Chuck Klosterman’s review of the newly released Beatles boxed set is a thing of beauty. Imagine trying to review the Beatles’ collected works. Nearly everyone knows the material. Nearly everything that can be said has already been said. There are no superlatives left. So Klosterman employs an ingenious gimmick.
From the first paragraph:
Like most people, I was initially confused by EMI’s decision to release remastered versions of all 13 albums by the Liverpool pop group Beatles, a 1960s band so obscure that their music is not even available on iTunes. The entire proposition seems like a boondoggle. I mean, who is interested in old music? And who would want to listen to anything so inconveniently delivered on massive four-inch metal discs with sharp, dangerous edges? The answer: no one.
And it goes on from there. Klosterman, with this deft move, allows himself to make the key point — that the Beatles are the most important pop band ever — by pretending to discover the joys of listening to their body of work for the first time. I kept waiting to get bored and annoyed. But I didn’t. The stunt never became trite.
It is not easy to categorize the Beatles’ music; more than any other group, their sound can be described as “Beatlesque.” It’s akin to a combination of Badfinger, Oasis, Corner Shop, and everyother rock band that’s ever existed.
It helps that he uses humor to make larger points:
The clandestine power derived from the autonomy of the group’s composition—each Beatle has his own distinct persona, even though their given names are almost impossible to remember. There was John Lennon (the mean one), Paul McCartney (the hummus eater), George Harrison (the best dancer), and drummer Ringo Starr (The Cat). Even the most casual consumers will be overwhelmed by the level of invention and the degree of change displayed over their scant eight-year recording career, a span complicated by McCartney’s tragic 1966 death and the 1968 addition of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, a woman so beloved by the band that they requested her physical presence in the studio during the making of Let It Be.
After Mr. McCartney was buried near Beaconsfield Road in Liverpool, Beatles bass-playing duties were secretly assigned to William Campbell, a McCartney sound-alike and an NBA-caliber smokehound. This lineup change resulted in the companion albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, both of which are okay. Despite its commercial failure, Rubber Soul allegedly caused half-deaf Brian Wilson to make Pet Sounds. (I assume this is also why EMI released a mono version of the catalogue—it allows consumers to experience this album the same way Wilson did.) If you like harmonies or guitar overdubs or the sun or Norwegian lesbians or taking drugs during funerals, you will probably sleep with these records on the first date. Rubber Soul gets an A- because I don’t speak French. Revolver gets an A+, mostly because of “She Said She Said” and “For No One,” but partially because I hate filing my taxes.
Not to mention, he’s unafraid to wield a knife when he finds himself in close quarters. Of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he writes:
It mostly seems like a slightly superior incarnation of The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, a record that (ironically) came out seven months after this one. Pop archivists might be intrigued by this strange parallel between the Beatles and the Stones catalogue—it often seems as if every interesting thing The Rolling Stones ever did was directly preceded by something the Beatles had already accomplished, and it almost feels like the Stones completely stopped evolving once the Beatles broke up in 1970. But this, of course, is simply a coincidence. I mean, what kind of bozo would compare the Beatles to The Rolling Stones?
And you have to love a guy who finishes by telling everyone to get off his lawn:
I’ve noticed that this EMI box also includes the gratuitously titled singles collection Past Masters, but I’m not even going to play it. How could a song called “Rain” not be boring? I feel like I’ve already heard enough. These are nice little albums, but I can’t imagine anyone actually shelling out $260 to buy these discs. There’s just too much great free music on the Internet, you know? You might find the instructional, third-person perspective of “Sie Leibt Dich” charming and snappy (particularly if you’re trying to learn German the hard way), but first check out “myspace.org,” a popular website with a forward-thinking musical flavor. That, my rockers, is the future. That, and videogames.
I think this is one of the smartest reviews I’ve ever read. I’m trying to think of others that I’ve particularly liked. Well, Alan Taylor on Sean Wilentz was pretty good. Share your favorite reviews in the comments, if you don’t mind.