in the shops. Not a fan of the la la’s in the backing vocals either. It seems unnecessary and adds to the generic poppy feel of the song.

Track #5 – Beautiful Loser

I’ve noticed we’re getting a lot more use out of the acoustic guitar on this album. Here it clashes with the electric guitar to good effect. A common criticism of the album is that Brett’s vocals are a bit strained as the drug use caught up with him and unfortunately this is where it is most obvious. The lyrics are fine but much like how Obsessions was Trash 2.0, this is Beautiful Ones 2.0. The problem with the album so far is that not a lot of it sounds original, and what is original is turgid. I’m hoping things change as we approach the halfway stage.

Track #6 – Streetlife

I’m liking the faster tempo, it makes the song come across as Hi-Fi‘s younger, more hyper brother. A bit one dimensional and doesn’t really build upon itself like Lonely Girls did, but it’s still alright.

Track #7 – Astrogirl

In terms of overall sound, this is my favourite so far. Alex Lee is on keyboards this time around standing in for Neil Codling and this is definitely his finest hour with the piano and strings, adding a bit of majesty to proceedings. However, the lyrics are once again weak to the point of daft. Here’s the second verse in full:

“A strange experience has started
Between her molecules and me
It’s like disease between us forming
From obsolete technology
And it’s calling you
It’s calling me
It’s calling everyone to be”

That means nothing. Those are just words.

Track #8 – Untitled

Catchy title. Brett singing in isolation at the start made me think this was going to be him channelling what David Bowie was doing around this time on Heathen but sadly not. Once again though I find myself liking the sound. Up until this stage of the album I’ve found myself thinking that Suede are just going through the motions, but there’s a bit of extra effort behind this which I can commend.

Track #9 – …Morning

Ok, no word of a lie, I want to set this as my alarm. I know that would never have been Suede’s intention but goddammit it’s gentle and on the nose enough for me to want to wake up to Brett and acoustic guitar.

Yeah, if you can’t tell I’m struggling to take things seriously at this point, it all sounds OK or occasionally decent but frankly it’s all just going straight through one ear and out of the other. There’s nothing memorable.

Track #10 – One Hit to the Body

A proper electric guitar riff! It’s only been 7 tracks since we’ve had one! Side note, if you were to play a drinking game whilst listening to New Morning where you have to take a shot every time Brett says the word ‘sky’, you’d be absolutely shitfaced by this point. I miss credit cards. Anyway, song’s boring, moving on.

Track #11 – When the Rain Falls

Again, boring. But then again so is any rainy day where you’re stuck indoors so I guess this strikes the right tone? Oh I don’t know at this point, let’s just hear the final song.

Track #12 – Oceans

Ok this is more like it, lyrically this is a massive step up. After all the optimism and saccharine romanticism of the preceding songs, we get a song with the narrator acknowledging that there are oceans between himself and his partner. It’s all falling apart but it’s too late to really do anything about it. Stephen Street’s production has been a bit lax since Obsessions but here there’s a few extra background noises that elevate the song; the familiar grey sounds of life on the radio and the telly.

Right, I’m finally enjoying A New Morning, let’s have some more…oh wait. That’s it.

Conclusion:

It can certainly be said that this is a Suede album like no other. It’s sounds light and lives up to the title of sounding like a new morning for the band, seemingly invigorated and eager to take on the 21st century. Plus, you will never hear as much acoustic guitar on a Suede album as you will here.

Unfortunately, it’s not one that would win over any regular fans of the band due to how much of a departure it is from the days of the anthems for the outcasts or the brutal recounts of nitrate-fuelled domestics. Nor is it going to win any newcomers because of how boring it is. If you were to introduce someone to the band with this album, chances are they aren’t coming back for seconds.

On that note I’d like to bring up the front cover because…God I hate it, it’s shit. How are you meant to catch the eyes of the public, how can you go from the striking artwork of Dog Man Star and Head Music to a disc and a splodge of pink?

