Archive for September, 2000

Monday, September 18th, 2000


In recent Greatest Album polls, it’s become increasingly hip to cite Revolver as the finest Beatles album, and therefore, the greatest and most important rock album ever made. Revolver, so the new wisdom goes, is the album on which The Beatles begin to emancipate themselves from their Epstein-controlled moptop image and graduate to the second, more experimental half of their careers, from monochrome to colour, dragging Western popular culture behind them.

Revolver does contain a miniature masterpiece – “Eleanor Rigby”. That apart, however, it’s a hotpotch – conservative, derivative, saccharine, mean-spirited, whimsical and just plain tedious by turns, with the odd, tinny flurry of backward guitar hardly bolstering the argument for its monumentalism.

Let’s examine this 35 minute “masterpiece”. George Harrison’s “Taxman” kicks it off. Over a petulant, jerky riff later ripped off by the similarly petulant, jerky Paul Weller on “Start”, George Harrison delivers a tirade against the Inland Revenue which would embarrass even the most dyspeptic Daily Telegraph correspondent. “If five per cent should seem to small/Be thankful I don’t take it all,” whines Harrison with all the harrowing self-pity of one so hard done by he’s down to his last three Bentleys. The supposed even-handedness of the overlaid harmony line, “taxman, Mr Wilson/Taxman Mr Heath” only exacerbates the small-mindedly disgruntled Poujadism of the song; “why, they’re just as bad as each other, to my mind, these politicians.”

This proto-Thatcherite drivel would be hard enough to swallow – but then who’s this, three tracks later, waggling his sitar and filling the studio with Hindustani musicians? Why, it’s George again, transformed from Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells into pseudo-Eastern spiritualist, warning us of the futility of materialism; “A lifetime is so short/ A new one can’t be bought.” So stop moaning about your tax bills then, you late, lamented wanker!

Far from exhibiting the Beatles’ hidden depths, Revolver inadvertently reveals their hidden shallownesses. Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping” is a shambling, sub-Kinks paean to his own idleness which would later see him holed away for years in his Dakota apartment, smacked up to his fatuous eyeballs. McCartney’s “For No One” is his astonishingly cold farewell to former lover Jane Asher, a formal back-step from true emotional responsibility worthy of Larry Sanders. Notably, he’s comfier with the chocolate box blandishments of “Here, There And Everywhere”, perhaps the soppiest song The Beatles ever recorded. But then, that’s McCartney for you – hard and soft in all the wrong places.

Revolver is supposed to herald The Beatles’ psychedelic futurism. If so, no one told McCartney. He also contributes the laboured, retro, Motown pastiche of “Got To Get You Into My Life”, “Good Day Sunshine”, which sounds like a jingle for a Kelloggs Cornflakes ad, and “Yellow Submarine”, lambasting which is ┬álike lambasting the Teletubbies. Lennon, meanwhile, gives us the supercilious “And Your Bird Can Sing”, noteworthy only for inspiring the “And Your Bird Can’t Sing” joke when Yoko Ono took up her screeching career. The small-chorded, cynical “Dr Robert” and “She Said” are the last, grumpy ‘old Lennon’ stabs at the bullshit spawned by the burgeoning drugs culture – only for Lennon himself to weigh in for the finale with the biggest load of drug-inspired bullshit of the lot. “Tomorrow Never Knows” heralds his asinine decision to start taking LSD. Revolver apologists regard this gormlessly naive, sub-Learyesque call to universal brainrot as the album’s defining moment. Yet even here, Lennon hasn’t the courage of his convictions, undermining the track with a lot of silly Red Indian noises and Goon Show-style tuneless piano, signifying that banal and very English fear and loathing of pretentiousness that passed for his “wickedly surreal sense of humour”.

As Lennon later proved on “Revolution”, he was far too indecisive and pusillanimous a soul ever to lead “us” anywhere. The only reason Revolver is feted by critics is as a hipper-than-thou debunking of the conventional wisdom that Sergeant Pepper was The Beatles’ finest album. “Oh yes, everybody talks about Pepper but of course, Revolver is vastly superior. Came out a year earlier, you know.” This, however, has become as conventional and under-examined a truism as the notion that Sergeant Pepper’s very English, boiled sweet psychedelia is the apex of all rock achievement. The Beatles’ brightest work was behind them in 1966, their truly darkest work ahead. Revolver was their greyest.

