Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rubber Soul (1965)

Sorry for the delay on this. It's due to the fact that I had a lot of trouble deciding about this album. Rubber Soul is comprised of songs that live up to their stature ("Drive My Car," "Nowhere Man," "Michelle," "Norwegian Wood," "In My Life"), great songs that get a little lost amongst the tall trees ("Girl," "I'm Looking Through You," "Run For Your Life"), good songs that a bunch of folks know but were still album filler ("You Won't See Me," "What Goes On," "Wait!"), and George's songs, which contribute to the feel of the album but remain forgettable to most people. I played "If I Needed Someone" about five hundred times, but that was mostly for the harmony and guitar line.

Rubber Soul, as a whole and song-by-song, has received about the right amount of adulation. So looking at over/under-ratings becomes more dependent on personal preference. As if it ever involves something more formal -- it's not like I do in-depth public opinion research. The methodology runs more along the lines of:

Overrated: When this song comes on, how guilty do I feel skipping to the next track?
Underrated: When this song comes on, how indignant do I feel about its shameful neglect by mainstream music audiences?


Most Overrated: I actually almost put "In My Life," because as great as it is, it has still been elevated by critics and fans beyond all hope of honest assessment. Mojo named it the greatest song of all time, when a better assessment would be "greatest song on Side 2 of Rubber Soul." Its slight plodding feeling in the bridge always bugged me a little, as does the vague schmaltzy-ness (and the obvious gestures at Smokey & the Miracles). But the organ solo, guitar lick, and above all the lyrics -- there's no way to describe those without using the word "timeless," so I couldn't in good conscience claim it to be overrated. Plus it's almost Thanksgiving and I'm going to have to spend about three days with my side of the family, and picking "In My Life" over basically anything else in the catalogue would create problems. So, "The Word" it is. Yeah, this song has never done much for me. As a "political statement" it's pretty bland, and Paul's lively bass playing doesn't redeem a kind of boring structure. Mainly it's overrated because it foreshadows later compositions by John; "All You Need is Love" in particular, but also stuff from his early solo years. Meh - I always skip it and don't feel the least bit bad about it. [(c) Butch]

Most Underrated: "I'm Looking Through You." Easy. This is one of those McCartney compositions that exhibit the highest degree of "form," in the sense used by Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein referred to "form" as a "magic ingredient" that exhibits a "breathtaking rightness" and "inevitability." According to Bernstein, Beethoven possessed an "inexplicable ability to know what the next note has to be," and I think the same accurately applies to Paul McCartney. To paraphrase from Bernstein's essay: "When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are you're listening to a mid-period Beatles song by Paul." "I'm Looking Through You" belongs on that list with "Yesterday," "Penny Lane," "Eleanor Rigby," etc. The leap and fall of the melody matches the lyric perfectly, as does the performance. But under the surface, the song's buoyancy grates against a gentle, resigned bitterness that I find hard to characterize. "You don't look different, but you have changed" cuts to the heart of, I'd guess, the vast majority of romantic problems. And to couple that with "You don't sound different, I've learned the game," allows the second verse to imply an emotional history of deteriorating communication. What kills me about that line is the narrator having already figured out that what he hears is different from what's being said, and the resignation apparent in that admission. The honesty and intimacy has simply disappeared overnight, and isn't going to return. This is true of every song, but it bears repeating that the effectiveness of "I'm Looking Through You" lies in the juxtaposition of the music and lyrics -- in this case, their wild difference in tone. Thanks to McCartney's writing, the band's performance, and Martin's production, it comes across as a complete package, and somewhat spontaneous, inconsequential one at that. Beware of those songs -- they're the ones that will burrow into your mind and replace all your emotional referrents. Fair warning for people who don't own Rubber Soul.


zach said...

Hmmm - but what if "Yesterday " and "Eleanor Rigby" are ones' ppicks for most overrated on their respective albums?

zach said...

Also, "Run For Your Life" is great.