Here’s a quote from Brett’s book that sums it up:

“Whereas previously we had created record covers that triggered our looming, polar themes of sensuality and sadness, the sleeve to A New Morning was soulless and blank and oddly corporate, bereft of any real personality of human content, perhaps a strangely appropriate reflection of the majority of the songs it clothed” – Brett Anderson, Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn, 2019

Suede had well and truly lost their way by this point in their careers. After Head Music, they had a choice: to go back to the classic sound of their 90s output, or lean further into that album’s tone in an attempt to remain relevant. Drug-free, they were never going to achieve the former. And if they truly did have option three in mind, then doing the latter would be the quickest way to self-immolate. This is an album that sounds like it was only made for the sake of it, by a band who were exhausted and wanted to get out of their record deal, not a band wishing to make a fresh start.

A New Morning was a flop, and rightly so. Apart from Obsessions and Oceans, there’s nothing of value to those except for the most dedicated Suede fan. The following year’s breakup was inevitable. And I’m so glad better was to come in the 2010’s, because what a sad end this could have been.

Entry #34 – Magical Mystery Tour (a.k.a One Trip to Albert Dock Later…)

What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about the Beatles? Sweet F.A. It’s been over 60 years since they evolved from the Quarrymen and they’re still hyped as heroes of music who shaped and reshaped the industry to their heart’s content in the 60s. We all know about them, it’s impossible not to be at the very least aware of their existence.

That last part became very clear to me when I paid a visit to Liverpool for the first time back in July, to spend the day with my good friend Rebecca. While I think Liverpudlians are missing a trick not erecting a statue of Lee Mavers it’s pretty clear that they know what they produced and that they’re set on commemorating it until the end of time. If you’re ever in the area, get yourself away from the city centre as soon as possible and head down to Albert Dock. There you’ll find statues of the Fab Four, a view of the Mersey, a shop selling merchandise including t-shirts, album reissues and replicas of John Lennon’s specs, and a busker doing some lovely renditions of songs like Blackbird and Come Together.

I’ve had a taste of the Beatles, I’ve let them in and I think it’s high time I talk about them on A-Side Glance. Like David Bowie it’s taken me a while to start appreciating them but I am slowly coming around to them, or at least their later and more experimental stuff which I enjoy a lot more compared to their early pop efforts.

There are three reasons why I’m looking at Magical Mystery Tour of all things: One, it tends to get swept under the carpet compared to other albums in the collection (not helped by being sandwiched between Sgt Pepper and the White Album). Two, I’ve always had a thing for psychedelia as seen with Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. And three, it’s Reb’s favourite. That’s good enough for me.

All aboard the bus for the Magical Mystery Tour.

Track #1 – Magical Mystery Tour

The fanfare sways away as the album rolls into life and we are beckoned aboard for the tour. Fittingly the sound of the song encapsulates the start of a big trip, and all the excitement you feel ahead of a grand adventure. I’m ready and raring to go.

Track #2 – The Fool On The Hill

I really, really like this one. It’s got the vibe of a musical and wonderfully uses flutes to evoke the overarching theme of the tour, helping paint images in your mind of the bus trundling down the roads and past the hill atop which the supposed fool sits. I also like how he’s depicted as a misunderstood outsider, making him more relatable and likeable in a way. Gentle, calming, inviting, and an early highlight of the album.

Track #3 – Flying

Onto an instrumental. I feel like it’s a bit early in the day for one and should have been saved for later but it’s still a neat little tune that really picks up when the choir sneaks in.

Track #4 – Blue Jay Way

However I can forgive having the instrumental as it allows for a neat transition into this song, which is George Harrison’s go with the writer’s pen. I think this is the first truly big psychedelic piece of Magical Mystery Tour, it’s very reminiscent of Tomorrow Never Knows but slower and more foreboding. Harrison himself performs the song really well, and I love how it sounds as if he is trapped in the Hammond organ, giving the vocals a layer of drowsiness which ties into the theme of battling fatigue and the urge to sleep. Same goes for the end of the song and the repetition of “Don’t be long”, a line that becomes a mantra as the narrator grasps onto consciousness with buttery fingers.

Track #5 – Your Mother Should Know

Here’s the first note I wrote when this song booted up:

‘This is a McCartney song all right’.

The thing I like most about this song is that it takes its title from the film A Taste of Honey, one of three films I wrote about for my dissertation. However the music hall style is not my cup of tea, although I can appreciate the content of the lyrics and trying to teach different generations about different music.

Track #6 – I Am the Walrus

Ah, this one. Its reputation precedes it. I’ve heard about it through several different mediums:

  • Oasis’ live rendition from The Masterplan.
  • Jo Grant referencing it when Patrick Troughton appears in The Three Doctors.
  • The go-to song when the cast of Whose Line Is It Anyway? are playing Song Titles.

But this was my first encounter with the original and I finally got to see what all the fuss is about. And it’s just delightful nonsense innit? It does take a certain kind of mind to come up with lyrics like “Sitting on a cornflake/Waiting for the van to come” and “Yellow matter custard/Dripping from a dead dog’s eye”. It then takes a certain kind of mind on a different plane of existence to then add BBC radio broadcasts of King Lear in for good measure. Not as punchy as I might have liked it to be but I still really enjoyed it as it shows how experimental the Beatles were at this point. I’ll also always give my respect to a song with a purpose of getting the analysts and the conspiracy theorists’ knickers in a twist.

Track #7 – Hello, Goodbye

This is an odd one. It sounds like a better song than it really is if that makes sense. It has all the bells and whistles of a decent-sounding Beatles song but it just ain’t doing it for me for some reason.

I want to get more out of it though so for the first time I’m turning to outside help. Here’s Reb with her thoughts and feelings on it:

“I’ve just put ‘Hello, Goodbye’ on, a song that is etched into the membrane of my brain for life, I think I can safely say. I loaded up the lyrics to look at while I listen and I think it’s hit me for the first time how batshit this song is. I say this affectionately, as I genuinely love this song, but it is like it is written by a toddler. The lyrics, anyway. I love the instrumental and Paul whispering in the background his ominous little “I say ‘Yes’, but I may mean ‘No’/I can stay still it’s time to go”. I think fittingly it feels like I’m having an acid trip. The end freaks me out though. It makes me feel severely uncomfortable, however I know this is just a Me Thing, not a General Population Thing. Overall a thoroughly fun and catchy song, though not fit to be studied in any literature class, that’s for sure”

Track #8 – Strawberry Fields Forever

Speaking of batshit and acid trips. If there is any song by the Beatles that benefitted from being made solely for an album rather than the live performances which they had sworn off a year prior, then it is Strawberry Fields Forever. This song sounds excellent today, and I’m willing to bet it sounded damn near revolutionary back in the 60s. It sounds like the result of a group of mad scientists who threw whatever they could into a test tube and made something absolutely mesmerising. Best song of the album.

Track #9 – Penny Lane

Let it be known that if time travel is ever invented I am taking a trip to the 60s. This song makes me want to do that. It’s perfect for a jaunty walk down the street past the various sights you see every day. I love songs like that about the ordinary. Lovely undercurrent of nostalgia courtesy of Paul.

Track #10 and #11 – Baby, You’re a Rich Man and All You Need is Love

Bumping these two together as they are weaved from the same cloth. The album was for the most part made during the Summer of Love in 1967. These two songs serve to remind you of that fact. First, we start with a serviceable, more Indian-sounding song for the hippie. Then, the fanfare of the start of the album returns to cap things off. Being a bit of a cynic I do find the message of the latter a little-heavy handed, and ending with the repeated assertion that all you need is love does come across as a one-dimensional end to proceedings. I’m sure I’d love it more if I was more mellow but for now all I can do is appreciate the two songs for what they are worth; a sunny and cheery end to the Magical Mystery Tour.

Conclusion:

This is a sweet little album isn’t it? These days especially you have to be careful with positivity as too much can make you reject it outright, like drinking too much beer. But Magical Mystery Tour hits just the right notes and you can’t help but feel warm and smiley throughout. In keeping with the psychedelic feel, it’s one of those albums you can just kick back and relax to. Just enjoy the good times, forget the bollocks of the world around you and absorb the magic of the Mystery Tour.

Not a perfect album by any means but I must admit I’ve ended up holding it in higher regard than I thought I would. In fact I think I might end up coming back to this one before I next listen to Abbey Road. Although that could be because I don’t want to sit through Maxwell’s Silver Hammer again. No crashing and burning on the Magical Mystery Tour, just a lovely journey down the roads of music and acid for a relaxing time. I can definitely see why Reb loves this album.

And if you’re wondering, no I haven’t seen the film yet. Me and Reb have agreed to watch it at some point down the line, to experience and laugh at the insanity together. I’m bringing vodka.

EDIT: We watched it about two weeks later. It is one of the worst films I have ever seen.

Entry #33 – Heathen Chemistry (a.k.a Shrug of the Shoulders of Giants)

I’ve defended Standing on the Shoulder of Giants on this blog and continue to do so to this day. I thought that in spite of including some subpar songs over underrated corkers, that album was still a good effort and an interesting change in direction for Oasis. Sadly though it didn’t stick, as in the face of indifference they ditched the drum loops and toned down the mellotron almost immediately for the next album, Heathen Chemistry.

This is the only album in the Oasis discography that I haven’t listened to, at least not in full; I’ve heard a couple of singles but that’s about it. I’m also aware of its position in Oasis’ history, as the second era of the band with Andy Bell and Gem Archer took to the studio for the first time, and Noel once again shared songwriter duties with his bandmates. The reason it has taken me this long to get to Heathen Chemistry is that this is cited by a good chunk of the fandom to be the worst album of the lot. The other chunk typically cite SOTSOG as the worst, so I’m more than likely to fall in the former camp. However, I believe that for some forms of media there is no such thing as a ‘worst’. Instead, a ‘least good’. For example, I believe that Peter Davison is the least good Doctor Who. Not the worst though, there is no such thing as a bad Doctor. I’m willing (Or rather, hoping) to bet that the same logic can apply here, that Heathen Chemistry may at worst be just the least good Oasis album. Or am I just being hopelessly optimistic? Only one way to find out.

Track #1 – The Hindu Times

I normally see strong praise for this one, with it being cited as one of the highpoints of 21st century Oasis. But I’m going to be controversial right off the bat and say I don’t see the hype. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, it just strikes me as a ‘greatest hits’ kind of Oasis song; the kind of single you’d find tacked onto a singles compilation. The lyrics are standard, Liam’s performance seems a little subdued for my tastes, the structure itself is almost note for note lifted from Be Here Now (the song), and while it has an excellent guitar riff it’s hard to give Noel credit for it seeing as it was borrowed from Stereophonics. It has grown on me over time but it’s not a world beater compared to Rock n Roll Star and Acquiesce.

Track #2 – Force of Nature

My first thought as we transitioned into Force of Nature was ‘Hang on a minute, isn’t this Nightclubbing by Iggy Pop?’. That opening is a dead ringer. Whatever the case, this song really does take its time to get going and sounds downright lethargic. The chorus is decent though, Noel is giving it a damn good go which I can commend. I’m not clicking with this one because of the tempo, this feels like it should be faster.

Track #3 – Hung In A Bad Place

Gem Archer’s first song for the band and it’s a no from me. Here’s some choice lyrics: “It’s hasta mañana/You’re on your own banana skin feet now” and “Tarzan on harmonies for free, yeah”.  Even Liam sounds unenthused. If he cant be bothered with it, why should I?

Track #4 – Stop Crying Your Heart Out

It’s one of the band’s most famous tracks, and probably their most famous 2000’s track, for a reason. Noel’s still playing it to this day, and he recently dedicated it to the England team in the event that they cock up royally in Qatar at the end of the year. From the stone-cold piano notes to Liam’s vocals that make you feel like you can cry on his shoulder, this is one of two definite highlights of Heathen Chemistry.

Track #5 – Songbird

And here’s the other highlight. While I feel like I don’t appreciate The Hindu Times as much as I should, I think I love this song far too much. Liam takes the writing pen once again and blows Little James out of the water to create this beautifully simple song that contrasts from any other Oasis single. Instead of layers and layers of guitars both electric and bass, we get something a lot more minimalist to suit Liam’s romantic proclamation that “She’s not anyone”. Acoustic guitar, harmonium and a bit of piano is all you need to create possibly the greatest hidden gem in Oasis’ list of songs that isn’t a b-side. In my SOTSOG review I graded Little James with a C. This time, Liam gets an A.

