Richard Goldstein Rethinks His ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ Slam, Sort Of


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July 20, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 40

I Blew My Cool Through The New York Times
By Richard Goldstein

If being a critic were the same as being a listener I could just enjoy “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Other than one cut which I detest (“Good Morning, Good Morning”), I find the album better than 80 per cent of the music around today; it is the other 20 per cent (including the best of the Beatles’ past performances) which worries me as a critic.

These misgivings I presented in a review which appeared in the New York Times a few Sundays ago. Now, after additional exposure to “Sergeant Pepper” in various states and moods, I still fee that if I had to write that review tonight, instead of this defense, it would sound a lot like its predecessor.

When the Beatles’ work as a whole is viewed in retrospect, it will be “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” which stand as their major contributions.

When the slicks and tricks of production on this album no longer seem unusual, and the compositions are stripped to their musical and lyrical essentials, “Sergeant Pepper” will be Beatles baroque — an elaboration without improvement…

In “Revolver” I found a complexity that was staggering in its poignancy, its innovation, and its empathy. I called it a complicated masterpiece. But in “Sergeant Pepper” I sense a new distance, a sarcasm masqueraded as hip, a dangerously dominant sense of what is stylish.

Much of the radicalism on Sergeant Pepper has appeared elsewhere, in a less sophisticated form. There was musical posturing in a song like “Something Happened to Me” (on the Rolling Stones’ “Between the Buttons”) which resembles “Sergeant Pepper.” It was possible months ago to predict the emergence of the extended popsong, because it had already appeared in its infancy (the Fugs: “Virgin Forest”; Love: “Revelation”; the Doors: “The End”). The Beach Boys developed the multimelody with “Good Vibrations.” The Mothers of Invention — not the Beatles — are the pioneers of the pop oratorio. And for the past few months “bandless” albums have been appearing in a trickle. None of these new releases is disciplined enough to deserve special attention, but the innovation is there.

“Sergeant Pepper” is not a work of plagiarism, but neither does it represent a breakthrough. It is an in-between experience, a chic…

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