John Lennon (Capitol)
The new John Lennon Anthology, an uneven, four-CD box set of well-known songs, rare live material and assorted homemade tapes, begins with “Working Class Hero,” a harrowingly personal song about surviving a deprived British youth. Yet its sentiments could also apply to another blue-collar stiff, Bruce Springsteen, who mostly fills his new 66-song, four-CD compendium, Tracks, with never-before-released tunes that didn’t make it to his albums. As both these collections show, neither gifted musician fully escaped his roots.
The Lennon collection, culled by Yoko Ono from recordings made between 1969 and 1980, reveals the ex-Beatle’s darker, more vulnerable side. Though signature tunes like “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance” are far from obscure, Lennon sounds uncharacteristically isolated in these alternate, stripped-down versions. They are often genuinely affecting, especially when intercut with snippets of him singing and joking with his little son Sean, but as a whole, Anthology lacks the confidence and focus of Lennon’s finest work.
Tracks, meanwhile, portrays a man energized by his past. These songs serve as a fascinating parallel history to Springsteen’s 25-year career. Not every cut here is a gem, but fans will delight in finding buried greats such as “Cynthia” and “Leavin’ Train”—and marvel at a singer so industrious that even his duds are contenders.
Bottom Line: Bruce’s is better