OLD REVIEW DUMP #2: THE SQEAKUAL (5/7)
Hey, another mediocre slog of a review! It must be my birthday.
So yeah, take a shot every time I compliment the vocals or use a synonym for “great.” Bleh, bleh bleh. If I have a writing personality, this review doesn’t show it.
Here it is. I don’t even care.
I’ll pretend that I’m kissing
The lips I am missing
And hope that my dreams will come true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving to you
-All My Loving
So, Please Please Me was perfectly enjoyable, but hampered by the circumstances under which it was made. Now the Fab Four were able to play around in the studio all they wanted, and the growth shows. With The Beatles is already a huge leap up from Please Please Me, and an absolutely fantastic piece of 60s pop. The melodies are richer, the vocals even more exuberant, the playing ability impressive, and even the covers have improved! With The Beatles is a really good album, and a testimony to the Beatles dedication to self-improvement.
So let’s get with it! “It Won’t Be Long” is already even better, and somehow catchier, then “I Saw Her Standing There.” John finally wised up and realized the kind of romance-based song he was good at writing was more “Please Please Me” and not “Ask Me Why”, and the writing here blows away anything John penned on the first album. And those vocals man…ear worm of the century.
ANOTHER Lennon song follows, and it’s also great. “All I’ve Got To Do” proves that John is probably better at writing about devotion then romance (hey, it’s the proto “Don’t Let Me Down”!), and the melody is both bouncy and soothing.
Then we get the absolutely classic “All My Loving”, a Paul song. Paul’s sincerity is enough to charm through some well-intentioned but somewhat clichéd writing (though to be fair, some of these lines are clichés BECAUSE they’re from Beatles songs). But come on, the writing doesn’t matter here, just soak in those vocal melodies! This song is a feat of catchiness in the catalogue of a band who never made an uncatchy song.
George contributes his first song with “Don’t Bother Me”, and his emotional vulnerability really shines here, both in lyrics and vocals. The melody is once again superb, and there’s even a fun guitar solo in there. It’s often said that the Fab Four era shows next to no variety, but effectively melancholy songs like this and “Misery” on Please Please Me show that these guys always had range.
“Little Child” is…enh. It’s fun and upbeat, but what song on the album isn’t? It’s just not that distinguishable. I’m not sure who the predominant writer on this one was, but it doesn’t have either the romantic idealism of Paul or the emotional effectiveness of John. It’s a lukewarm, mellow song for the most part, making it the worst one on the album.
We finally get to our first cover on the album with “Til There Was You” by Meredith Willson, and holy crap, Paul is so awesome! His vocals here are the best on the whole album, no question. He buys every single note, and the already nice song becomes downright heartwarming. Keep on truckin’ Paul, you’re doing the Lord’s work. This is my favorite cover on the album.
Side one closes with another cover, “Please Mister Postman” by the Marvelettes. While Paul is the vocal king of this album, John comes pretty dang close with his performance here. He belts it out in a magnificently real way, elevating the unbelievably catchy melody.
Side two opens with “Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry. Honestly, it’s a bit underwhelming. Not bad by any stretch, but it’s not an extreme ear worm like most of the album’s other fast-paced rockers. The honestly melody feels a bit limp. Oh well, at least George has a ton of fun singing it, and everyone else has a ton of fun playing it, and that pretty much saves the song.
The next song is “Hold Me Tight” and…okay, I could forgive it on “All My Loving” because the melody was so good, but Paul’s showing on this album is sadly lacking writing-wise. His songs on here feel just barely adequate and far too reliant on clichés. I mean, it was a mild irritation on Please Please Me, but it’s a real issue on this album. The writing here is a prime example of this, and the melody isn’t good enough to compensate. The only saving grace is Paul’s delivery, but it really seems like he’s resting on his laurels.
The next cover, “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson is a moderate recovery. John is pretty much perfect for the song, which isn’t upbeat but catchy nonetheless. Not much to say about it, but it’s perfectly enjoyable.
Ringo gets a chance to sing on “I Wanna Be Your Man.” John and Paul wrote this song for the Rolling Stones, which explains why it seems a bit out of place, but Ringo pretty much saves everything. Wow, that’s not a phrase I’m used to writing.
“Devil in Her Heart” by Richard Drapkin is another great showcase for George’s vocal talent. Man, this album is pretty much “The Beatles are awesome vocalists: The Album” isn’t it? Well, the song is good, though once again very simple.
“Not A Second Time” is a Lennon song, and HOLY CRAP. Paul may have been lazy on this album, but John has more than compensated. He now completely understands his niche, and exploits it to resonant effect. The melody is great, the vocals are great, the writing is great…holy crap, this is like the best song on the album, isn’t it?
The album closes with “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong, a hilarious riff on materialism. John once again delivers an impeccable performance, with amusing voice affectations and hamminess all around. A great conclusion.
And that’s the Fab Four stepping up their game. Becoming more and more comfortable with the studio setting, they created what is, all things considered, a pretty great album. The covers are well picked, most of the original compositions are great, and John really takes the songwriting up to eleven. This would probably be the best Fab Four era album if it wasn’t immediately followed by a full-on masterpiece. You know what I’m talking about.
Listenability: 5/5 The melodies are wonderful and the vocals a consistent highlight.
Themes: 3/5 It’s still all about love, but oddballs like “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Don’t Bother Me” show how much they’ve expanded their range. There’s more darkness then the idealistic Please Please Me.
Lyricism: 4/5 John pulls ahead in a surprising way here, and even the weak lyrics are more bland then bad.
Diversity: 3/5 See “Themes.” Similar sounding, but with some interesting oddballs.
Resonance: 4/5 Less syrupy then Please Please Me, but not as mature as Help!, leaving it in kind of a stagnant place. It’s still a load of fun though.
FINAL RATING: 8/10 More nuance, better melodies, better covers, better vocals!
Recommended Listening: Not a Second Time, Til There Was You, All My Loving, All I’ve Got To Do, It Won’t Be Long, Money (That’s What I Want), Please Mister Postman