Wednesday, February 2, 2011

#56 The Beatles-Revolver


Artist: The Beatles
Album: Revolver
Label: Capitol/EMI
Year: 1966

There isn't much I could say about this record that hasn't been said by...everybody. I will do my best to say something, though. At 1966, the band was both blossoming artistically like never before, and more than ever: sick of Beatlemania and touring and the stresses of being The Beatles. Revolver is the end of the "early" Beatles period, and its greatness is not unlike that of many other bands at this point in their career, that is, there is sometimes more to enjoy about that period right before they took a huge leap then that period where they fully embraced their next step (Superchunk, The Replacements, Husker Du: the quality of all of their middle-period records). Many have said this is The Beatles at their finest moment, and some even have said that it's the best album of all-time. While I feel that there are some shortcomings to the album that invalidate those claims, some of the songs here are unbeatable, and certainly among the group's best work.
Let's talk about those great songs. At this point, The Beatles are still expressing their psychedelic tendencies through dreamy melodies and the feel of their electronic instruments. While Magical Mystery and Sgt. Pepper are great, a lot of the moments seem more like a straight-forward pop band doing just "weird" shit. It's like Van Dyke Parks, or some crap. While The Beatles pulled off songs like "I Am The Walrus" well, there is a world of difference in that brand of psychedelia and "Strawberry Fields Forever." So more in context, "Taxman," "She Said, She Said," and "And Your Bird Can Sing" do this exquisitely. The tracks feature some of the best guitar work by the band. But while they are certainly in a psychedelic foray at this point (as well as is the superb single released around this time: "Rain") these songs represent a middle ground for their work. And some of the best stuff on the album represents other extremes: pure pop songwriting and really far out experimentation.
The last three songs on the album represent that divide well. "I Want to Tell You" has a superb dissonance at the end of the bridge. The song is so short but has so much space and feels like an eternity at the end of that verse. And while Lennon had authored the previous album's sitar song "Norweigan Wood," "Love You To" not only brings the instrument back, but Harrison starts using an eastern philosophy in the lyrics. "Got To Get You Into My Life" feels like a Stax song with superb horns, and while it's relatively simple songwriting, the energy the horns bring out (absent in much if not all of the band's work at this point) is great. And of course, the album ends with "Tomorrow Never Knows" their most daring and experimental track in every way at that point. Backwards drums, daring lyrics, it's one of their finest songs. And coupled with "For No One" and "Here, There, And Everywhere," the band proves they could still nail perfect pop songs.
Of course, not every moment on the album is so brilliant and indicative of the band's immense talent. The two big singles, and regrettably the songs most remember from the album, "Elanor Rigby" and "Yellow Submarine" are incredibly overrated. The former does a horrible job at making some statement, and perhaps a song about one person we gave a shit about (e.g. "She's Leaving Home") might've been more effective than every lonely person. And the latter has the problem that some of the songs in their psychedelic era had: a "wacky" and "zany" concept with unbelievably tame, and tepid, and predictable songwriting. Beyond those two, their ode to the Lovin' Spoonful "Good Day Sunshine" I've also never been madly in love with, and feel it's proto-Wings McCartney at his most bland. While sappy loves songs on The White Album make sense ("Honey Pie", etc.) because of the breadth of songwriting subjects and diversity of songs on that album, here it's just out of place.
Revolver has some of the greatest Beatles moments ever. The weaker songs are only weak in that the rest of the 10 or so songs are of such a high quality, they are hard to sustain for a whole album, even for The Beatles sometimes.

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