Sunday, August 19, 2018
The Beatles: Purple Chick deluxe- Revolver (1966)
Revolver doesn't have a properly overarching theme the way Rubber Soul does, nor does it try to sell a "concept" the way the Beatles' next album would, but it does possess a certain unity of purpose (and mood); no two consecutive songs feature the same lead vocalist, hence only two ("Here, There and Everywhere" and "Yellow Submarine") share a composer. There's also the fact that it's extremely weird, at least given that it's an album from the mid-1960s by what was then the world's most popular rock group. Even John Lennon's middling, well-played rockers -- the record's weak link, generally -- have a strange and discordant quality about them, and on his better numbers, he sings very openly about death. "She Said She Said" isn't nearly as thrilling and strange musically as "Tomorrow Never Knows," but it's strange to realize the tormented extremity of what its lyrics (based on a bad trip with Peter Fonda) are saying: "You're making me feel like I've never been born" offers a darker angle to psychedelia than almost anything in, say, the Doors' catalog.
Because the album is so fascinating in musical and production terms, you would hope for a big uptick in the unreleased marginalia presented by Purple Chick at this point; unfortunately, Revolver's outtakes have turned to be among the most adroitly well-mined on official releases, so there is very little here that will not already be somewhat familiar to listeners of the multiplatinum selling (and now widely streaming) Anthology 2 release. That also means this will be a relatively short review, but it's still essential to quickly break down the material presented here for completeness.
As usual, the set opens up with the various mix variations of the album's songs and its attendant single ("Paperback Writer"/"Rain," which preceded it by a few months). The mono mix of Revolver is a carefully considered work of art, strange and off-center and druggy, something that's really emphasized when you compare it to the clarity of something like the Kinks' Face to Face and its touches of more polite eccentricity. (Only the unhinged, raga-like "Fancy" quite approaches the Beatles' blackened intensity.) And talking of open, celebrated, mainstream weirdness, "Paperback Writer" in its mono single version has a compressed, psychedelic, dreamy sound filled with effects, pushing forward the fact that it was (sonically, at least) their strangest single so far, unseating "I Feel Fine." Of course the b-side, "Rain," upstages it considerably, but they're clearly of a piece. In both cases, the now-canonical stereo mixes are like different songs entirely than what sold at the time, and in the case of "Writer," it's to the track's obvious detriment.
Across the album, there are small mono-stereo variations you'll pick up on if you're very familiar with the record (the longer fades on "Got to Get You into My Life" and "Love You To," the earlier percussion on "Taxman"), but in fairness the stereo mix is one of the better ones, and in fact superior in at least one case ("Here, There and Everywhere," which pushes the guitar up a little too much in mono). Still, as usual, the Beatles' and Martin's closer involvement in the once-rare mono mix is amply clear. "Eleanor Rigby" is less haphazard-sounding, Paul's voice coming down from a great height like John's on the album closer; the dream seems heavier. "I'm Only Sleeping" has a real sense of claustrophobia, "Yellow Submarine" is more complete (though its edits are a bit more obvious), and "And Your Bird Can Sing" attains an urgency that helps it.
Next come the officially released alternate mixes, which are interesting if not revelatory; the most endlessly futzed-with cut of all is "I'm Only Sleeping," whose pesky backward guitar lines move around to a different place (like the cowbell on "I Call Your Name") on no less than four mixes: UK mono and stereo, and the U.S. mono and stereo mixes prepped for the stopgap release Yesterday and Today earlier in 1966. Y&T is also the source for a surprisingly divergent version of "Doctor Robert"; the vocals are different (especially on the "well, well, well" interlude, with John much more prominent), the guitars are harsher and the edit goes all the way to the cold ending of the performance. It doesn't do a lot to improve such a lackluster song, but it's at least interesting to hear. (PC somehow misses the U.S. mono version of "And Your Bird Can Sing," unlike the stereo, which is the only time such a major variation gets skipped on one of their releases*; Capitol later rescued it for their boxed set The U.S. Albums but somehow dropped the ball on all three of these unique stereo mixes, which admittedly -- "Sleeping" aside -- are less interesting.)
The most fascinating of the alternate mixes by far is the withdrawn "matrix I" version of "Tomorrow Never Knows," which was strictly used on the first day's worth of UK pressings of Revolver only to be replaced abruptly, with the result that copies of the LP holding it are outrageously rare and expensive. It's not exactly a radical variant, but it's more than subtle -- the effects (tape loops) are very different, there's much more emphasis on the vocal, and more piano at the end of the track. It's neither better or worse than the canonical mono mix, but its almost hostile removal from the catalog is a good little mystery, and it's a privilege to be able to hear it; this is easily its ideal context. (One last oddball item: an unused monitor mix of "Yellow Submarine" with a different dropped-in "performance" after the line "the band begins to play." This surfaced in 2002, making it one of the last "new" bootlegged Beatles items to show up, and for this and other reasons its legitimacy is hotly disputed, but it's appropriate that it shows up here.)
As noted, all of the big-ticket moments on the outtakes disc have been officially released, and with good reason -- they're by and large among the best and most interesting and radical variants we've heard from the Beatles. The droning first take of "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- then labeled "Mark I" -- in heard in the released mix and through a '90s monitor mix wherein George Martin is discussing the track and manipulating it with three Beatles. The Rubber Soul-like pot-stoked take 5 of "Got to Get You into My Life" appears in slightly more complete form than on the Anthology CD. The ridiculously Byrdsy take 2 of "And Your Bird Can Sing" is heard with and without the flubbed vocal track on which the very high Beatles can't stop laughing, extracted here very simply by omitting the main vocal track. (You can do this yourself with Anthology 2 by half-unplugging your headphones.) The slightly different "Taxman" with the "anybody got a bit o' money" vocals and the instrumental track of "Eleanor Rigby" are dutifully included, plus rehearsal and bizarre acoustic version of "I'm Only Sleeping." Then there is the material from the "Real Love" CD5: "Yellow Submarine" with faders up and a silly spoken intro by Ringo, and an alternate performance of "Here, There and Everywhere" with a more relaxed lead vocal. The only bootleg-only stuff here comes from "Paperback Writer" (an interesting sequence of an instrumental false start -- that is one powerful guitar line -- and a nearly complete version of the master) and "For No One," offered in poor quality monitor mixes reconstructing a few in-progress takes, lots of piano and the progressing master. Even hardcore fans will have trouble getting through the raw monitor mixes that close out the disc, which are dedicated to "For No One" and "Here, There and Everywhere" and don't provide much in the way of pleasure or coherence.
As mentioned in the regular review of Revolver, this album's recording process was so spirited and ambitious it's no wonder it was so liberally sampled for the Anthology project, so we can't get too upset that there isn't much left for PC to track down and present to us; this set is most valuable for its presentation of a few '60s alternative mixes, and even those -- with the exception of the "matrix I" edition of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the lost numbers from the U.S. stereo Yesterday and Today -- are fairly easy to find elsewhere.
[* = Note: The only other two cases of mixes supposedly missing are the U.S. mono version of "You Can't Do That," which sounds no different; and the American stereo "Paperback Writer," which seems to just be a rechanneled and slightly rebalanced mix. PC intentionally disregarded rechannels, fold-downs and fake stereo mixes, as well as mixes and edits made for compilations such as Reel Music that didn't use the original tapes; and George Martin's various '70s and '80s remixes. So "And Your Bird Can Sing" is the only glaring oversight.]