Review Summary: A misguided masterpiece
“Oh no another contrarian review of Sgt Pepper” I can hear you say as you look at this. No, I’m not trying to be edgy by not giving this album a solid 10/10, 5 stars, greatest album of all time award, I’m just putting forward my thoughts on this record. I love The Beatles. They got me into music as a whole and without them, Several quality acts wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t have some of the greatest albums ever recorded. Is Sgt. Pepper one of them though? Let’s see.
Released at the dawn of The Summer Of Love and often credited as being the album that brought rock music into a high art form, Sgt Pepper frequently tops critics’ lists of ‘Greatest Records Ever Made’. It’s influence is undeniable. Even if you don’t like the record, you have to admit that music itself wouldn’t be the same if this LP hadn’t been released. But, does Pepper stack up to the hype?
Envisioned as a sort of concept record by Paul McCartney, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has The Beatles take up the mantle of the titular group and allow themselves to break all the conventions accepted of them. They weren’t the Beatles here. They didn’t have to make standard rock music, they could do what they wanted. The result is a highly McCartney dominated album. John Lennon contributes a scarce 5 tracks (one of which he only sings half of and another which is performed by Paul) and George Harrison only gets one song compared to his usual two, occasionally three songs per LP. Hope you guys like whimsical music hall baroque pop, because that’s what Paul brings to the table. From the admittedly cute and catchy ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ and ‘Lovely Rita’ to the whimsical ‘Fixing a Hole’ and the trudging ‘She’s Leaving Home’, McCartney’s fingerprints are smothered all over the record. I’ve heard people say that it’s not the songs themselves that make Pepper great, it’s the way they’re built. If that’s the case then I agree. Sgt. Pepper is one of the best put together and produced records of all time. The numerous unorthodox recording techniques the group had used on Revolver are cranked up to 11 here. A wide array of instruments litter the album, from the sitar, saxophone to even a comb and paper kazoo. Pepper still sounds remarkably fresh today and producer Sir George Martin underlines the tracks with lush and often avant garde string sections. Several songs incorporate highly unique and creative (for the time) structures, like the extended organ coda to ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!’ And the shuddering crazed drum play on ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ and the group’s established rock roots still shine through on tracks like ‘Getting Better’ and the title track and its reprise. Musically, Sgt Pepper is incredibly strong and several of the compositions stack up remarkably well even today. The band themselves play to their best as usual, with Paul’s heavy bass work and Ringo’s fills standing out in particular. It’s with the songs themselves though that the album stumbles about a bit.
The main problem with Sgt Pepper is that it doesn’t feel like a group effort ironically. The album is dominated mainly by Paul, Leaving many of his band mates in the cold. John’s influence is barely heard on the album, although some of his compositions are of a usual high quality like the swirling psychedelia of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and the grand avant garde nightmare of ‘A Day In The Life’. George Harrison only gets one fleeting moment on the LP, the raga soundscape Of ‘Within You Without You’, a track which beautifully showcases his sitar skills. George’s other composition written for the album ‘Only A Northern Song’ is actually horrible so maybe that was a bit of a saving grace to have it excluded. Ringo’s sole lead vocal is the overwhelmingly uplifting and strong ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ which actually uses the drummer’s relatively weak vocal range to great effect. But they’re all second rated by Paul. His songs are quite hit and miss interestingly enough. When I’m Sixty Four is very love it or hate it (I adore it however) and his sappiness seeps through heavily on ‘She’s Leaving Home’, a pleasant Track forever stuck in the shadow of ‘Eleanor Rigby’. ‘Lovely Rita’ is amazingly poppy and fun, but Fixing A Hole is another painfully safe (but incredibly catchy) track. Even some of John’s songs are particularly average with ‘Mr Kite’ featuring some interesting but incredibly lazy (as in they were directly copied from an old circus poster) and Good Morning Good Morning has a particularly bored sounding vocal. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy these songs greatly. It’s just they’d released better songs before hand anyway.
Now I understand saying that might be heresy to some and I assure you that this record is still better than a good chunk of music out there but the problem is that The group doesn’t get a chance to shine. Debatably John’s magnum opus ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was left off the record as per the band’s single
Policy at the time and the brass pop classic ‘Penny Lane’ suffers a similar fate. Am I being too harsh? Maybe. Pepper is still a ***ing killer record, but it feels... off. What the group attempts here, they’d already done and better. ‘She’s Leaving Home’ is a weaker version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ is a slighter version of ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ and ‘Fixing A Hole’ is just ‘Good Day Sunshine’ with some harpsichord. Pepper is still solid and I mean really ***ing solid and I can’t dismiss the record’s massive influence and impact. Musically, it’s damn damn good and a huge leap forward for music as a whole. It’s just, they’ve done this before... and better. Oh well. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, eh.
With A Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty Four
A Day In The Life