Monday, January 4, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On



The 2010s are a remarkable decade as every year seems to be a 50th anniversary for something or other that happened in that most epochal of decades (at least in terms of music and cultural change), the 1960s. Since 1965 is often considered the year that pop music truly transitioned to "rock," it only makes sense that there would be a book dedicated to the groundbreaking album released by the biggest band of them all at the tail end of that year. In this new book (with a rather unwieldy title), author John Kruth aims to delve into the Beatles' first masterpiece in terms of both songwriting and production, placing it in the context of its time as well as detailing the aftereffects of its impact to the present day.

***special thanks to Wes at Backbeat Books for sending a copy of the book to review!***


Upon starting the book and noticing that it was two hundred pages, I was a bit skeptical as to how the author was going to fill it all up talking about a single album and its two associated non-album singles ("Day Tripper" and "We Can Work it Out") that clock in at less than an hour total. The first couple of chapters were of a personal nature, with the author describing his childhood and how he got into the Beatles, as well as what was happening in the 1960s around him. However, it didn't really make a lot of sense as he was describing 1960s America which was across the pond from London where the Beatles were living and working. This US/UK dichotomy ended up being one of the most confusing and frustrating things about the book...the author used both the original UK Parlophone edition of the Beatles albums (which is how the band always intended them) as well as the bastardized Capitol US versions interchangeably. For seasoned Beatles fans such as myself it was an annoyance, but I could see how a more casual fan would be thrown off by this.



In fact, this is but one of the many small annoyances I had with this book that made it a frustrating and unsatisfying read overall. The author's writing style was not to my particular liking, coming off a bit too youthful and somewhat clunky. There were some typos and grammatical errors throughout the book, although I'll chalk those up to editors rather than the author himself.  The general layout of the book after the personal introduction consisted of a couple of chapters setting up the recording and release of Rubber Soul, followed by chapters dedicated to each song. It got a bit confusing, however, in that the author included the songs from the American version of the album (arguably the only time a Capitol-altered version of a Beatles album didn't ruin it, and according to many fans, actually improved it) as well as the British version. This means that many songs from the UK Help! album are discussed, which in my opinion doesn't really make sense since those songs were written and recorded six or more months before Rubber Soul (with the exception of "Wait," written and initially recorded during the Help! sessions but not finished or released until Rubber Soul). The end of each chapter then includes a short section called "Rubber Covers" detailing notable cover versions of the particular song discussed. Most chapters include some basic session info for each song as well as the inspiration behind each song, although there was nothing new for obsessive Beatles fans and much of the source material and quoted passages were instantly recognizable as being from various books or the Anthology. There were also a lot of factual inaccuracies throughout, although how many were due to the author's ignorance as opposed to his clunky writing style I can't say. One glaring instance is where he mentions how very shortly after John met Yoko in late 1966, they recorded the infamous Two Virgins album and became a couple, leading to John abandoning his wife Cynthia and son Julian, which actually didn't happen until almost two years later. Now, it's very possible that the author is well aware of this (and he should be...it's incredibly well documented) but the way the passage is written makes it seem as though it happened mere weeks after their initial meeting. There are many sections of the book like this which became increasingly frustrating to read. Whether they were because of Kruth's lack of knowledge or his confusing writing style, either reason is unacceptable and, in my opinion, should've been corrected at the editing stage.



I had more problems with this book that I'd like to bring up, too. First, the background chapters on the 1960s and Beatles influences ended up feeling more like a general history of the decade (and of Bob Dylan in particular). While I get what the author was trying to do here and readily acknowledge the huge influence Dylan had on the Beatles (and John in particular), it began to distract from the point of the book and dragged on far too long. Second, the "Rubber Covers" sections didn't really add anything interesting to the chapters and in many cases became very repetitive as the same tribute albums and/or artists were mentioned over and over. Third, there seemed to be more of a focus on 1964 and 1966 in many of the chapters than on 1965, the year in which Rubber Soul was actually conceived and created. While I can at least see that the trends and experiences of 1964 factored into the creation of the album, 1966 and beyond had nothing to do with it. While the Beatles certainly built off of the achievement of Rubber Soul as they went into 1966 and beyond, the book didn't really need to expound as much on what they did after as it did, at least in my opinion. Finally, Kruth clearly has a lot of admiration for John Lennon, which shone through loud and clear, but while he also credited Paul McCartney for his talents, there were a lot of subtle and snide swipes at McCartney's personality, shortcomings, and his solo career. It got tiresome reading the same tired tripes about how John was the better of the two (as I've said repeatedly, they were BOTH essential) and really, in a book about an album smack dab in the middle of the Beatles' career, why is Paul's solo career being repeatedly brought up and picked at?




While a scholarly, thoroughly detailed look at Rubber Soul and its place in both the 1960s and 20th century history would be a welcome addition to the Beatles literature, This Bird is Flown isn't that book. To me, it felt exactly like I thought it would when I first started reading it: a short book about a single album that was padded with a lot of blandly-written extraneous material in order to justify its length as a book rather than a pamphlet. I will come right out and flatly say that I didn't enjoy this book and I didn't learn a single new thing from it. Perhaps being as fanatical and knowledgeable about the Beatles and their music as I am is the reason I feel this way, and I'll concede that this point may very well color my opinion. But unless one is a very casual or ignorant (in the literal, not pejorative sense of the word) Beatles fan, this book is far from essential.

MY RATING: 5/10


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