The Beatles: Revolver Special Edition (Super Deluxe) review—real-time experimental brilliancePosted by Mike Schumacher
The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during filming of the Paperback Writer and Rain promo films. Photograph: Apple Corps
(Apple Corps Ltd/Capitol/UMe)
This enlarged, remixed, and remastered CD reveals songs’ deeper meanings and transformations
It may seem as if there aren’t many more surprises to learn about The Beatles given how thoroughly their career has been analyzed, chronicled, and bootlegged. However, the video in Peter Jackson’s most recent band documentary, Get Back, showed that belief to be untrue—especially the mind-blowing jam session in which the band created the documentary’s title tune out of thin air. Knowing that the Beatles had unmatched studio chemistry is one thing; seeing them casually work on a musical concept and produce brilliance in real time is quite another.
Revolver album artwork. Photograph: © Apple Corps Ltd.
A jaw-dropping sequence of Yellow Submarine studio recordings tracks the song’s growth from a frail, mournful wisp sung by John Lennon to its final version as a Ringo Starr-directed psych-pop farce on the additional CD of the new enlarged, remixed, and remastered box set of 1966’s Revolver. It may seem unlikely that the band was able to steer Yellow Submarine from a somber folk ditty to a boisterous stoner singalong, but the tapes are unfalsifiable: through a combination of focused acoustic woodshedding and frivolous studio experiments, the band eventually arrived at the more well-known, upbeat Yellow Submarine.
The Beatles have long been known for their iterative process and bold experimentation, but with Revolver, the group dove deeply into invention. After a fast-paced few years, life experiences began to filter into their work. Rubber Soul, the studio album released the year before Revolver, had ventures into psychedelic pop in addition to keenly observed (albeit simple) original music. But in early 1966, the Beatles took a vacation for the first time since their worldwide success, postponing a planned movie and taking four months off before entering the studio. The band members’ ability to reset their creativity and take a breather led to the creation of Revolver’s music.
Revolver, which was recorded between early April and the end of June of that year, is an eclectic mix of psychedelic jangle, symphonic pop, rock with R&B influences, and powerful folk. The LP also marked the beginning of their phase of studio prowess, as evidenced by the dizzying tape loops that swirl through Tomorrow Never Knows and their embrace of non-rock instrumentation; on Love You To, George Harrison plays sitar alongside guest Anil Bhagwat, and descending strings give Eleanor Rigby gravitas.
Revolver’s music and lyrics often reference the group’s experiences with mind-altering substances; for example, the song She Said She Said was influenced by a young Peter Fonda interrupting a John Lennon acid trip. But it also contains some of the Beatles’ most inventive figurative character sketches, such as McCartney’s Motown-jaunty love song to marijuana, Got to Get You Into My Life, and the pill-dispensing alter ego Doctor Robert. The album’s atmosphere also changes often; Good Day Sunshine’s naivety contrasts well with the emotional sophistication of Eleanor Rigby’s death.
George Martin’s son Giles is in charge of production and remixing on Revolver, as he has done on previous recent Beatles reissues. The younger Martin makes the smart decision to forgo modernizing and deception in order to adjust the albums for the ears of the twenty-first century. Instead, he uses a modern viewpoint to highlight the music’s underlying intricacies, making even well-known songs seem more interesting.
Since the Beatles sometimes recorded all of their performances on a single track while performing live in the studio, Revolver proved to be particularly difficult to remix. Martin, however, collaborated with Peter Jackson’s audio crew to “de-mix” the original recordings in order to separate the various instrumental elements. He now had a larger clean slate on which to build stereo mixes.
Revolver doesn’t quite have the kaleidoscopic depths of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s 2017 remix, but that’s no insult. Revolver’s new information, on the other hand, hints to the songs’ deeper meanings. Here, There and Everywhere’s dimly lit backing harmonies, which are now more prominent, transform the song into an old-fashioned rock’n’roll love song; I Want to Tell You’s key-bending piano, which reflects the narrator’s insecurity; and Taxman, with McCartney’s booming walking bass, which highlights the biting, cynical tone of Harrison’s lyrics.
From an archive standpoint, the Revolver work cassettes and demos are intriguing. Many of the demos give the impression that Revolver might have been extremely somber, even while the band is clearly having fun—on one take of And Your Bird Can Sing, they adorably dissolve into laughter and can hardly finish the song. While a more austere Here, There and Everywhere conveys the idea that the narrator is longing for someone who is unreachable, a stormier Lennon home demo of She Said She Said with a modified tune is stormier. The 1966 solo single Paperback Writer and its B-side, Rain, are both included in different editions of the Revolver reissue for period completists. A session take of Rain performed at real speed strongly suggests that it is one of the finest Beatles songs.
Paul McCartney states, “When asked what our formula was, John and I said that if we ever found one, we would get rid of it right away,” in the preface to a book that is part of the box set. That undoubtedly explains the Beatles’ catalog’s quick sound development. However, it also explains why Revolver continues to sound so fresh. The Beatles looked for fresh methods to express themselves and advance their music with each studio album they made. Revolver is the result of them working hard and building the foundation for future music that will be even more ambitious.
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