In the Beatles' eyes, as in their songs, you can see the fragile fragmentary mirror of the society which sponsored them, which interprets and makes demands of them, and which punishes them when they do what others reckon to be evil; Paul, ever-hopeful, wistful; Ringo, every mother's son; George, local lad made good; John, withdrawn, sad, but with a fierce intelligence clearly undimmed by all that organised morality can throw at him. They are heroes for all of us, and better than we deserve.
It's not as if the Beatles ever seek such adulation. The extra-ordinary quality of the 30 new songs is one of simple happiness. The lyrics overflow with a sparkling radiance and sense of fun that it is impossible to resist. Almost every track is a send-up of a send-up of a send-up, rollicking, relentless, gentle, magical. The subject matter ranges from piggies ('Have you seen the bigger piggies/In their starched white shirts'), to Bungalow Bill of Saturday morning film-show fame ('He went out tiger hunting with his elephant gun/In case of accidents he always took his mom'); from 'Why don't we do it in the road' to 'Savoy Truffle'.
The skill at orchestration has matured with finite precision. Full orchestra, brass, solo violin glockenspiel, saxophone, organ, piano, harpsichord, all manner of percussion, flute, sound effects, are used sparingly and thus with deftness.
Electronic gimmickry has been suppressed or ignored in favour of musicianship. References to or quotations from Elvis Presley, Donovan, Little Richard, the Beach Boys, Blind Lemon Jefferson are woven into an aural fabric that has become the Bayeux Tapestry of popular music. It's all there, if you listen. Lennon sings 'I told you about strawberry fields' and 'I told about the fool on the hill'---and now?
The Beatles are competent rather than virtuoso instrumentalists---but their ensemble playing is intuitive and astonishing. They bend and twist rhythms and phrases with a unanimous freedom that gives their harmonic adventures the frenzy of anticipation and unpredictability. The voice---particularly that of Lennon---is just another instrument, wailing, screeching, mocking, weeping.
There is a quiet determination to be rid of the bogus intellectualisation that usually surrounds them and their music. The words almost deliberately simple-minded like, 'Happy birthday to you'; another just goes on repeating 'Good-night'; another says 'I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink.' The music is likewise stripped of all but the simplest of harmonies and beat---so what is left is a prolific out-pouring of melody, music-making of unmistakable clarity and foot-tapping beauty.
The sarcasm and bitterness that have always given their music its unease and edginess still bubbles out---'Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet---yeah/Looking through a glass onion.' The harshness of the imagery is, if anything, even harsher; 'The eagle picks my eye/The worm he locks my bone.' And, most grotesque of all, there is a terrifying track just called 'Revolution 9,' which comprises sound effects, overheard gossip, backwards-tapes, janglings from the subconscious memories of a floundering civilisation. Cruel, paranoic, burning, agonised, hopeless, it is given shape by an anonymous bingo voice which just goes on repeating 'Number nine, number nine, number nine'---until you want to scream. McCartney's drifting melancholy overhangs the entire proceedings like a purple veil of shadowy optimism---glistening, inaccessible, loving.
At the end, all you do is stand and applaud. Whatever your taste in popular music, you will find it satisfied here. If you think that pop music is Engelbert Humperdinck, then the Beatles have done it better---without sentimentality, but with passion; if you think that pop is just rock 'n' roll, then the Beatles have done it better---but infinitely more vengefully; if you think that pop is mind-blowing noise, then the Beatles have done it better---on distant shores of the imagination that others have not even sighted.
This record took them five months to make and in case you think that's slow going, just consider that since it's completion they've written another 15 songs. Not even Schubert wrote at that speed."
Last modified: August 12, 1994