There probably aren't many people who would describe Rock 'n' Roll as John Lennon's finest solo statement, but there's no doubt that, of all the records he made after the Beatles broke up, Rock 'n' Roll is the one that comes closest to what they might have done next -- if only John had listened to what Paul was saying. In terms of content, Rock 'n' Roll is also a continuation of some of the early Plastic Ono Band's excursions into vintage rock territory -- their performance at the Toronto Peace Festival, after all, largely comprised Lennon's favorite oldies. The difference was that there the band was so under-rehearsed they simply played what they already knew. Five years later, Lennon was in full control of both material and arrangements, and the result was -- again, there probably aren't many people who would describe Rock 'n' Roll as John Lennon's finest solo statement. But it's certainly one of them. Brandy Alexanders is a three-CD box set recounting the entire tortured gestation of that remarkable album, a drama of Dostoevsky-like proportions which saw producer Phil Spector hired and fired, the drunken likes of Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon recruited to add their own brand of lunacy to the proceedings (Nilsson's deliciously disheveled Pussycats album was recorded in near-tandem with Rock 'n' Roll), and music publisher Maurice Levy lurking in the wings to exact compensation for a slip of the Lennon pen a few years before. The album with which he was rewarded, Roots, was on the streets for a matter of weeks before Lennon's regular label, Capitol, had it withdrawn and replaced by Rock 'n' Roll. The differences between the two were largely cosmetic, basically comprising a few new fads, while the two tracks dropped from the Roots release began appearing on bootleg almost immediately. Disc one here recreates that original album and reminds fans that, if one overlooks the fact that the two dropped songs are among Lennon's finest performances ever -- a heavenly "Angel Baby" and a genuinely dramatic "Be My Baby" -- there's little to choose between this and the ultimate release. Similarly, the 21 rough and off-line mixes that comprise disc two add little more than rough edges to a project which the rehearsals captured on disc three prove were fully realized before the songs were even recorded -- in terms of Lennon minutiae, this might be the most minute discovery ever! A wealth of subsidiary material rounds out the box -- Lennon's appearance alongside Elton John at Madison Square Garden is aired in its entirety, together with a snatch of pre-show rehearsal; the Salture to Sir Lew the Master Showman event is also visited for both audience and broadcast versions of Lennon's short set; while things wrap up with the soundtrack to Lennon's 1975 appearance on British TV's Old Grey Whistle Test, in stereo, instrumental, and broadcast versions. There's a lot of repetition here, a lot of unnecessary duplication, and a lot of material that really didn't need to be reprised; absent, on the other hand, is the material given an official release on the Menlove Avenue and Anthology collections, and which would have suited this collection infinitely better than, say, another go-round for the Elton John performance. Still, anybody with a fascination for this period, and a love for what Lennon did to those oldies, will find the box an irresistible attraction.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson