I'm a bit perplexed as to why the Beeb, and the music periodicals, have been going overboard on eulogising over much regarding The Beatles White Album on the occasion of it's 40th anniversary. We didn't get this amount of fuss over either Revolver or Sgt. Peppers, which in my opinion were far superior in every way.
I am one of those who adheres to the view that with more discipline and sensible censorship, in order to weed out the weaker material, it would have made a good single disc.
When it first appeared I felt it was unwieldy, incoherent, scrappy and unsystematic.For the first time on a Beatles LP I found myself skipping over tracks I felt inferior to get to the good stuff. It was also the first time that I could see the cracks developing in the Beatles organisation, both as a band and as a "brand".
Accepting the fact the the strong cohesive elements that distinguished their earlier work had begun to unravel with the experimental nature of later albums, the White album marked the time when one sensed they were pulling in different directions, and in fact, I believe they themselves saw many of the songs as solo work offered up for consideration for the final track listing. At the time the band were by and large manger-less which didn't help with the lack of consolidation evident on the material which ended up their only double LP. This was no longer the product of a band working in close association with one another, and it shows.
Rather than go for consistency the band took the rather unsympathetic route of offering up all and sundry to the mix. So for every "Blackbird" we had a "Why Don't We do It In The Road". We can never accuse the Beatles of sticking to a well oiled template. Variety had always been their stock in trade. Yet the White LP had a much more diverse nature to it than any other Beatles LP, which when added to a certain lack of quality control, left me thinking that they had begun to lose the plot a little.
In 1978 The Beatles were no longer holding the high ground on influencing all they surveyed. By this time bands like Cream and Hendrix's Experience had made an impact, and there was a general move to more experimentation, especially from the West Coast of America, where unique and talented individuals like Frank Zappa were making their presence felt. So in this environment The Beatles were becoming just as much influenced as influencing. On the White Album you can hear them trying to adapt to newer trends and techniques, especially on guitar parts, but quite plainly they are not really up to it. The Beatles could never have made a great Blues Band, as, say, Fleetwood Mac were becoming at the time. They may have been fantastic song smiths, but virtuoso musicians they weren't. From this point The Beatles began to employ "guest musicians" to up the ante on their recordings. If they had stayed together it's my belief they would have done that more and more to acquire the higher musical backing standard that they as individuals would struggle to replicate.
With no one to rein in their excesses the final track listing for the White Album became a real pot pourri ranging from the very self indulgent "No. 9" from Lennon to classic songs like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from Harrison. There is no doubting the quality and class of much of the material on this LP. The Beatles had the luxury of being able to spend time developing and experimenting almost to their hearts content, and giving the talent at hand were bound to come up with exceptional songs, which they duly did. However a good LP could have been turned into a great LP by judicious culling of the filler tracks, of which there were too many. The White Album is not the high water mark of the Beatles recording career as some would suggest. In fact they were never again to eclipse the impact they made with Sgt. Pepper, or their very first album as it happens.