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.

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