Saturday, September 9th, 2000

Dark Side Of The Moon

Having weathered its own prolonged dark side of unfashionability, it’s back! A┬árecent poll of critics/fans/musicians etc voted Dark Side Of The Moon ninth greatest album ever made. It is, once more, Important Listening.

Its been rehabilitiated in the slipstream of Radiohead, whose own game struggles to keep up a straight-faced posture of grandiose disgust, marginalisation, despair, isolation and anti-materialism in the face of an unremitting shower of admiration, thronging adulation, corporate accomodation and truckloads of money have so impressed us all. (“Look – just shoo. Go away. We’re trying to look anguished”). Their debt in this respect to Floyd is acknowledged. The Dark Side . . . remains, however, what it always was – an immaculately honed, strenuously produced, consistently textured, fastidiously polished turd.

In their earliest years, Pink Floyd were fine exponents of cracked English psychedelia, with Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason lending colour to the fragile LSD meanderings of Syd Barrett. When Barrett went under, they continued in a spaced-out and musically exploratory vein best showcased on Ummagumma. However, with 1973’s Dark Side Of The Moon, conceptualist Roger Waters decided it was time for the Floyd sound to come into ” focus”. Careful with that axe, Gilmour – keep that organ down to an insipid drone, Rick. Muffle those drums, Nick. Roger is about to make a Major Musical Statement.

“Breathe” sets the musical tone. Bland, wan, grandiloquent washes of guitar ebb and flow like windscreen fluid from one speaker to the other, the height of Seventies stereo sophistication. From his lofty eyrie of superior existential awareness, Waters surveys the scrabbling rat race of humanity pityingly. “Run, rabbit run/Dig that hole, forget the sun/And when at last the work is done/Don’t sit down it’s time to start another one.” Yes, pathetic, aren’t we? Listen, you overprivileged, horsefaced oaf, some of us need to scratch around in proper day jobs for a living, much as we’d love to muse idly in some luxury studio on the silly futility of it all. “Time” considers a vexed question that has preoccupied the sort of elderly, housebound ladies who, when TV newscasters bid them a good night, reply “goodnight” to the screen – to wit, “eee, where does the time go?” Ingeniously prefaced by a cacophony of chiming clocks (to denote time, you see. It’s symbolism), Waters observes, to those to whom it had never occurred, that each passing day sees us getting “older/Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.” as some backing vocalist shrieks cod-gospel amens of assent in the background, before Gilmour unleashes a lengthy, stupendously uninspired guitar solo in order to aid our mental digestion of Roger’s thoughts on time.

Ironically, time doesn’t seem to pass half so quickly as you’d wish to on Rick Wright’s “The Great Gig In The Sky”, a stupefyingly dull instrumental featuring Clare Torry screaming incoherently in the background as if her sequin dress has caught fire.

Next comes “Money”. Another ingenious intro – the sound of cash tills ringing (money, you see).

The same idea was used for the theme of Are You Being Served, an indication that brilliant artistic minds think alike. Here, Waters waxes caustic on the acquisitive mentality. “Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash,” he jeers. Money is not important to rock heroes like Waters, you understand. This may, however, because the is wallowing in such an obscene abundance of it. This song is less a call to redistribute wealth – Floyd certainly never redistributed theirs – more a sneer at those pitiful vulgarians who are obsessed with the stuff. Half-impoverished bods like us, for instance. Arsehole.

Waters continues his downer on “Us And Them”, an instructive reminder of the folly that led to World War 1, a more showily ruminative take on Boy George’s “War is stupid and people are stupid” line. “Brain Damage” ponderously ponders the question of who is really insane, the “lunatics” or Society? (Answer: The lunatics, Roger. That’s why, unlike Society, they talk excitedly to pigeons) before “Eclipse” ends an a note of the airiest lyrical waffle since George Harrison’s heyday.

Dark Side . . . is intended as a reproach to materialist society – ironically, it would become a key acquisition among the new Seventies shagpile bourgeoisie. In its “revolutionary” sound, a melange as translucent, textured, rich and tasteless as pork pie jelly, they perceived a product of Quality and Distinction, a chance to show off their hi-fis, while Waters’ mediocre and impotent hand-wringing only enhanced the recording, indicating that this was music for the thinking man, not mere irreflective pop dross. Decades on, it should be lampooned alongside loon pants, David Cassidy and Cadbury’s Smash, not revered. Yorke, you chicken-faced misery, this is all your fault.