The story The John Lennon Anthology
tells--that of the questing former Beatle who took five years off to raise his son before returning with an album of peaceful reflections on the househusband life--isn't new, but for all its monumental status, it does help bring Lennon into focus again as a person and a musician. Since his murder in 1980, Lennon-the-man-of-peace has too often obscured the rocker, the dad, the flawed human being in the public consciousness. While this massive stock of odds and ends--studio outtakes and chatter, live and alternate versions, demos--is necessarily diffuse, it does a great service. It restores the iconic Lennon to normal size.
Some of the set's most striking moments come at its beginning, in eight previously unreleased takes of songs that filled most of 1970's Plastic Ono Band. One of rock's most uncompromised albums, it found him angry, sad, and reflective to bursting. The tapes included on Anthology, though, feature a Lennon who, if not happy, is fully in his element--making rock & roll. Even as he's making dry runs for exorcising demons, he's still the guy who fell for the music as a Liverpool teenager; on an early, shuffling version of "Hold On," he leads his guitar line into the main riff of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk."
Elsewhere, we get long looks at the fits and starts of Lennon's years as a solo artist and as part of a duo with Yoko Ono. He slips from the grace of "Imagine" and "It's So Hard" into the raw polemics and lousy rhymes of "John Sinclair" and "Attica State." (Contrary to a stage announcement preceding the latter, it's not this failed anthem that has ensured the ongoing memory of the prison massacre.)
The honesty of Lennon's vocals throughout his career is often commented on, and they provide some of the greatest treasure here. Whether an alternate of the pained 1974 "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out," the joyfully full-on rocking of "Be Bop a Lula" and "Move Over Ms. L," or a gorgeous "Be My Baby," it's the voice that's the window to this man's soul. We also see how pained he was at his temporary separation from Yoko, as he even inserts a line of "Jealous Guy" into the demo for the rollicking "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" and abashed pleads for "one more chance" on a similar tape of "Mind Games."
Finally, there are the many moments of good humor--the outlines of "I'm the Greatest" and "Goodnight Vienna" for Ringo, the loose-as-a-goose "Be Bop a Lula"--and pleasingly bad, like "Serve Yourself," a snipe at Dylan's born-again phase, or some battling studio exchanges with a Phil Spector crazed enough to drive anyone out of the business for half a decade. Anthology is flawed, but its wide-ranging picture of Lennon's post-Beatles years is that of someone you'd love to have spent some time with. --Rickey Wright
Imagine 100 unreleased tracks by John Lennon! Compiled by Yoko Ono, the set also includes a 60-page booklet full of previously unpublished photos and drawings by John. The first CD, "Ascot," looks at the British solo days of the Plastic Ono Band and Imagine . Disc two, "New York City," covers the early Gotham days and includes unreleased songs like I'm the Greatest and Luck of the Irish . "The Lost Weekend" documents John's dissolute, late-'70s years in LA with a demo of Whatever Gets You Through the Night ; and unreleased tunes like Move Over Ms. L . And "Dakota," the fourth disc, includes juicy bits like John's parodies of Bob Dylan ( Serve Yourself ) and George Harrison ( The Rishi Kesh Song ). The musical diary of an extraordinary man.