The Beatles’ 1968 self-titled album, the ‘White Album,’ has received a variant of reviews from members of the new left movement. These responses and criticism are based on the lyrics, stylistic devices in the music, and the album’s place in John Lennon’s development as an avant-garde artist. The author in this chapter faults the various criticisms leveled against the album.
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The author terms the criticism as one-sided and states that it limits itself to only isolated aspects; for example, criticism that concentrates on the music aspect of the album pays little attention to the historical context of the album. Likewise, criticism relying on the political relevance of the lyrics is ignorant of the significance of the various music styles employed on the songs. Therefore, the chapter is a critique of the various criticisms leveled against the Beatles as a group and the ‘White album.’
One of the major critics of the ‘White Album’ is the New Left, which is a political movement. The leftists’ criticism of the ‘White Album,’ according to the author, is majorly inclined on the stylistic devices used in the various songs. The group accuses the Beatles of using eclectic styles on the record as a means of escaping the direct address of the political concerns at the time. However, the author compares this argument to the Marxists’ pastiche, which is a means of eluding the real history by taking a neutral stand.
The author holds that such an argument underscores the assumption that there is only one way of being political, thus failing to consider the context and the historical circumstances that give the use of any parody its particular significance.
According to the author, the album in this context illustrates how the use of parody and eclecticism can be used to make political commentary. The author further argues that the use of parody in the album was the Beatles’ way of responding to the then important cultural tensions that included the commodification of the rock music by the corporates.
The ‘White Album’ was released in 1968 when the political arena was going through an uprising. Therefore, the White Album’s critics expected the album to address the political issues, but it failed to do so, and the critics attacked it for its alleged frivolous style and silence on the ongoing political issues. According to the critics, the Beatles’ response to the 1968 murders and protests was evasive and worn out.
This assertion owed to the song titled, “All You Need Is Love,” which the critics presumed was the Beatles’ non-violent response to the protests and murders. The song titled “Revolution” by John Lennon, which he remarked was the Beatles’ response to the political confusion that was going on, did not assuage the critics’ standpoint.
Sharp criticism was leveled against Lennon’s’ indecisiveness on the political issues in the Revolution song. People had expected a more radical stand. Therefore, the New Leftists felt that Lennon’s refusal to offer a radical statement or solution in the Beatles’ music was a betrayal that they could not condone.
The Beatle’s refusal to offer precise political directives in the ‘White Album’ earned them major criticism. They were accused of escapism from the prevalent societal issues at the time. The critics termed the gentle satire in the songs as irrelevant and at worst reactionary. Critics like John Landau accused the Beatles of being afraid of confronting reality in their music and using parody and pastiche to console their troubled consciences.
In response to this criticism, the author states that by dismissing parody, John Landau ultimately subscribed to the Marxist criticism of the postmodern culture as offered by Jameson in a statement where he infamously makes the distinction between parody and pastiche.
According to the author, in their longing for authentic politics, Jameson and Landau show a perturbing yearning for a single subject position. Unfortunately, they use this nostalgia to make political decisions. The author argues that by doing so, they overlook the ability of a particular historical context to give a specific meaning to pastiche.
The author commends the Beatles for wresting from the hands of corporates by offering unprecedented style in their lyrical and musical sophistication with every new record.
The author notes that recordings such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, and Rubber Soul, among others, all represented a remarkable shift in the direction of the Beatles’ music. For example, the author states that Sgt. Pepper propelled the band to their musical fame. The author states that with this recording, the Beatles had created more of an artwork than a mere pop album that was worth both artistic and intellectual attention.
According to the author, the ‘White Album’ offered a complex response to the late 1960s rock discourse. The author further argues that shifts in the meaning of musical styles informed the approach of the band to songwriting. Therefore, the critics read the album as a statement of a band that was already engaged politically rather than an escapist album.
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To the critics who tried to unravel the deeper meaning of the records in the ‘White Album,’ the author offers that the Beatles had created a disorienting maze of intra-textual references. The author states that in their alleged disorganization of the album, critics fail to see that the Beatles were signaling their knowledge and implication of music in the past. The author notes that in 1968, the Beatles could not play the rebellious 1950s rock hits naively, as the rebellious appeal had waned.
On whether the ‘White Album’ could be taken seriously as an avant-garde work, the author states that the context of the production of the album undercuts such pretensions. The author notes that the mechanical production of the album’s cover plucked the work of art from its dependence on a ritual, and thus destroying its aura. The author argues that this assertion holds because the aura of an artwork is dependent on the existence of an irreplaceable original duplication of which deflates the mystical value of nature.
The Beatles not only aligned themselves with the avant-garde, but they also critiqued it. The author further argues that other than the Beatles’ sporting a cover that told highly of their complex relationship with culture and high art, the ‘White Album’ offered radical eclectic musical styles that marked and contrasted the self-conscious art in Sgt. Pepper.
In conclusion, the author states that the use of different music styles in the ‘White Album’ is a reflection of the Beatles’ response to the conflicting pressures from the different quarters. The author also notes that the album was a response to the cultural and political issues that were being experienced then, albeit subtly.
The fact that the Beatles refused to give an explicit directive on the album, as the critics have stated in their criticisms, does not mean that the group had not addressed them in their album. The effective use of parody and reflexivity was the Beatles’ way of engaging in the then prevalent political and cultural issues.