Despite the fact that I am far from a "critic" of music I'm going to throw out a quick opinion on music criticism... it is incredibly difficult to assail the Beatles for anything. They're so adored by so many people* that the only critical debates that really work with the boys from Liverpool are those covering intraband questions. What's their greatest album**? What's their greatest song***? Who was the superior talent John or Paul****? All of these have been debated ad nauseum and anyone that's any kind of music fan has some kind of opinion. Debates you don't hear very often though are those comparing the work of the Beatles to other bands... be they contemporaries or current acts. Sure every once in awhile you get the random skinny jean wearing hipster who'll pull that, "The Stones were so much better" bullshit ( or even better the skinny jean wearing hipster who'll argue for the Beach Boys) but aside from these brief flare ups of dissent it seems as though the Beatles status as THE band is as safe as Jordan's status as THE greatest basketball player of all time or Gretzky's status as THE greatest hockey player of all time. So at least for me, looking at them in a critical light is very difficult. Is my regard for the Beatles such that to scour the nooks and crannies of Rubber Soul in a truly impartial light impossible? Has the nearly universal acceptance of the Beatles colored my impressions of them to the point that I'm blind to any possible imperfection that they might demonstrate? Well, maybe; but that doesn't mean that Rubber Soul isn't a perfect album.
One thing that is reassuring about by abilities to access the Beatles is that no matter how many other bands I devour I have never encountered a band that brought together all the pieces that one needs to make great music in the way that the Beatles did. At their best^ the properly canonized lyrical work of Lennon/McCartney and the underrated lyrical work of Harrison morphed into an entirely different state of music being under the production of George Martin. I think sometimes it's easy for modern Beatles listeners to forget that they were doing these incredible SOUNDING tracks on equipment that we would probably laugh at today. To get "Norwegian Wood" to sound as amazing as it does nowadays would be worthy of praise but to have done so on a 4 track analog recorder is mind boggling. So in this British invasion contest they are the clear winners and it really isn't that close.
That is not to say however that the Kinks are in any way not deserving of plaudits. Part One Lola v. Powerman and the Moneyground created an entirely different musical aesthetic for its time and still sounds fresh today. In fact, even including them as a "British Invasion" band is quite unfair because they did not have that canned, "let's sound as cockney as is humanly possible" vibe about them. On this 1970 classic, their mix of rootsy Byrds-esque rock (Check out "Got to Be Free") with the rock the back of the arena stylings of The Who (with drummer Mick Avory channeling Keith Moon on "Rats") comes across more like Dylan on meth than more stock British Invasion fare like the Zombies. Even the ballads like "Strangers" have an underlying aggression that is unmistakable and really cool. The only beef I have with the album is with its biggest hit "Lola," which while great has a tempering effect on the power that the rest of the album packs with its humor. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a song about an encounter with a transvestite, but maybe put it out as a 7" and let the cohesion that exists between the 12 other tracks speak for itself.
So as I mentioned already this match up isn't that close. Rubber Soul is simply too important in the history of music and just TOO perfect to have any real trouble dispatching what is STILL without a doubt a groundbreaking and significant effort by The Kinks.
Rubber Soul will face the winner of Exile on Main Street and Revolver in Round 2
* I'm not taking issue with this at all
** Rubber Soul
*** In My Life or maybe A Day in the Life
^ Which was ALMOST always#
# Let it Be and Yellow Submarine, I'm looking at you