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The Beatles - Anthology 2 CD (album) cover


The Beatles



3.89 | 84 ratings

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4 stars The overwhelming success of the "Anthology 1" compilation probably surprised even die-hard Beatle fans who, while still not being able to understand how someone could be blasť about them, may have thought that such an eclectic collection of rarities, live performances and outtakes would only appeal to those of their own obsessed ilk. But the reality was that even a quarter of a century after their breakup their legacy had only grown larger in size and stature, due mainly to the fact that no artist or group had even come close to having the earth-shaking impact that the Fab Four had on civilization. Whether it was fate or incredibly fortunate timing or God's will that made the doors of fame open wide for the quartet from Liverpool they still to this day stand head and shoulders above all musical entities that have come and gone in the history of music. I suspect that they'll continue to be dissected and talked about a thousand years from now with the same reverence and admiration that they're granted today.

The first edition of the anthology centered on presenting the aural history of how they rose from the humblest of beginnings (via crude home recordings and amateurish demos) to become a solid, tight and cohesive combo of dedicated musicians and singer/songwriters who worked like the devil to constantly improve their skills. That they had raw talent and irresistible charisma is beyond debate but that double CD set illustrated clearly their indefatigable collective drive to push themselves to not only reach but exceed their potential. Few can say they changed the world they lived in as much as they did. "Anthology 2" is a continuation of the same method, uncovering and exposing the inner workings of their genius by allowing us to hear more of the behind-the-scenes stuff that led up to what we experienced as the final product eventually released on their heralded LPs. Roughly covering the time period from the "Help" soundtrack sessions to around the time of their infamous trip to India in February of 1968, the listener gets to hear how some of their most beloved compositions evolved out of incomplete and sometimes hazy outlines of song ideas as well as pointing out by default the huge contributions made by their producer extraordinaire, George Martin, and the courageous engineering crew of Abbey Road Studios that helped to turn their skimpy sketches into full-fledged masterpieces.

They open with the second new Beatles tune to be released since the band's demise, "Real Love." This one, even more than the stunning "Free as a Bird," has John Lennon's fingerprints all over it because on this one they really didn't have to add to the number's chord structure or alter the arrangement very much. Credit the phenomenal Jeff Lynne for doing another outstanding job of taking John's unadorned cassette recording and making it palatable so that the surviving threesome could embellish it and bestow upon it the indefinable Beatle magic that sets it apart from all others. Following that impressive curtain-raiser you're treated to studio run-throughs of seven of their songs. "Yes It Is" is presented in a stripped-down form that I actually prefer to the muddled final version that featured their sometimes off-key 3-part harmonies. Two of these numbers never saw the light of day until '96 and with good reason. "If You've Got Trouble" with Ringo singing the lead is weak and "That Means a Lot" sounds like they were aiming at erecting a Phil Spector-like wall of sound. Both provide proof that they were human after all and not every one of their compositions was a keeper. On "Yesterday" it's like you're sitting right there in the room with McCartney as he teaches Harrison and Lennon the chords and then sings it like it'd been around for decades. Next comes five live cuts, four of which were taped at the ABC Theatre in Blackpool for a TV show in August of '65. The most intriguing is Paul's debut of "Yesterday" for the rapt audience sans the group, complete with a string quartet behind him. The fifth live selection features George crooning "Everybody's Trying to be my Baby" from their historic Shea Stadium concert later that same month. The next ten tracks are more rough renditions of some of their most famous tunes. One is an instrumental called "12 Bar Original" that carries a palpable Booker T. and the MGs vibe but it's really not much more than an in-studio jam. I found "Tomorrow Never Knows" to be a standout because it demonstrates how adventurously progressive they were starting to get by experimenting with unique effects and radical recording techniques. On "And Your Bird Can Sing" the vocalists have the giggles so badly that one must suspect that they'd been smoking funny cigarettes at the time. A knockout is the string quartet-only accompanying track for "Eleanor Rigby" that shines a light on Martin's invaluable ability to take something merely good and turn it into something ground-breaking. I also found "I'm Only Sleeping" with stripped-down vocal, acoustic guitars and bongos to be very cool.

We then get two more live cuts from Nippon Budokan Hall in Japan from June of '66 that, to my ears, belie their fatigue and frustration with trying to perform on stage. (I still think their "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" LP offers a fantastic as well as the best encapsulation of their energetic and exciting in-person presence. See my review of that disc on this site for more info.) It's at this juncture that a new, freer mindset becomes evident as they've made the decision to no longer do concerts but concentrate on taking modern music where no other rock & roll entities have ever dared to take it. We're treated to three different looks at the formation of the psychedelic "Strawberry Fields Forever" that includes upright bass, slide guitar and some of the earliest use of the Mellotron. They obviously weren't afraid of taking risks. Another perk is hearing "A Day in the Life" with John counting aloud where the ascending orchestral mayhem will later be inserted. The instrumental take of Harrison's "Within You, Without You" demonstrates how comfortable he'd become in a relatively short time at manipulating the ungainly sitar while their loose demo of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is stunningly aggressive and rockin'. I've always liked their goofy "You Know My Name (Look up my number)" and the alternate version included here is just as engaging in its own silly way. All of the other tracks included in this 20-song stretch share a common characteristic. Taken at face value you'll often wonder how they managed to turn disjointed, unrefined melody ideas into the classics that we know and love. It's not unlike witnessing the awkward, crude initial studio takes of some of Yes' prog gems that were added as bonuses on some of their digitally remastered re-releases. It's a miracle they didn't give up on them before they had a chance to fill out. In the case of the Beatles it was no doubt their ability, learned from experience, to see beyond the shaky chord progressions and unfinished lyric lines to what they heard in their heads. Not to mention George Martin's uncanny knack for letting them venture into places that no one had ever dreamed of venturing before and making their aural fantasies become a reality. The album ends with John singing "Across the Universe," a beautiful tune that comes off as being much more accessible without the overproduced distractions that marred it on "Let It Be."

Put out on March 18, 1996, almost four months after its predecessor, "Anthology 2" went straight to the #1 spot on the charts despite being another double CD package. It seemed that the public's appetite for anything Beatle-related was still insatiable. Serious musicologists of all ages will find this collection intriguing and informative because it so honestly portrays John, Paul, George and Ringo as fearless explorers that set no limits on what was possible for them to create together. If you're a fledgling songwriter you owe it to yourself to give this a listen and learn from the masters how to never be scared of sticking with a composition that you know has potential even when it sounds fragmented and unfocused. The Beatles always seemed to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and they knew that getting there was an exhilarating challenge that made it all worthwhile. Check it out.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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