Anthology II Advance Reviews


N.Y. Times News Service

Memo to beginning bands: Save everything. Every false start, every discarded arrangement, every bungled vocal. With luck, you can release them 30 years later and conquer the top 10 all over again.

The only other requirement is that the first time around, you have to revolutionize popular music.

The Beatles, who did that, are issuing their own shadow history, culled from their rejects. What were once collectors' esoterica are now mass-market bounty.

"The Beatles Anthology 1," from 1958 to 1964, has sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide since it was released in November. "The Beatles Anthology 2" (Apple/Capitol) arrives on Tuesday. It spans February 1965 to February 1968, the group's creative peak, when the Beatles transformed themselves from a gifted pop band into rock visionaries. A final volume, up to the band's breakup in 1970, is due later this year.

A new song, "Real Love," is already promoting the second volume. (The single also includes three songs not in the anthology.) "Real Love" is the second song for which Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr reunited to build a new arrangement around a fragile-sounding tape left by John Lennon.

It's an affectionate song; Lennon moves from minor keys and loneliness to a grateful chorus, and the surviving Beatles don't crowd him as they did on "Free as a Bird" from the first anthology. They pump up a modest tune to a hefty anthem. But in 1967-68, the arrangement would have been hallucinatory.

"The Beatles Anthology 2" crosses the great divide in the Beatles' career: from a performing band, on the first disk or cassette, to the studio recluses of the second.

The first half covers the Beatles' last year of touring, stopping just short of their final conventional concert on Aug. 29, 1966. Then, tired of screaming audiences and frantic tours, and already chafing at the limitations of what a four-man band could play, the Beatles found sanctuary in the recording studio.

Abetted by the first flowering of psychedelia, they experimented with arrangements and abstract sounds. They shifted from relatively straightforward love songs to the introspection of "Strawberry Fields" and "A Day in the Life"; at the same time, their music evolved from sonic realism to surrealism.

The 1965-66 selections draw on live takes from studio sessions and concerts, and most are inferior to the original releases, with draggy tempos and less poised vocals.

On the first recording of "Yesterday," McCartney sounds more diffident and less angelic than he did on the final version; Lennon is too morose to hit the high notes in "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," while the first take of "Norwegian Wood" lands hard on every downbeat.

The Beatles and their producer, George Martin, clearly worked to give the final versions their nonchalant touch. Still, the anthology has unearthed a fine song, formerly unreleased: the rowdy "If You've Got Trouble," a warning to a gold digger sung by Starr.

On a 1965 British television show that provided four songs for the anthology, Lennon introduced "Help!" as "our latest record, or our latest electronic noise"; he was predicting his own future. Even before they retired from the stage, the Beatles had begun to fabricate studio illusions. The anthology includes a version of "I'm Looking Through You" that sounds like a surf band attacking a bossa nova group, and a swampy, droning "Tomorrow Never Knows" that's odder than the one on "Revolver."

There are also curiosities, like "Taxman" with backing vocals different from those on the released version, and a rendition of "And Your Bird Can Sing" in which Lennon and McCartney try to add vocal harmonies and can't stop giggling.

The anthology also includes the string-orchestra arrangements for "Eleanor Rigby" and "Within You Without You," perhaps for karaoke use.

On the second disk, the music shifts decisively away from real time; the 1960s originals were assembled from multiple takes and overdubs, so there are few finished outtakes.

For songs that were assembled in bits and pieces, Martin has assembled new patchworks from outtakes and master takes, usually stripping away the baroque density of the finished songs to reveal a live band at their core.

The anthology reveals the mechanisms of the songs. In demo tapes for "Strawberry Fields," Lennon tries various rhythms and strums (including an approach he would later use on "Julia"); the band joins him in a take that was only used for the first minute of the finished song.

"I Am the Walrus" appears as its basic band track, minus huffing cellos and Shakespearean dialogue. Without backup vocals, "Good Morning Good Morning" never reveals its title.

New mixes of "Penny Lane," "Lady Madonna" and "Hello, Goodbye" bring out formerly buried instruments. And a composite version of "A Day in the Life" uses takes in which Lennon sounds more earnest and McCartney more cutting, while the big orchestral crescendo stops short.

The Beatles were still a feisty live band, as proved by a near-punk take of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)." And the final song, "Across the Universe," provides a reserved and welcome alternative to the string-sodden rendition on "Let It Be."

Most of the anthology's versions shouldn't supplant the 1960s originals. The Beatles and Martin made the right choices back then. But many other bands would be happy to have ever made scraps like these.

RECORD RACK: Capsule Reviews

by Robert Hilburn
Los Angeles Times

The Beatles, 'Anthology 2' (Apple) 3 stars out of 4. What's that old saying? Fool me once, shame on you ... fool me twice, shame on me.

Last year's 'Anthology 1' was a wonderful history lesson drawn from the Beatles' early days, but lots of fans soon discovered that it wasn't the kind of album you'd play over and over - not if you had the more satisfying original Beatles albums, or even 'greatest hits' packages.

Well, the word began filtering out of Apple that 'Anthology 2' was going to be different. The music this time was going to be great ... something that would stand up under repeated listening like (imagine!) an actual Beatles album.

It turns out, in fact, to be more table scraps - albeit a bit choicer scraps.

For anyone who wants to hear everything the Beatles did in the studio, these alternate and live versions of songs from 1965 to early 1968 are delightful - from the original demos of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'The Fool on the Hill' to the horseplay of 'You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)' to the harmonic experimentation on 'Got to Get You Into My Life.'

Mostly, however, these tracks simply reaffirm that producer George Martin and the Beatles chose the right versions to put on the original albums. The two previously unreleased tracks are so marginal you won't be able to remember them. If this were a video, the advice to the average pop fan would be to rent, not buy.

[Anthology Overview]