Voice Over

As fatalistic as any songwriter since John Fogerty, Cleaver can venture out on a happy summer's day and find cataclysm in the calm. "The river looks like chocolate milk/It's foaming at the banks," he indicates on "It's Summer Here." Meanwhile, back in town, a barber's burning hair out behind his shop and laughing about the unbearable smell. Not exactly "Penny Lane," but bouncy enough to elicit a smile.

Cleaver's high-register warbling (if you don't like the little-kid analogy, try Pete Townshend being assailed by killer bees) may be a little off-putting at first. If you're yeller, the R.E.M.-ish "Under Cedar and Stars" might be the most radio-friendly point of entry here. It's a great track, but don't stop there. The Known Universe is rife with humorous imagery and unique vantage points from which to observe the mundane. So get off your duff, 'cuz there's never been a better time to get behind the Ass Ponys.--Serene Dominic

The Beatles
Anthology 2

Judging by the many used copies of Anthology 1 on the shelves at your neighborhood Zia Record Exchange, many of you youngsters who got all psyched up to hear "the band that forever changed pop music" were disappointed at having to sit through rehearsal tapes of the Quarrymen. Well, gather 'round, children, because Anthology 2 (1965-1968) captures the period where pop music truly got its face rearranged by the Liverpudlians. Whereas volume one had the lads merely paying homage to Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Carl Perkins, here we have a seasoned group smashing those influences to shards and gluing them together into a new model. (Editor's note: Hey, we know we reviewed it last week--this is part two.)

Mark Lewisohn's book The Beatles Sessions, which detailed every Beatles studio session from their EMI audition on, was supposed to whet fans' appetites for an official release of all the plum outtakes lying fallow in the EMI vault. The master tapes the label made available to Lewisohn mysteriously disappeared just before his book was released in 1987, however, and those pilfered tapes became the primary source for the rash of superb Beatles CD bootlegs that have been a mainstay of cool record stores everywhere since the book came out.

For Anthology 2, Apple/Capitol Records were left in the unenviable position of having to impress bootleg collectors who think they've heard everything, while embracing the casual Beatles fan accustomed to predictable rehashes like Love Songs and the red and blue hits collections. The solution? Cross-fertilize different takes to create versions that even the most hard-core bootleggers couldn't have heard. Which, if you think about it, is a bit like rereleasing Citizen Kane by "augmenting" the finished version with scraps from the cutting-room floor.

Although a splendid time is guaranteed for all, there are a couple of bumbling oversights here that even the studious Lewisohn (who annotates the anthology) failed to spot. The scat-singing harmonies on the first take of "Strawberry Fields Forever" that can be heard on the Unsurpassed Masters bootleg are sorely missing here. Another letdown is "A Day in the Life." On page 97 of his book, Lewisohn writes that the studio tapes reveal "everyone in the studio bursting into a spontaneous barrage of applause" that makes for "remarkable listening," as does Paul's original idea of ending the song with a big long "hummmmmmmmm." We get neither here, just a teeny snippet of studio chatter from Paul that makes for considerably less than remarkable listening since it's faded down midsentence.

This annoying tendency to edit or fade down songs early also keeps us from hearing the final calliope snippets of "Mr. Kite" or the hysterical screams from Paul at the end of "I'm Looking Through You" found on boots like Back Track and Ultra Rare Trax 2. The latter boot also contains the entire "12-Bar-Original" instead of the miserly Anthology 2 edit. Admittedly, this Rubber Soul outtake is a pretty sucky instrumental at either length, but since the Beatles rarely ever jammed out on a recording, it's more fascinating to hear the Fabs suck for six minutes and 36 seconds than it is for two minutes and 54 seconds.

Such complaints are petty, however, once you hear gems like the long-awaited and ne'er bootlegged first take of "Tomorrow Never Knows"; Paul's first version of "Your Mother Should Know," which sounds uncannily like Sting; and a version of "Across the Universe" that's allowed to breathe freely without claustrophobic choirs and chirping schoolgirl singers flapping in the breeze.

The cheerful "Real Love" should also help wear down the purists who are still grumbling that Paul, George, Ringo and a cassette player do not the Beatles make. Just simmer down. No one's challenging John Lennon's claim that "one and one and one is three." But remember that George's lame 1981 tribute to their fallen comrade, "All Those Years Ago," had the three of them and Linda, and they resisted using the Beatles name then. That's real integrity, baby!--Serene Dominic

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