Track #6 – Little by Little

Moving right along now from Liam’s single to Noel’s. Again his performance is superb, he sounds much more confident than he has in the 90s, perhaps down to the fact that by this stage he is fully on the wagon and not the primary songwriter. This is also one of the better efforts in the lyrics department but I have to chuckle at the fact that Noel gives us one of his traditional lines of nonsense (“True perfection has to be imperfect”), only to follow it up with an acknowledgement that it makes no sense (“I know that sounds foolish but it’s true”). Decent but I am a bit concerned that we’ve now blown through practically all the singles. Considering the album-exclusive songs we’ve heard so far, that does not bode well.

Track #7 – A Quick Peep

An instrumental? Ok…Sounds like something suited for a scene in Auf Weidersehen, Pet. Not for this album though. Swamp Song got a pass from me on The Masterplan because it was loud, in your face and pure Oasis. This? This is just pish.

Track #8 – (Probably) All In My Mind

Actually a rather pleasant surprise. The very whimsical and mysterious start got my attention. What follows once the song gets going isn’t going to set the world on fire but I’d say it’s the best non-single on the album thus far. In fact it almost sounds like it was a leftover from SOTSOG; there’s an undercurrent of psychedelia in there.

Track #9 – She Is Love

Three guesses what this one’s about. I think this is essentially Noel’s answer to Songbird, just with a dash of electric guitar added into the mix. Unfortunately comparing it to Songbird just makes this song sound more shite than it really is. It just sounds dull and insipid and I guarantee it was penned by Noel as soon as he heard Songbird – Probably thought ‘I can do better than that, I can make a single just as good as that’. No, mate. Not this time.

Track #10 – Born On A Different Cloud

I know Oasis love their Beatles but Jesus H Christ, they may aswell have called this one John Lennon: The Song. I had to check this wasn’t a cover of a song from the White Album because it sure as hell sounds like it. Regardless, it’s an OK effort and Liam’s showing that Songbird wasn’t a fluke. He’s definitely a capable songwriter.

Track #11 – Better Man

Shallow. Would probably be an alright way to get the crowd pumped up during either the midpoint of a show or at the start of an encore. But for the album? Too little too late. I think it should have been in the place of A Quick Peep seeing as it’s primarily driven by the music rather than the singing.

Bonus Track – The Cage

What was the f*cking point of that?

Conclusion:

After SOTSOG and the negative reception it received I think Oasis got the hint that they had to go back to a familiar, purely rock driven sound filled with cheery optimism. However, they also had to avoid doing what they did in Be Here Now and go full force lest it sound overblown and up its own arse. As a result we have this album, which I think can best be described as diluted Oasis. I think that sums up the band from this point on, really. Taste’s the same but it is far weaker than before.

It’s the familiar sound but it lacks punch. It coasts along, makes you bob your head occasionally, but you don’t feel like you’re hearing classic after classic. It’s just song after song. Some are good. Some are shrugworthy. To its credit this album isn’t a slog, in fact it moves at a fairly brisk pace. It’s just that it never really gets going, it just seems to be dead set at coasting along steadily. It’s a ‘safe’ album, one that Oasis knew would get them back in the good graces of the casuals and would gently tease the hardcore fans for a while. The only positives I can give this album is that Liam hits his stride as a songwriter here, and even though I’ve always been fine with Noel’s early efforts it’s great to hear his singing has improved. But that’s all I’ve got I’m afraid.

Sorry to any fans but I think Heathen Chemistry does live up to its reputation as Oasis’ weakest album. It’s passable at best. I was tempted to argue that it was on about the same level as Dig Out Your Soul except the singles on that album are just as, if not more, exceptional, plus it has an excellent non-single track in the form of Bag It Up. Nothing on Heathen Chemistry compares to it. So yeah. Consider this the Peter Davison of the Oasis chronology.

Epilogue – The Hindu Times, demo version:

Hi, sorry, not quite done yet.

I’m writing this about a week after I finished this entry ready for publishing at some point in July, it’s a bright sunny Saturday and I’ve come across the demo version of Hindu Times. And it’s night and day compared to the official version.

