Revisiting Reissues: Hits and misses from re-releases in the '00s
Ah, reissues. At times, they're an opportunity to do justice to a long-last masterpiece, at others simply one more way for labels to squeeze a little more profit out of an old cash cow . Most recently, this category's been nothing short of an extravaganza: if the '90s were the decade of box sets, then the '00s saw almost every imaginable back catalog get the deluxe treatment, from all the old favorites to the most obscure cult rarities, as free downloading and file sharing forced labels to find new justifications for us to fork over our hard-earned (and increasingly scarce) dough on endless repackaging.
In honor of this trend, Gimme Noise offers a handful of representative reissues to help illustrate the best and worst trends that those of us (re)collecting all the old faves had to parse through in the aughts.
Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins
It seems hard to believe that the slacker kings of indie rock would set a bar in this category, but it's even harder not to consider their series of reissues as doing anything other than raising the standard. Beginning with Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe, the titles alone are a worthy addendum to the originals, but these collections are full of goodies. In the case of L.A.'s Desert Origins, the two-disc set features a slew of singles, B-sides, and outtakes, plus an entire second CD of rehearsals - a number of them top-notch - from before the recording sessions, including early versions of album material that even stretched as far as Wowee Zowee and provided some intriguing insight into the formation of the music (biggest "surprise": don't put too much stock into the lyrics). Add to this an extensive booklet featuring artwork and some hilarious song explanations from Stephen Malkmus written for Melody Maker, and this had everything the nerdy audiophile could want in a reissue. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't such a stretch for Pavement after all.
The Who, Live at Leeds (Deluxe Edition)
Live albums can pose a particularly tricky situation when considering reissues, as they tend to sample much longer performances. In the case of Live at Leeds, the original classic was lean, mean, and all but an EP, clocking in at a brisk 20 minutes with only six songs, though it was stuffed with memorabilia and packaged as a faux-bootleg. The problem, of course, is that the actual concert was over three hours, complete with a performance of Tommy in its entirety. When Leeds was remastered in the mid-'90s it was expanded to include everything but the Tommy material, so the door was open for further releases with more than an hour still in the vaults. Naturally, MCA took heed a few years back, offering up the already bloated 1995 version and adding the missing rock opera interlude on a second disc. Yet, this still didn't solve the problem: little bits of between-song banter were edited out, so Leeds remains incomplete and, worse still for the true completist, out of sequence... The question inevitably arises: when does making a comprehensive account begin to dilute the impact of the original? In the case of Leeds, there still isn't anything that compares to the power of the original, which was a fine statement if not the whole story.
The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers
Every once in a while, a reissue helps save a true gem from obscurity, or worse yet, from completely disappearing. In the case of Jonathan Richman's seminal proto-punk debut, it had been out of print for years and was offered a lifeline when Rhino - who should get some love for saving a number of old albums in similar fashion - reissued and expanded it a few years back. Not that this album hadn't already been similarly mistreated: featuring future members of the Talking Heads and the Cars, the original lineup of this Boston ensemble had disbanded four years before this album was hobbled together in 1976, the material picked at random by the record company from separate recording sessions. Over the years, various collections with usually inferior versions of the songs have popped up claiming to present the "Original Modern Lovers," but with the track order of the definitive original restored and other essential songs that had previously been missing given their rightful place ("I'm Straight" being the most obvious), this was a timely and appropriately assembled reissue of a highly influential if often-overlooked album.
Elvis Costello, This Year's Model
Okay, Elvis, I get it that you're a pretty big deal these days. Not only do you have your own TV show, you're even married to Allison Krauss - or is it Diana Krall? I forget; either way, it's probably a good deal. But I don't really understand why it was necessary to reissue This Year's Model more times than I can count. I mean, there's probably a reason why it needed to be re-released in both 2007 and 2008, and in completely different formats. (And this coming on top of the 2002 issue, and the 1993 issue...) Maybe the first (or fourth) time around you forgot about that live disc and decided to swap it out with those outtakes when you had the chance. Of course, if it weren't for the fact Elvis wrote the liner notes, I'd be inclined to just chalk it up to the record company trying to exploit a classic (ahem), but in any event, I'm not trying to call anyone out here. I'm just wondering what next year's model will offer.
