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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Magical Mystery Tour

After the huge success of Sergeant Pepper’s The Beatles threw themselves into another, equally ambitious project: a new movie titled Magical Mystery Tour which they would write and direct entirely themselves. Slated for release around Christmas, the film followed The Beatles, and a host of misfits and freaks, as they hopped on a tour bus and headed cross-country to find whatever adventure befell them.

The movie was a total disaster, stunted, badly written, overly insular, and the critics tore it apart, leaving in its wake the first truly epic Beatles failure. But on the plus side The Beatles had lost none of their potency in the studio and had fashioned a six song EP for the movie soundtrack, which they released in November of 1967. Consisting of classics like “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Fool On The Hill”, and “I Am The WalrusMagical Mystery Tour would have been a powerful release on its own. But in the US the EP was combined with previously released material from the Sergeant Pepper’s and Mystery Tour sessions to make the definitive statement of The Beatles psychedelic period.

From start to finish Magical Mystery Tour is every bit the equal of Sergeant Pepper’s, even if it lacks a cohesive framework. Similar to the dynamic between Kid A and Amnesiac*, Mystery Tour suffers from comparison with its forebear, but deserves praise in its own right. With songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “I Am The Walrus, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “All You Need Is Love”, and "Hello Goodbye" this album reads like a Best Of track listing, with the single misstep being the back to back lackadaisical drama of “Flying” and “Blue Jay Way”.

If Magical Mystery Tour could be said to have any weakness it is that it sometimes feels a little dated, so fraught as it is with many of the excesses of the psychedelic period. While Sergeant Pepper’s feels timeless and modern in any age, Magical Mystery Tour is a potent document of a time and place that America, and Britain, will never visit again. But chock full with some of the best songs The Beatles ever recorded, Magical Mystery Tour should never lack for a spot on true Beatlephile’s CD shelves, iPod catalogs, etc.

*In 2000 Radiohead released Kid A to massive critical acclaim. It was a gigantic leap forward for the band and solidifed their place as one fo the best modern rock bands. Eight months later they released a second album Amnesiac, a collection of songs that had been recorded at the same time as the Kid A sessions. While Amnesiac was a success in its own right, it has often been compared so arduously to its forbear that the album's achievements are unfortunately diminished.