The last few months provided us with CD-boxes from some of the big shots of the music business, for example John Lennon's "Anthology" (1998) and Bruce Springsteen's "Tracks" (1998). The collection of previously unreleased versions of songs or of songs never heard before was welcome with excitement and suspicion alike.
Have they run out of ideas (in the case of Springsteen) or are they simply cashing in for the x-th time (in case of Lennon)?, were some of the questions asked by professional music critics in the USA and elsewhere. It was assumed that economic reasons were the main reasons for the publication of the boxes and it was believed that the content wouldn't meet the expectations of the public.
The Lennon box was criticized for offering another version of the same old songs - mostly weaker versions which even die-heart fans would have difficulties to accept.
Perhaps that's true in a sense: the Lennon box presents John Lennon with lots of material which sounds very rough, home-recorded and not yet grown to the quality we've known from the "original" CDs and LPs.
But there's another aspect to it, which I find moving when listening to the box: John Lennon at home playing around with musical ideas. It's not only interesting to listen to the raw material, it's also comforting: every gem needs a lot of modelling and polishing to make it a gem. In the beginning things sound rough, strange ... sometimes even ugly. Not much different from some ideas we may have in mind. But then enters the musical genius of Lennon and treats the raw material in ways which are still worth of listening to.
Bruce Springsteen's box is a little bit different. He collected lots of new stuff from the left-overs of his recording sessions. He is well-known for producing at least double the number of songs per LP than needed - and many interesting songs simply haven't made it on CD until now. "The Boss" has done a marvellous job providing us with sections of his work which are most of the time as excellent as the stuff we've known.
One aspect of the box is outstanding: many songs sound fresh, unpolished, and straight forward - in other words: they sound like many of us like Springsteen to present his material. It is a pleasure to listen to the box because it creates the imagination of being in the studio and listening to the musicians playing "live".
Despite the fact that both boxes offer songs we've known in at least one version, it's the feeling of coming home to the basics which make the boxes a worthwhile addition to your collection of Lennon and Springsteen CDs. And in case you don't own any one of them, here's probably an excellent offer to get to know them.