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (30th Anniversary Edition)
Never one to pull one over on his faithful fans, The Boss cooked up something special when he spruced up his 1975 breakthrough for its 30th anniversary. Granted, there wasn't anything particularly revelatory about the remaster itself, aside from the fact that it was a much-needed breath of fresh air breathed back into the recordings. What was most exceptional about the Born to Run set was the DVD features that came along with it. The making-of documentary was nothing short of fascinating and even picked up a Grammy (for whatever that's worth), while the live video from London's Hammersmith the year the album was released, while maybe not Bruce's finest performance, was thoroughly entertaining. Seeing him crawling on his belly and slipping into a whole in the stage, whereupon he whispers, "Where's my hat? I can't find my hat," all while continuing to sing, was ample reminder of why we all fell in love with the Jersey boy in the first place.
The Beatles, Rubber Soul
It may seem like it took forever for this series to come out, but I don't think anyone's complaining at this point. Together with fellow '60s superstars the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, the Beatles took the more circumspect route of re-releasing their albums in their original format without any of the related singles or assorted bonus tracks tacked on, which is a respectable display of integrity if not lucrative. Of course, whereas the Stones probably never really gave a shit about their fans (and therefore weren't about to keep anyone from saving money by adding on bonus tracks) and Dylan's name has been put on more half-rate product than most would care to remember (the Bootleg Series aside), the Fab Four's reissues were a labor of love. Simple in their presentation and wonderful in sound quality (and released on 9/9/09 for some extra karma), Rubber Soul seems like a fine choice to represent the group, being the best compromise between their early and later catalog. Moreover, it's in mono, which we all know is how God intended it to be heard.
Jimmy Cliff, The Harder They Come (Deluxe Edition)
By now you've probably noticed that this list has exclusively been the territory for rock reissues, with plenty of fine examples from r&b, soul, hip hop, and the like unaccounted for (although I hope you forgive me for not braving the vast minefield that is jazz music). While it's true that rock's long-standing history as an LP-oriented form perhaps makes it more inclined toward album reissues than most other genres, I admit I have no real excuse. But I hope this classic reggae soundtrack goes some way toward making amends. Of course, this album would almost inevitably be worth the money regardless of how you shake it, but what makes the expanded version so killer is the second disc: it's a collection of various top-notch reggae songs from virtually all the big-name artists of the early '70s. Why not throw "Israelites" onto The Harder They Come? It's more of a stretch than the typical period-piece live performance or some half-rate demos, but I can't think of any reason to complain. Think of it as if Superfly were released with every great Motown and Staxx single from the preceding five years, just for the hell of it. Which is to say, it's generous.
Neil Young, Archives Volume 1:1963-1972
Finally, it's only appropriate to round out this list with the most cantankerous and prolific old man this side of Dylan (which would you prefer: a Christmas album or an ode to an electric-powered 1959 Lincoln?), even if it's not strictly a reissue. For years, this massive box set has been touted as being in the works, and considering all the unreleased material we know Neil's been hoarding for the past 35-odd years, we couldn't help but let our wildest fantasties take over as we considered all the oddities that would fill out the track list. Superb live bootlegs from the early '70s only whetted our appetites for more. And then came the beheamoth we'd all been waiting for - and at $350, I'll admit I haven't had the heart (re: bank account) to even consider buying this thing. From what I've gathered, it's a comprehensive, if somewhat overwhelming multimedia package that falls a little short on the rarities end, but then it isn't merely a reissue or even a box set - it's a virtual biography. With the sound quality made possible by BluRay, this may well be the future for reissuing music in the decade to come - but for the time being most of us mortals may have to wait to find out what the future looks like. A more reasonable option may be one of his first four albums, which were recently reissued on 24-karat gold discs...
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