RECORDS

Beatles: Anthology 2 (Parlophone, two CDs/three LPs/two tapes). This, it would seem, is more like it. After Anthology 1's scrappy scavenge through the Pete Best of times, the worst of times, Anthology 2 brings us to the flowering of the Beatles' genius. It contains 45 live renditions, demos and remixes of tracks from Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. The speed of the Beatles' development and the brilliance of their music knocks you off your feet. It's so utterly ... well, fab, that it makes you forget momentarily just how much better the versions on the original albums are. But only momentarily. There may be enduring enjoyment value in the alternative "Tomorrow Never Knows", with its waves of smudged psychedelia, or "I Am the Walrus" stripped to its buzzing electric piano. But how many times do you want to hear the mucking around at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane"? Or "Eleanor Rigby" and "Within You, Without You" without the vocals? Or Paul swearing when he gets the lyrics of "A Day in the Life" wrong? Or the justly unreleased Starr-turn, "If You've Got Trouble"? Rather than a treasure-trove of peerless music reborn, much of Anthology 2 is an extended edition of It'll Be Alright on the Vinyl. And I can't help feeling conned by the way George Martin has spliced together different takes of each song instead of letting us hear a whole authentic runthrough. "Real Love" is nice, though. As long as Radio 1 keep Oasis on their playlist, it seems fatuous to keep the Beatles off it. Nicholas Barber

Baby Bird: The Happiest Man Alive (Baby Bird, CD/LP). The fourth instalment in the five-albums-in-nine-months Baby Bird cycle is the most uneven so far. But given that the 400 songs in Mr Bird's sensational Sheffield song library were all down on tape before the first selection saw the light of day, conventional notions of chronological progression or decline do not really apply. What does matter is that barbed and beatific Bird- man Steven Jones is one of the few lyricists at work in Britain today with the power to make you stop and rewind a tape to check that you really heard what you thought you did. Newcomers to Bird-land should proceed directly to the hilarious "Married", the very scary "Beautiful Disease" or the truly twisted "Plane Crash Xmas", and make the acquaintance of a songwriter who blends the melodic sensibility of Lionel Richie with the acid wit of Dorothy Parker. And sometimes even vice-versa. Ben Thompson

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