They’re barely the same song for a start. Sure the tune, structure and guitar riffs are the same but the lyrics are very, very different. Whilst we’re used to Liam boasting about getting so high he just can’t feel it and giving us standard Oasis swagger, instead we get Noel lamenting about his ‘babe’ (I’m willing to bet it’s Liam – “When you leave, yeah the world won’t care”) getting so high they just can’t feel it. The final line of the chorus is also changed to “You’ve got no sunshine, you’ve got rain”. Ouch.

The roughness of the demo and the slower tempo also works in the song’s favour and adds to the attitude Noel is displaying. Combined with the lyrics he sounds melancholic, depressed and pissed off, like it’s falling apart before his eyes. Almost acts as a sequel to The Girl in the Dirty Shirt, getting her second chance and pissing it away to get high, with Noel dragged into the doldrums with her. It’s bleak. And I guess that’s why it didn’t stay that way for long.

Noel most likely came to the conclusion that he was done being so bleak, so he re-wrote the song to try and capture the plastic optimism and bluster of the Morning Glory days. On the one hand that’s fair enough, keeping the generally downbeat nature of SOTSOG self-contained would have worked in that album’s favour and kept it the black sheep of the family. On the other hand, I’d say keep a few songs like this but mix and match with pick-me-up songs like Little By Little and Better Man, then culminate with Stop Crying Your Heart Out. Heathen Chemistry could have been a transitional album, melding the best of both worlds for Oasis with the crown jewel being Hindu Times with its signature psychedelic guitar riff.

Alas, a perfect world we do not live in, and Heathen Chemistry remains the low point for Oasis.

Entry #32 – The La’s (Mike Hedges Version) (a.k.a Same Proverbial, Different Day)

Hello again.

When I abruptly stopped writing posts on A-Side Glance, I had just given by thoughts on the one and only album from the La’s. I’ve gone on record as saying that that record is one of my absolute favourites and a must-listen for anyone and everyone.

And conversely the band themselves went on record to say that the record that we got, after several years of tumultuous sessions and making Go! Discs dig through their wallets, was crap. What we heard was not what they had in their heads, and they felt that eventual producer Steve Lillywhite had butchered their vision. Alas, it’s the only proper record of theirs that we have so it’s all we can hold up and consider a musical gold mine.

Or is it?

Turns out there is a deluxe version of the album available out there which contains the same songs but with a sound that apparently satisfied the band the most. Out of the rumoured twelve sessions the band undertook it was their time with Mike Hedges, eventual producer of the classic Manics album Everything Must Go, that they would go on to deem as their most successful. According to John Power in an interview for Q Magazine the band felt that this was it, that they had cracked it, helped by Hedges producing through “an old Abbey Road Studio 2 desk”. Hell, if Lee Mavers, always striving for 110% perfect, turns round and says it sounds good then surely that should be it, right?

Nope. Long story short, there were divisions in the band regarding a holiday, Lee threw a wobbler, drummer Chris Sharrock (who would later tour with Oasis and join Liam for Beady Eye) quit, and guitarist Barry Sutton followed suit. As a result the recordings never saw the light of day, until we got the deluxe album in 2008 once Hedges had done some remastering. Question of the hour is does it hold up compared to the final album we all know and love? Only one way to find out.

As a quick aside, I will putting a more competitive stance on proceedings this time around as I compare and contrast the established Lillywhite sound with the sound of Hedges. When I finish summing up my thoughts on each song that both men worked on, I’ll give my verdict on which producer did better with what they were given.

Track #1 – I.O.U

In my original review I stated that of all the songs presented on the album that I.O.U was my least favourite. I still stand by that, as I find the lyric “On the street of knowledge/you must eat your porridge” a bit daft and I hated the fact the song would fade in. Having this as the opening track for the Hedges version did make me worry that we were going to start on the wrong foot but then we get two thwacks of a drum and I’m saying ‘Thank Christ’ as the show gets underway. The singing is also a lot better here, Mavers sounds like he is having a blast and Power’s backing vocals compliment proceedings nicely. There’s little touches here and there like a little whistle and a brief change in key for the third verse that makes this stand head and shoulders above the main album’s version.

It’s an early lead for Mike.

