The Beatles' "White Album" is a mix of experiments, stripped down rock and acoustic ballads. It's the very sprawling quality that makes the album work so well. Yes, there are some tracks that are better than others but, surprisingly, together it all works well when integrated with the better songs on the album.
It's hard to truly communicate why this release was so important in 1968. After the "arrival" of pop and rock music with "Sgt. Pepper" (one of the first albums recognized by stuffy critics at the time for its importance and signaling that rock as an art form could be taken seriously), musicians at the time, fans and critics were all waiting to see what came next. The band rejected the experimental soundscapes that they made with their producer George Martin for a more back-to-basics approach realizing that psychedelic music, for them, had gone as far as it could. It also represented the raw emotion the band were feeling in the wake of the death of their manager Brian Epstein, their time studying with the Maharishi in India as they were trying to attain some sense of enlightenment (it was the 60's).
This new remix done by Gils Martin (George Martin's son) alters the soundscape just enough to make the album feel "new" again. Giles pushes the drums more forward in the mix and plays with the other elements as well. Is it better than the original mix? Yes.
But the real reason for Beatles fans to get the album is the third disc--the Esher demos have been available for years in inferior versions of what we get here. Finally!
The Beatles met at George Harrison's estate to demo the songs for their next album. These simplfied arrangements bring a fresh quality to material that has been listened to over the last fifty years and the sound quality is a huge upgrade compared to what we had before. I should note that some of these tracks were shared on the "Anthology 3" set.
There will be some fans will may give the third disc a listen a couple of times and move on since they are far from complete and finished songs in some instances ("Happiness Is A Warm Gun" remains little more than a sketch for example). It is nice however to hear George's two demos for songs they didn't record for the album--"Circles" (which ended up on one of George's solo albums with changes to it) and "Sour Milk Sea" (which George, Paul and Ringo did record with Jackie Lomax on lead vocals but not for the White Album).
I would have loved to hear the completed recording with George's guide vocal for the track. It's not here however and I'm not sure if it's because they couldn't find it or it doesn't exist any longer in the masters or acetates that EMI have. There are some demos here that didn't make the album for a variety of reasons including Lennon's "What's The New Mary Jane", "Child of Nature" (which Lennon would recycle for "Jealous Guy") and McCartney's "Junk" (an incomplete song at the time that McCartney would use on his first solo album).
In the age of digital downloads and streaming, it may be hard to comprehend why this was an important album in 1968. "The White Album" remains a classic for all of its warts and all approach to presenting The Beatles experimenting with song fragments ("Wild Honey Pie"), harder rock ("Helter Skelter", "White My Guitar Gently Weeps"), parody (the blues parody "Yer Blues"), satire of The Beatles songs themselves ("Glass Onion") and even goopy overly sentimental ballads with Disneyesque touches ("Good Night" which was written by John Lennon for Ringo to sing). It's a glorious mess of an album and these remixes bring a different quality to the albums.