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The Independent Culture
The Beatles: Anthology 1 (EMI, double CD & tape/triple LP). What, you mean you haven't bought it yet? No, well, I can't say I blame you. Anthology 1 is, for those extra-terrestrials among you, a compilation of out-takes, spoken passages, live tracks and curios "produced and directed" by George Martin. It was Martin who signed the Beatles and who produced their records the first time round, so he must be the best judge of popular music alive. I can't believe, then, that he intended this to be more than an audio documentary. It's fascinating, but there are not many tracks that you would want to listen to more than once. And several for which one listen is one too many. The two fuzzy examples of the proto-Beatles, the Quarrymen, sound as if they were recorded on a primitive tape machine in someone's living room. And they were. The dubious appeal of some later tracks (this volume gets as far as October 1964) appears to lie in the Beatles forgetting the lyrics. We hear an abortive "I'll Be Back" in 3/4 before John Lennon grumbles, "It's too hard to sing," and the song restarts in 4/4. "One After 909", "No Reply", and "Eight Days a Week" also feature in multiple versions. It is, as I say, enthralling as a behind-the-scenes documentary, but you'll play it fewer times than last year's Live at the BBC, which at least stands up as a valid live album. Then there is the "new" track, a Lennon demo which was finished off, in more senses than one, by the surviving Beatles and producer Jeff Lynne. George Martin, where were you when the boys really needed you? "Free as a Bird", which even extra-terrestrials will have heard by now, is a genial MOR ballad, just in time for Christmas. How sad, though, that after years of being unfairly derided as a bad drummer, Ringo has finally come up with some genuinely bad drumming. And after years of being fairly lauded as the best band ever, the Beatles have finally come up with an extremely inessential album. Nicholas Barber

Roxy Music: The Thrill of It All (Virgin, CD only). What the Beatles were to the Sixties, nobody was to the Seventies, but this band came closer than most. Here are 67 reasons why, on four discs, handsomely housed in the book-set format pioneered by Bob Marley's estate. Disc four gathers out-takes and B-sides, while the others trace Roxy's three phases: pop- art rock, featuring Brian Eno; epic grandeur; and sophisticated disco, leading to gorgeous lyricism. In 10 years they went all the way from pumping irony to dumping it. The set sags in the middle but ends as vividly as it began, so bang goes the conventional view that Roxy were not as good after the 1979 reunion. The measure of Avalon is that it could do without "Always Unknowing", a majestic ballad, now rescued for posterity. Two other compilations are in the shops, both embracing Bryan Ferry's solo career: More Than This, a greatest hits whose similarity to the last one suggests some kind of trade-off; and The Video Collection, mainly solo, little seen, and typically stylish. Tim de Lisle

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis. Orchestre des Champs lysees, choirs of the Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale. Soloists Rosa Mannion, Birgit Remmert, James Taylor, Cornelius Hauptmann, directed by Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi, CD only). It's symphony, mass, opera all in one: vast in scale yet capable of "spanning the universe in six bars", as one critic wrote. Herreweghe takes the divine and deist mysteries at a hop, moving towards the final plea for peace with accumulated grandeur, while his period instruments are a human, sizing-down influence. The Credo dances with a common man's joie de vivre, the Dove of the Spirit twitters ecstatically, the et incarnatus is more mysterious than ever. Fine soloists, spacious sound: a Gallic challenge to Eliot Gardiner's serioso version on Deutsche Gramophon. Dermot Clinch

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