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The 50 songs on this double CD were recorded between 1968 and 1970, during the Beatles' slow disintegration, but there's no evidence of discord on the carefully chosen tracks offered here. When McCartney and Lennon are in the studio together, you hear only good-natured banter and cooperation. But you do get a sense of the increasing isolation of individual band members from each other. Often it's every man for himself: Paul and his guitar on "Blackbird," George and his guitar on a folkie version of "Something."

McCartney clearly emerges as the band's dominating force during this period. On his demo for "Come and Get It" (which he later produced as a hit for Badfinger), McCartney plays all the instruments. And tracks like the powerful "Helter Skelter" remind you that -- at one time, at least -- he had as much soul as you could expect from a British white guy. Lennon, meanwhile, was making goo-goo eyes at Yoko and churning out self-indulgent crap like "What's the New Mary Jane" (unreleased until now -- for good reason).

Even with the Beatles, you've got to sift through a lot of fool's gold to get to the real gems, but there are a number of them here: an incredible a cappella rendition of "Because," with each singer's voice overdubbed twice to create a tight, nine-voice choir; the original master of "The Long and Winding Road" as it was meant to be heard, minus Phil Spector's smarmy orchestral flourishes; and the historic rooftop performance of "Get Back," where you can hear the cops literally pulling the plug on the show.

Taken as a whole, the three volumes of Anthology represent an astounding body of work that's unlikely ever to be surpassed, so I'm grateful somebody had the sense to preserve and document the Beatles' decadelong musical evolution. Marketing gimmickry aside, the effort that went into the Anthology project was well spent.

-- Debbie Gilbert

Brendan Benson
One Mississippi
(Virgin)

Pity poor Brendan Benson. He just does not understand that no one who wants to make it big in the current rock arena can be smart and happy at the same time. Sure, they can be smart and angry (Pearl Jam) or dumb and happy (Hootie). They can even be smart and weird (Beck). But just plain smart and happy? No way.

That's why Benson's debut, One Mississippi, is doomed to crash and burn. You take a song like "Sittin' Pretty," the first single. What's it got going for it other than a catchy melody, a tight beat, and some sly lyrics? No righteous indignation. No lobotomized chorus. Not even random profanity. Same with "Just Me Purely." Sure, it's got a hook you'll be whistling for months, and a backbeat that will have you drumming the walls with your toothbrush. But there's just no bratty edge.

And Benson's lyrics. They're so cryptic. "Dress your sons and daughters in neutral colors and pray." What's that supposed to mean? Then there's the cut "Got No Secrets," which is like a combination of freaked-out reggae and psychedelic swirly guitars. It's so bizarre I can't even really describe it -- always a bad sign. And what about "Emma J"? It's got this weepy-sounding Spanish guitar thing and a complicated beat, like salsa or something. I listened to this one over and over, trying to decide what it sounded like. Then it came to me: The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

I guess it's admirable that there's a young guy out there making this kind of stuff. But really, what self-respecting alternative radio programmer is going to play such likable stuff? I mean, where's the fun in that?

-- Steven Almond

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