Hedges: 1 / Lillywhite: 0

Track #2 – I Can’t Sleep

Forgive me if I’m committing sacrilege by saying this but as this song gets started I swear it sounds like something from Pablo Honey-era Radiohead – The dirty licks of the electric guitar and the twatting of the drums ensure this sounds a lot more hard hitting than we’re used to from the La’s. And indeed, I could genuinely picture Thom Yorke stretching out the final “tonight” from the second iteration of the chorus as Lee does here.

But I digress. It’s fast becoming apparent to me that there is a lot more passion in Lee’s voice here than in the final album. Whilst I’ve been doing teacher training I’ve had the mindset that if I am passionate about something then that passion will translate well to the kids. Here, Lee’s passion is well and truly rubbing off on me.

I’m trying not to give Mike points solely based on the novelty of hearing different versions of established songs, rather on the merit of how good the songs sound. But as long as he is bringing out the passion in the band and doing his job right, the more he gets my vote.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 0

Track #3 – Knock Me Down

This was originally a non-album track so we’ll put the competitive angle to one side for now and appreciate we’re hearing one of the rarer songs from the La’s.

Here we have a jaunty tune that sounds like something you would hear from a busker. Apt as it appears to be about someone being evicted from their home and back onto the streets, where all that awaits them is drugs, pain, repeat the process, earning the name Jack-in-the-Box. Bit depressing considering how lively the song is. Then again maybe this is a deliberate case of juxtaposition, hinting that despite how much of a pithy existence this is, it’s one that ol’ Jack-in-the-Box is content with. To be knocked down is par for the course.

Track #4 – Way Out

This is where it first becomes clear that at point across the Hedges album that Mavers’ vocals tend to have a warbly reverb to them, sounding as if he is singing underwater. I don’t know if this was a favoured effect for him and Power, who I noticed had something similar peppered throughout his own band’s album Mother Nature Calls, or if this was a side-effect of the remastering of the sessions from the cassette that Hedges found. Either way I find it kind of distracting and detrimental to the raw sound of the La’s. Or then again, if they want to capture the sound and atmosphere of a stageshow on record then maybe it’s the right way to go. Regardless, not a fan of the technique. Oh you want to hear about the song itself? It’s fine, same feelings as I had on the Lillywhite version, just the sound of the vocals aren’t my cup of tea. Flip side of the coin after I Can’t Sleep.

Lillywhite is on the scoreboard.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 1

Track #5 – Doledrum

Not a lot of difference between this version and the final version. I’ve always been a little bit indifferent towards Doledrum honestly so there’s not much I can say here. We’ll call it a tie between the two producers.

The score remains the same.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 1

Track #6 – There She Goes

Right. Going into There She Goes, I knew it was going to be difficult to judge it on merit seeing as it is the one engrained into public consciousness and the sound of which is frankly irreplaceable. In fact, it would maybe feel wrong to hear a different version of such a legendary track. And alas, that is how I feel listening to it. The introduction here is quite flat, it doesn’t feel like there’s that spark which gets you hyped up, and the tempo is a bit slower which doesn’t work for me. I guess it can be argued that this is a side-effect of the band taking their time as opposed to rushing things as they did in the final album but it doesn’t do them any favours here. Unfortunately, it’s not a false start as when we get into the song proper the vocals once again sound like they are being sung underwater and hinder Lee’s wonderful falsetto.

Still a good song to be sure and John’s basswork is top notch, but Mike did not do it justice. Easy victory for Lillywhite.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 2

Track #7 – Feelin’

Third time I’ve talked about Feelin’ on the blog! It’s more akin to the Leckie version than the Lillywhite version, with Lee’s vocals sounding more focused and melancholic and having time to breathe thanks to the slightly slower tempo. Sharrock’s drumming is much more pronounced too, and I love how it signals the next verse after the signature guitar riff as if to say ‘Ok let’s go!’. However, the opening bluesy riff is a little lacking and I’m mixed on the prominence of the acoustic guitar during the riffs that set up the verses. It’s interesting the way they tried to fuse both acoustic and electric by having the latter in your right ear and the former in your left, but I think it is a little overambitious. I think it’s better when it’s the electric on its own.

It’s a tricky one this one, I really want to like this more than I do and I respect the use of stereo sound by fusing the guitars. It’s just not quite punchy enough.

