Review Summary: Dreadfully over-rated, during this 40th anniversarry of the Summer of Love, it's time to re-evaluate the album most easily associated with that movement.
The Beatles were the single most influential rock group in history. With every leap the Beatles made, society took it with them. From their outspoken frankness on the issue of drugs in public to their studio experimentation on their later albums, it seems everything the Beatles did had a profound effect on our culture, the effects of which still last today.
With the release of Revolver in 1966, the Beatles solidified themselves, once again, as the most inventive group in rock n' roll. Though they played a bit with psychedelic textures on their previous album, Rubber Soul, the Beatles really broke through with Revolver. From the opening hard-rocker "Taxman," cynical of government and the concept of taxes, to the children-friendly "Yellow Submarine," to the album closing "Tomorrow Never Knows," the beginning of the psychedelic explosion of the late Sixties, the album was nothing if not revolutionary. This left a lot of expectation for their follow-up, expectations which unfortunately, the music establishment believed had been met. The album is an unoriginal, pretentious, boring experience.
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band took hundreds of days in the studio to record, and there's no denying: The studio trickery is impressive for the time. But overall, the quality of this album is well below its predecessor, for several reasons.
It must first be noted that Sgt. Peppers seems to follow the exact template set by Revolver. Basically, its pacing isn't original one bit. As mentioned above, Revolver starts with a hard rocker. Hmmm.... surprise, the first song on Sgt Pepper is the self-titled track, which is a hard rocker. The mid-point of Revolver was a wacky children' song; Sgt. Pepper's mid-point is a wacky children’s song called "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," this time with a circus theme. Revolver closed with a psychedelic freak-out? So does Sgt. Pepper, which closes with "A Day in the Life." I understand sticking to a working formula. But I don't understand how an album could be praised so for its originality when its format is a carbon copy of the previous one.
Speaking of originality: has anyone stopped to think about the fact that Sgt. Pepper really wasn't
the first concept album? Mothers of Invention, The Beach Boys ("Pet Sounds" was claimed by Paul as a huge influence on this album), and The Kinks are all bands more likely to claim the "first concept album" title. And besides, even John Lennon once shot down the idea that that Sgt. Pepper is a concept album, announcing that his songs were never written to match any sort of theme. And indeed, only a small fraction of the songs in the album even seem to have anything to do with Sgt. Pepper or his band. 3 loosely related songs= concept album? Then Twisted Sister's "Stay Hungry" has been seriously underrated all these years.
But ignore all these facts. Alas, this album was revolutionary because of the cover! Before Sgt. Pepper, no one put so much thought into album covers! Of course, after
Sgt. Pepper no one put so much thought into album covers, either, because there's no need for an album cover to have a collage of about a hundred different photographs and a bunch of cardboard cutouts inside. It's pointless.
But wait! We can't forget the drug references either! This album was revolutionary on the drug references front, because it contained songs with references to drugs just like every other rock album that came out that year, AND just like the album the Beatles had released the year before. Earth-shaking.
Actually, the truth is: Sgt. Pepper wasn't revolutionary at all, lyrically. The social and political messages of Revolver and other albums from other bands at the time are not here. The Beatles traded in social conscience for childish garbage like "...Benefit of Mr. Kite!"
Past Sgt. Pepper's utter lack of originality, we find pretentious pieces of over-tweaked, over-processed music that rarely, when not so cluttered with dizzying effects, allows a bit of musical genius to bleed through. One can't deny the uplifting nature of the optimistic tone of Ringo's voice in the chorus to "With A Little Help From my Friends," for instance. But of course, that's overwhelmingly the exception. This album is chock-full of useless pretension. The opening song features horns and applause sound effects, I suppose to make us feel like we're all sitting around watching Sgt. Pepper's band. Of course, we don't know and never will know a thing about Sgt. Pepper or his band because the concept is never developed. That's pretension if it ever existed. Or how about a five minute song consisting of an annoying sitar line in "Within You Without You," written by George? Psuedo-Eastern music vibes were one of the most annoying components of the psychedelic era, and this song sits only behind The Doors' "The End" as Offender #2 (the sitar track on Revolver earns number 3). And what's with all the stupid animal noises? And the orchestra? And the Vaudevillian crap? And the orchestra? If we can thank any one album for the garbage prog rock bands of the 60's and 70's, it is this album and this band. Thank you
, Paul McCartney; we just love Yes and Genesis and Rush and ELP and Kansas.
Every track on this album is also weighed down by over-production. It would have been nice to hear some singing. Instead we hear robots, drenched in reverb, reciting words like they were programmed into their motherboards. I would love "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" if it actually sounded like John Lennon was singing with some degree of emotion. Well, I don't know that I would love
it, actually. It would have to have some lyrics that made sense for me to love it. But compared to the rest of the album, it would stand out if it had some emotion. Ultimately, that is why the entire album fails. The emotion is gone and the production tricks are in, and it has stayed that way in many cases ever since this album.
That is probably why I hate the fact that this album was so undeniably influential. Granted, I don't think it was quite the achievement the Lennon-worshipping music press at the time predicted ("a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization," my foot), but this albums influence is still visible today: much pop music contains no emotion, much pop music is overbearingly pretentious, and much pop music contains no worthwhile message. For all of which we can thank Sgt. Pepper and his stupid band. And the Beatles.