Beatles 'Anthology 3' Ends With a Sneer and a Whimper

By Roger Catlin
The Hartford Courant

Oct. 28, 1996 -- And now it ends.

A year of unprecedented success for a band that has been gone for more than a quarter-century.

A flood of unreleased tracks - more than 150 - released on six discs during 11 months.

Reels and reels of videography - 10 hours over eight volumes of home video, sold in a boxed set for $150.

It's obvious now that the Beatles have made more money with the 1995-1996 'Anthology' series than they did even when they were at the apex of the planet's rock scene 30 years ago.

But nowhere has it been as clear as it is on the final installment how pale most of the outtakes were compared with the real songs.

'Anthology 3' (Capitol) will complete the series of double-disc outtakes when it is released Tuesday.

The Beatles were the world's most important rock group not only because of the genius in writing and performing, but also in choosing to release the correct takes on the finished albums.

By the time we reach the chronological period covered by 'Anthology 3,' the band had long since stopped touring - so there are no live performances or TV appearances to leaven the studio work. It's obvious the work became a grind to them, because it does so to the listener as well.

Unlike the other two sets in the 'Anthology' series, there is no unreleased track here that deserved to have been issued previously, such as 'Leave My Kitten Alone' from the first set.

Most noticeable of all is that there is no third 'new' Beatles track, with the surviving Beatles reuniting around the work tapes of John Lennon. After the shameful radio response to 'Real Love,' the new Beatle track on 'Anthology 2' earlier this year, the group decided not to push the novelty of these posthumous jams. Yet the absence of such an event robs '3' of much of its surprise.

So the 'Anthology' series, like the Beatles themselves, end with a sneer, shrug and a whimper instead of a shake, rattle and roll (which they cover in a middling '50s rock medley on the new set).

Aside from a totally incongruous symphonic opening by George Martin, 'Anthology 3' begins with a sparkling series of previously unheard home demo tracks for 'White Album' songs that probably alone are worth the price.

Back from their spiritual sojourn in India, Lennon and Paul McCartney lay down tracks for songs they could include in their next album. They gather at the estate of George Harrison, who by then had become an accomplished songwriter near the stature of his bandmates.

In a format that today sounds like the perfect, unfettered 'Unplugged' performance, Lennon delivers two-thirds of what would become 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun' in a version that's made more compelling by the crispness of his vocal and guitar work. He also brings out 'Mean Mr. Mustard' and 'Polythene Pam' (songs that wouldn't appear until 'Abbey Road') and an amusing double-tracked version of 'Glass Onion.'

McCartney, for his part, throws in the lyrical 'Junk' and 'Honey Pie.' Harrison includes 'Piggies.'

Other songs of this caliber include stripped-down studio recordings of Lennon's 'Cry Baby Cry' and 'Sexy Sadie,' and especially Harrison's acoustic take of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.'

Yet many unplugged versions of solo acoustic songs on '3' are merely redundant. There isn't enough difference in the run-throughs of Lennon's 'Julia' or McCartney's 'Blackbird,' 'Mother Nature's Son' and 'I Will.'

Perhaps the earlier 'Anthology' gems have spoiled us. But there seem to be too many tracks that are only slightly different than released versions; all of them are inferior to the actual recordings: a cluttered 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,' a plodding, pre-fiddle 'Don't Pass Me By'; versions of 'Octopus' Garden' and 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' with obvious flubs.

Beatles fans tend to put a fixed wall between group projects and later solo efforts, but 'Anthology 3' breaks that down as McCartney tries out a couple of songs that would appear on his first solo album, 'Junk' and 'Teddy Boy' (a version here has Lennon playfully singing along and mocking in the background).

More notably, Harrison presents a dreamy version of his 'All Things Must Pass' accompanied only by a vibrato-rich electric guitar. It's one of three songs he recorded as a demo - along with 'Old Brown Shoe' and 'Something' - that appear on '3' that were all recorded on the same day, Feb. 25, 1969, his 26th birthday.

Fans who've followed the 'Anthology' series will want this, if only to complete the series. There are certainly far more double albums out there that are worse.

But it's troubling that this series has actually outsold the original Beatles albums, and for some young people actually represents the Fab Four. Some of the best of the Beatles output - 'In My Life,' 'Revolution' - are not reflected in a series never meant to be a greatest-hits package or comprehensive career overview. Advice: Round out your collection of original Beatles albums first.

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