REVERE, Mass. (AP) _ They wanted sand. They got mud. At least that's what some irate residents say about the sand being poured on the beach.

Mayor George V. Collela says the new coarse, reddish-brown material deposited as part of a major restoration is a far cry from the silvery gray sand that used to grace the shore.

But some beachgoers applaud it as an improvement and say sand is sand.

Since November, about 800,000 cubic yards of sand from a defunct highway building project has been dumped on the nearly 3-mile-long beach.

It's part of a 20-month, $5 million project to check natural erosion and replace rocks that once made the beach unusable at high tide, according to Robert Hunt, project manager and an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Corps engineers and the Metropolitan District Commission are sharing the cost of the project, which also will repair the beach's sea walls and nearby pavilions.

Collela said he has been a ''voice in the wilderness'' in opposing the use of the highway sand as fill ''because of its color and texture and what I felt was simply old gravel placed on what was once a beautiful beach.''

He complained that reddish-brown silt washing off the sand gives the water a reddish tint that may turn off would-be swimmers.

The Corps has agreed to place a 12-inch-thick cap of original beach sand over the new sand, which originally came from New Hampshire, Hunt said. The project isn't due for completion until June 1992.

Hunt contends that, due to costs, it was either the highway sand or nothing at all. Collela had wanted the Corps to dredge sand offshore but Hunt said that would have been too expensive.

Hunt says the reddish-brown color will bleach out after the project is finished.

Growled Collela: ''I don't see it happening in my lifetime, and not my kids', either.''

Mild temperatures brought out beachgoers Tuesday and many praised the beach's new look. Several said they saw a ''100 percent'' improvement.

''We were wondering what the big deal was with the sand,'' said Yvonne Steffenberg of Chelsea, who spent the afternoon at the beach with her husband, A.J. ''It's not Aruba sand, but ....''

''Sand is sand,'' her husband interjected.

Dianne Cabral of Somerville said some of her friends had complained that the new sand left reddish stains on her clothes, but that was not deterring her from a beach trip with her 15-month daughter.

Ted Odell said the beach was ''100 percent better. It was really a dive.''