When The Beatles’ back catalogue is looked over by appreciative listeners of music, the big album titles always grab the attention – the Abbey Roads and Sgt. Peppers that fill it – leaving little time for the lesser-known, but equally as good (if not better) albums. A prime example of this is the 1965 folk-rock release Rubber Soul.
The LP (and subsequent alternate-format releases) features an understated photograph of the group, with their iconic mop-tops and the album title in the definitive sixties’ font. The band look down but away from the camera, with the exception of Lennon who seems to be waiting for comment after an initial play-through of the album.
There is variety of genres and sounds on this album, immediately marking it out from previous releases where the quartet had shied little from their successful pop-rock formula. The opening track ‘Drive My Car’ is an excitable one, and very much the most commercial song on the album. The second song – another Lennon-McCartney offering – ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ starts a trend for the rest of the album of more pensive and introspective lyrics, as well as a very folky sound; both elements deriving from the major influence Bob Dylan had had on the band. ‘Norwegian Wood’, a historically significant song as it is the first recorded pop song to feature the sitar, is a fantastic song and Lennon’s first to complete a story within its lyrics. Albeit one of an affair and possibly arson, depending on individual interpretation.
Continuing through the album, the Dylan influence becomes very clear both musically and lyrically. The sound is distinctively slower and more down beat than the majority of their past recordings, and it has more of a focus on acoustic instruments that gives the album as a whole a more sombre tone. It also emphasises the band’s musical and emotional growth and their newfound room to experiment. The lyrics bring more complex and negative messages, far removed from the simplicity of ‘Love Me Do’, although not a cerebrally demanding as later tracks like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
More of Lennon’s songs (other than ‘Norwegian Wood’) can be considered “stand-out”: ‘In My Life’ is a highly pensive and reminiscent song of simpler times in youth, despite Lennon only being 25 at the time; ‘Nowhere Man’, which is considered one of the first Beatles’ songs not about love or romance, was written as Lennon struggled to come up with a meaningful song; and ‘Girl’, written predominantly by Lennon, in which he disguised criticisms of Christianity. These songs are beautiful examples of the Beatles’ brilliance as musical craftsmen and help strengthen an already solid album, and give some the right to consider Rubber Soul a Lennon album. This does not take away from the (sometimes understated) greatness of this recording, one that is among The Beatles’ best.
Ultimately, Rubber Soul is a fantastic album with such longevity that it will forever be counted among the greats. Even after nearly half a century post its recording, it is listened to and admired and will continue to be listened to in another 50 years; unlike some albums which only fade with hindsight.
4 stars ★★★★✰
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