Lillywhite takes the lead.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #8 – Timeless Melody

Bloody hell. After the last few songs I was not optimistic but then Mike had to take my favourite La’s song and blow it out of the water. This song is firing on all cylinders; bassline, drums, vocals, the whole nine yards sound excellent, and the middle eight is beautiful. Pretty sure if the Hedges album was the real thing then this would have been the perfect choice for lead single. I love it.

Tied up again as we enter the final third.

Hedges: 3 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #9 – Son of a Gun

As opposed to Feelin’, the intro here is a lot more compelling with the gritter guitar chords. Once again though there’s not a lot to add from last time, Son of a Gun is a fine song that sounds a wee bit livelier here but at this point you can say that for the entire album.

Nothing new to add, nothing to put on the scoresheet.

Hedges: 3 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #10 – Clean Prophet

Time for some more dropped songs, starting with one that lived its days as the b-side to Timeless Melody. The guitar chords are once again nice and scratchy and have a ‘Get ready for this’ feel to them aided by Sharrock’s marching drumbeat. I do wonder if this song really meets the requirements of the La’s as they chased raw sound because this does sound a bit overproduced. Despite that it is still a cracker of a song and makes good use of stereo sound. Ideal for headphone users like myself as both ears hear different pieces of the puzzle neatly slotting together. My only real complaint though, if I have to pick a very tiny nit? Chris Sharrock really didn’t have to hit the cymbal at the end, it would have been better if the song just stopped when the guitars did.

Track #11 – Come In Come Out

Sorry, just had to. Song’s good.

Track #12 – Failure

BEFORE LISTENING:

Ok this is by far and away the most rockin’ track from the band, it’s 100 miles an hour and in your face, I got it before, I want it again, let’s have it!

AFTER LISTENING:

It was only 80 miles an hour, but that meant the lyrics had room to breathe and sound a lot more guttural, and the drumming was brilliant as it evoked an accelerated heartbeat from the fear and panic of the consequences of failure.

Lillywhite’s best hope now is a draw.

Hedges: 4 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #13 – Looking Glass

Positives first. The acoustic on its own is a very intimate start that gets your curiosity going, and Lee displays some good vocal range as he goes from low to high and back. The instrumental breaks after the verses (around two minutes and four minutes in, respectively) are very space rock, on the way to being reminiscent of something from Pink Floyd. It’s almost spine-tingling.

Unfortunately, this lacks that grand finale feeling that we have on the final album. While ending with elements of previous songs floating in the background was probably an element that Mavers and co. disagreed with Lillywhite on, it was nevertheless instrumental in closing the album in style. We know Looking Glass for building and building on itself and making you grin from ear to ear as you realise just what a fantastic album you’ve listened to. This version would not have provoked the same reaction; it doesn’t build on itself, it peters out and it lacks the finishing touch of Mavers repeating the lyric “The change is cast”. It sounds unfinished and for that reason I cannot let Hedges run away with this.

It’s a draw. Stand down.

Hedges: 4 / Lillywhite: 4

Conclusion:

Bit irritated by that final score honestly, I was hoping to make a point by saying “So clearly Hedges is the better producer and the La’s were wrong to ditch him” or “Guess Lillywhite knew what he was doing when he helped bring the La’s into the public eye”. The Hedges album is a mixed bag to say the least.

On the one hand, it’s a real eye-opener as it shows what the band could produce when they were playing at their best and, crucially, they believed it. This shows them taking their time, putting the effort in, and not racing to the end because they have been told that it’s now or never. Hedges has certainly done justice to some of the songs from the La’s and it has been very intriguing and refreshing to hear what he had for the band.

On the other hand, it’s not perfect as the scoreline reflects. While he may have done a cracking job with songs such as I.O.U, it would be safe to say that some of the band’s most famous efforts like There She Goes and Looking Glass wouldn’t be half as famous if they had been released as they were here.

I’ll conclude by saying that at least with the ability to pick and choose our playlists, we can mix and match songs from both producers and hear the La’s how we want to hear the La’s; at their very best, as one of the most underappreciated bands of all. No matter who was producing for them, no matter how much of a shit they gave, they were fantastic.