Tuesday, November 22, 2022



So, what is the lasting value of “The White Album,” alias The Beatles? value is that while it lacks the thematic line that many critics have insist is needed for a record to be considered having a timeless and inexhaustible quality, The White Album has a high ratio of songs that are well crafted, ingenious, lyrically sound, musically diverse. It's been said that this is less an album by a band than it is three solo albums where the artists use each other as back up musicians for their individual endeavors, something that indicates that the members had done as much as they could with each other as creative partners and would soon enough branch off as solo artists. This precisely at the time when the song craft had matured and the songwriting personality of the three principal contributors, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, became fully apparent and distinct. It's a grab bag of styles, attitudes, personal expression, a harbinger of future ex-Beatles to come.

 I go along with the idea that even the minor songs on this album are minor only in the sense that they aren't quite up to the level of pop masterpiece standards the Beatles themselves established. Meaning that they fall short compared to other compositions in the band's canon, but not against pop music in general. Even reputedly trivial or whimsical efforts like “Honey Pie” or “Goodnight” , “Don't Pass Me By”, or “Obla Di Oba Da (Life Goes On)” reveal a remarkable grasp of diverse song styles and craft; all the tunes have the expected Beatle signature touches, and it's remarkable that it is these trademarked stylistics that keep their dalliance in non-rock or r and b pop styles from sounding like parodies or nostalgic.  What The Beatles (White Album) and the follow up release Abbey Road reveal is the band's skill at brilliantly being able to move across the timeline of popular genres and make music that remains, as Shakespeare does, modern, relevant, and resistant to fad and fancy. It could be said that one of the great Missed Opportunities in rock history was that the Beatles at their most fruitful never wrote their own "rock opera", a real and sustained narrative in musical form. Or even the music and lyrics for a Broadway musical. Listening to this record again makes you daydream of what might have been.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022



Bob Dylan is, in essence and in fact, a song lyricist who has a particularly strong gift for the poetic effect, while Cohen is a poet in the most coherent sense; he had published several volumes of poetry and published two novels before his taking up the guitar. Dylan's style is definitely the definition of the postmodern jam session, a splendid mash-up of Little Richard, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and a long line of obscure or anonymous folk singers whose music he heard and absorbed. His lyrics, however arcane and tempered with Surreal and Symbolist trappings--although the trappings, in themselves, were frequently artful and inspired--he labored to the pulse of the chord progression, the tight couplets, the strict obedience to a rock and roll beat. This is the particular reason he is so much more quotable than Cohen has turned out to be; the songwriter's instinct is to get your attention and keep it, and to have you humming the refrain and singing the chorus as you walk away from the music player to attend to another task. Chances are that you are likely to continue humming along with the music while you work, on your break, on the drive home, for the remains of the day. This is not to insist that Cohen is not quotable or of equal worth--I am in agreement that Cohen, in general, is the superior writer to Dylan, and is more expert at presenting a persona that is believably engaged with the heartaches, pains and dread-festooned pleasures his songs take place. His lyrics are more measured, balanced, and less exclamatory and time-wasting, and exhibit a superior sense of irony. Cohen is the literary figure, the genuine article, which comes to songwriting with both his limitations and his considerable gifts. All is to say that Dylan has Tin Pan Alley throwing a large shadow over his work. Cohen, in turn, is next to a considerable bottle of ink and a quill. Cohen tends the words he uses more than Dylan does; his language is strange and abstruse at times, but beyond the oddity of the existences he sets upon his canvas there exists an element that is persuasive, alluring, masterfully wrought with a writing, from the page alone, that blends all the attendant aspects of Cohen’s stressed worldliness– sexuality, religious ecstasy, the burden of his whiteness– into a whole, subtly argued, minutely detailed, expertly layered with just so many fine, exacting touches of language.  His songs, which I find the finest of the late 20th century in English–only Dylan, Costello, Mitchell and Paul Simon, have comparable bodies of work–we find more attention given to the effect of every word and phrase that’s applied to his themes, his storylines. In many writers overall. Unlike Dylan, who has been indiscriminate for the last thirty years, I would say Cohen is a better lyricist than Dylan because he’s been a better critic of the work he’s released, there is scarcely anything in Cohen’s songbook that wasn’t less than considered, pondered over, measured for effect and the achievement of the cultivated ambiguity that made you yearn for some of the sweet agonies that accompanies a permanent residence in the half-lit zone between the sacred and the profane.