The Beatles: Revolver Special Edition (Super Deluxe) review – real-time experimental genius | The Beatles
Jhe Beatles’ career has been so thoroughly documented, chronicled and hacked that it feels like there aren’t many surprises left to uncover. But footage from Peter Jackson’s recent documentary about the band, Come back, certainly proved that assumption wrong…especially the jaw-dropping jam session where the band created the documentary’s title track from scratch. Knowing that the Beatles had unparalleled studio chemistry is one thing; seeing them nonchalantly chisel a musical idea and create greatness in real time is quite another thing.
A bonus disc on the new extended, remixed and remastered box set of 1966’s Revolver offers an even more transformative experience: a jaw-dropping sequence of Yellow Submarine work tapes traces the song’s evolution from fragile, sad fire sung by John Lennon in its final iteration as a psych-pop goof directed by Ringo Starr. It seems unlikely that the band have transformed Yellow Submarine from morose folk trifle to raucous stoner, but the tapes don’t lie: through a combination of focused acoustic lumberjacks and whimsical studio hazards, the band arrived at the Yellow Submarine, more familiar and optimistic.
Iteration and fearless experimentation have always been a hallmark of The Beatles, but Revolver found the band accelerating headlong into innovation. Part of that was life experiences that seeped into their art after a whirlwind few years: 1965’s Rubber Soul – the studio album just before Revolver – contained forays into psychedelic pop as well as original (albeit direct) compositions ) widely observed. But, for the first time since their worldwide breakthrough, the Beatles went on hiatus in early 1966, canceling a film project and taking four months off before entering the studio. Revolver’s music is the result of the band members being given space to breathe and reset their creativity.
Recorded between early April and late June that year, Revolver is a patchwork of moods and styles: psychedelic jangle, orchestral pop, R&B-influenced rock and rugged folk. Yet the LP also represented the start of their phase of studio magic – the dizzying tape loops swirling in Tomorrow Never Knows remain as gloriously disorienting as ever – and embraced non-rock instrumentation; Features of Love You To george harrison playing sitar alongside guest tabla player Anil Bhagwat, while descending strings give gravity to Eleanor Rigby.
Much of Revolver’s music and lyrics reflect the band’s experiences with mind-expanding drugs – She Said She Said was inspired by a pre-fame Peter Fonda interrupting an acid trip by Lennon. But it also includes some of the Beatles’ cleverest metaphorical character sketches: Doctor Robert’s pill-dispensing alter ego and McCartney’s Motown-jaunty marijuana mash note, Got to Get You Into My Life. And the mood of the album never stays in one place for long; the mortality that pervades the emotionally sophisticated Eleanor Rigby contrasts nicely with the innocence of Good Day Sunshine.
As he has done on other recent Beatles reissues, George Martin’s son Giles is handling the production and remixing of Revolver. Young Martin doesn’t wisely calibrate 21st century ear records by adding modern polish and trickery. Instead, his approach is to amplify existing nuances in music from a contemporary perspective, which means even familiar songs sound fresher.
Revolver proved particularly difficult to remix since the Beatles were playing live in the studio and tended to record all of their performances to a single track. However, Martin worked with Peter Jackson’s audio team to “unmix” the original tapes, using state-of-the-art technology to isolate the individual instrumental parts. This gave him an extra-virgin canvas to create stereo mixes.
Although Revolver doesn’t necessarily have the kaleidoscopic depths of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Remix 2017, it is not negligible. Instead, the new Revolver details reveal deeper meanings in the songs. Now more prominent, the backing low-light harmonies on Here, There and Everywhere remake the melody like an old-school rock ‘n’ roll love song; the writhing piano on I Want to Tell You reflects the narrator’s insecurity; and McCartney’s booming walking bass on Taxman illuminates the biting, cynical tone of Harrison’s lyrics.
Revolver’s working tapes and demos are fascinating from an archival perspective. Although the band are certainly having fun – to a take of And Your Bird Can Sing, they charmingly break down into laughter and can barely get through the song – many of the demos hint that Revolver could have been quite melancholy. A Lennon home demo of She Said She Said with an altered melody is stormier, while a more ascetic Here, There and Everywhere makes the narrator feel like it’s pining for someone unreachable. For era runners-up, various versions of the Revolver re-release also include sparkling updates to the 1966 standalone Paperback Writer single and its B-side, Rain; a session of Rain played at real speed is a good argument to say that it is one of the greatest songs of the Beatles.
In the preface to a book included in the box set, Paul McCartney wrote: “When we were asked what our formula was, John and I said that if we ever found one, we would get rid of it immediately.” This certainly explains the rapid sound progression within the catalog of the Beatles. But it also explains why Revolver still sounds so vibrant. With each studio album they recorded, The Beatles sought new ways to express themselves and move their music forward. Revolver is the sound of them striving and laying the groundwork for even more ambitious music to come.