The Beatles Anthology 2: Apple CDPCSP 728

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The Independent Online
Covering the period from Help! to Magical Mystery Tour, this was always going to be the most interesting of the three Beatles anthologies. Not for nothing does publicist and former Apple-head Derek Taylor sub- title it The Years of Dash and Daring; the three years spanned by the two CDs (1965-68) saw the Beatles transform themselves from mop-top guitar- popsters to tireless musical innovators, collectively the most powerful motor behind the era's enormous cultural changes.

The keys to this change were their decision to stop touring and become a studio band, and drugs - lots of them. Not that you'd know it from the CD booklet, in which drugs are as conspicuously absent as Phil Spector was from the account of Let It Be in the Beatles' TV series. Their effect is best illustrated here in the jump from the pleasant, unchallenging ditties that made up the Help! soundtrack - mediocre versions of comparatively mediocre material - to the multi-layered tape-loops and staggering drums of "Tomorrow Never Knows", the purest aural equivalent of a well-stoked spliff this side of Jamaica. Still, it's not that big a jump according to this compilation, which contrives to include more tracks from a Blackpool Night Out TV special than from the pivotal Rubber Soul album.

Naturally, the Revolver and Sergeant Pepper out-takes are the real meat of the anthology. The early versions of "Tomorrow Never Knows", "Got To Get You Into My Life" (slower, less insistent, minus brass), "I'm Only Sleeping" (vibes) and "And Your Bird Can Sing" (stoned giggling) are all worth hearing, though there is rather less mileage than they imagine in the lonely string arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby". The live tracks that follow these Revolver out-takes are discernibly more incongruous than the Blackpool TV tracks which followed the Help! material - after what they had just conjured up in the studio, "Rock and Roll Music" and "She's a Woman" seem petty and primitive.

The most arresting piece of music on the entire package is Lennon's home demo of "Strawberry Fields Forever", a slice of history that McCartney, Harrison and Starr have mercifully refrained from turning into a "new" Beatles song, in the manner of the abysmal "Real Love". Its progress to fully-Mellotronised finished article is bridged by two further takes, in comparison to "A Day in the Life", whose out-takes are montaged together into a single new mix. The oddest part of this is roadie Mal Evans' sinister counting of the 24 bars that would later be filled with the mad orchestral glissando. It's a moment of peculiar intimacy, like Alice glimpsing the Wizard Of Oz.

Nothing that follows packs anything like the punch of these two songs; "Within You, Without You" is no more bearable in instrumental form than it was with vocals, and the Magical Mystery Tour material sounds irredeemably twee and whimsical, even as out-takes. But there is more than enough madcap invention and druggy absorption in the middle stages of Anthology 2 to make it an essential acquisition, so long as you don't expect anything too revelatory.