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The Beatles Anthology 2 (1996)


Much more so than the other two Anthology sets released by the Beatles, this set comes across as very deliberate and well-designed. This is less a result of planning than the nature of the Beatles career. CD one tracks their mastery of the pop art-form, while Disc 2 features their experimentation with the art-form and taking it further than anyone before them, and perhaps anyone since. All the while, both discs echo each other, showing the consistency and creativity of the band itself.

The first “Anthology” tracks show their pop-mastery all too well. While their early work was not significantly different than what other rock bands were producing, but this time, they had moved beyond their simple R&B roots and found ways to infuse their work with a creative excellence which really perfected the pop genre. Moreover, they are very dynamic songs. The move from the pristine beauty of “Yes It Is” to the powerful drive of “I’m Down” and then back to delightful beauty of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”. What we hear in this set are the songs are presented in a more bare state than they would be released, but the genius comes through effortlessly. This would be a focus of the set. “Yesterday” without the strings is still absolutely perfect. Likewise, Lennon’s “It’s Only Love” thrives without the strong guitar.

It is a wonderful way to experience these songs, with such a focus on the great vocals. While all of this was going on, the more formulaic nature of the Beatles live shows offer a very different way of seeing the band. Disc One again features a lot of the live tracks from these years, showing just how much the band had mastered live performance, often in spite of their audience. The difference becomes all the more stark once we start to see the tracks from “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”.

The band was pushing pop music beyond what it was, but without abandoning the genre itself. Some of the alternate takes are interesting, but not terribly powerful, but there are exceptions. Notably, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “And Your Bird Can Sing” and the rehearsal of “I’m Only Sleeping” offer a great look at some of the group’s new works in a very different stage than we would come to know. Compelling and fascinating, these tracks offer a glimpse at where the Beatles would go artistically following “Revolver” and on the second disc of this set.

Also, the strings only version of “Eleanor Rigby” ought be mentioned, for it is a great reminder of how strong a producer and composer George Martin was. While much of these discs show the unembellished masterpieces of the Beatles music, here we can really appreciated the embellished masterpiece of Beatles recordings. These two purposes would be increasingly important after the Beatles abandon touring and concentrate on their studio work.

This duel focus is how Disc Two introduces itself, with three very different versions of the classic “Strawberry Fields Forever”. First is a demo version recording by John Lennon in his home. The song is beautiful and the beauty isn’t the least bit difficult to see in the barren demo recording. From there we find a very different studio recording than would be eventually released. Simple, but experimental, we can really get a picture of the song’s nature as childhood remembrances. Still, it was not what the composer wanted, so we also get treated to another later take on the song, which would be part of the final recording.

Familiar, yet new, we now experience the mastery of their recording in full. Also, we hear an extended “wild drum track” from Ringo which does a lot to elevate him as a musician. After a remixed version of Penny Lane, we move onto the recordings for “Sgt. Pepper’s…”, the band’s most highly regarded achievement artistically. The version of “A Day in the Life” found here is composed with the purpose of highlighting the creative work that went into putting this marvellous recording together. Although artificial in nature, it is a fascinating way of presenting a historical look on the song while remaining an excellent track in its own right.

Later in the disc, the Reprise version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is introduced in a much more powerful rendition than would find its way onto the album. Also, the full version of the very experimental “You Know My Name…” is a real treat. The rest of Disc Two is very strong and great to listen to. “I am the Walrus” without George Martin’s arrangement, a great demo of “Fool on the Hill”, and the fantastic early version of “Across the Universe”. Disc Two has a host of great tracks that excel both as historical studies of the Beatles music and great versions of the songs in their own right. It appeals to two different audiences, and makes this set a great pick-up for all Beatles fans.

As a last note, I do want to talk about the “new” track, “Real Love”. This is really a masterpiece by all involved. It is a beautiful song from John Lennon which is beautifully developed by the remaining members of the Beatles. It is far superior to “Free as a Bird” and really makes this play the infamous “What if…” game. The band works together so well and so effortlessly, they cannot be considered anything less than the most artistically accomplished band in the history of Rock n’ Roll.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | The Beatles Anthology 2 | | Leave a comment