With 2011 slightly more than half over, I’m realizing that I’ve probably bought more music in those seven months than I did in all of 2010. And I bought a lot. (Seriously, does anyone have more shelves? I need them badly.) But while I’ve enjoyed a lot of new music this year (Lady Gaga and The Cars immediately spring to mind), I’ve got to give it up for the fine folks working to provide great reissues and box sets for all those crazy collectors out there. (You could say I’m pretty passionate on the subject.)
So as long as you’re enjoying the Popblerd staff’s picks for the best new music of the year thus far, allow me to bring you ten of the best catalogue titles that hit the market this year.
10. Paul McCartney, McCartney / McCartney II: The Paul McCartney Archive Collection (MPL/Concord)
The first entry in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, last year’s deluxe edition of Wings’ Band on the Run, was a stellar product in all forms, from basic remaster to mega-box set edition. While 1970’s McCartney and 1980’s McCartney II aren’t nearly as essential as that Wings LP (outside of perhaps “Maybe I’m Amazed”), the exhaustive completeness of each set, including released B-sides and undiscovered vault treasures in equal measure is worth your consideration, if you’re a McCartney fan looking to delve deeper, a massive hoarder or a deep-pocketed prankster who realizes how much evil fun can be derived from an even longer version of “Wonderful Christmastime.”
9. Queen, 40th Anniversary Editions (Hollywood/Island)
For some reason, U.S. listeners have a tendency to look at Queen through the filter of their great heavy-hitting singles, rather than the fully well-written albums they put out in their lifespan. Now, with their catalogue in the hands of a new label, at least internationally, and an anniversary to commemorate, the remaining members of the band are doing something to remind audiences of those albums.
The band’s first five LPs, from their 1973 self-titled debut to 1976’s A Day at the Races, have been expanded in the U.S. (the band’s native U.K. just saw expansions of the next five records, due on our shores in September) with bonus discs full of demos, instrumentals, live cuts and other goodies, and sound better than ever – every last overdub of Freddie Mercury’s voice sounds golden! Best of all, it gives listeners a chance to hear the hits in their original contexts, next to album sides that were just as baroque and guitar-oriented as what you hear on the radio today.
8. Pearl Jam, Vs. / Vitalogy: Expanded Editions (Epic/Legacy)
In 2009, Pearl Jam reissued their stellar debut album, Ten, as part of an ongoing campaign to celebrate their 20th anniversary. (Okay, so they were a little trigger happy – the 20th anniversary is this year.) At the time, it was hard to top the excellent hard rock of Ten, just like it’s hard to top that expanded edition of Ten with whatever would be planned for the rest of the catalogue. While Vs. and Vitalogy, the band’s second and third albums, are great, they don’t pack the punch of Ten. But combining them both in a box set and adding one of the band’s best live concerts as one of a few extras? That’s classy. Here’s to the next 20 years!
7. Material Issue, International Pop Overthrow: 20th Anniversary Edition (Hip-o Select/Mercury)
The next half of the year is going to be filled with some great 20th anniversary reissues (and some questionable ones), but the best one of all thus far was this little under-the-radar re-release of Chicago power-pop trio Material Issue’s first album. Featuring a fistful of bright, hook-infused love songs (and that’s before the seven bonus cuts appended to the end of the disc) and a delightfully clean sound that flew in the face of the rising grunge wave of that year, International Pop Overthrow is a criminally underrated record finally getting the red-carpet treatment it’s long deserved.
6. Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On: 40th Anniversary Edition (Motown/UMe)
This new edition of What’s Going On takes everything we love and don’t like about reissues and box sets and throws it into a blender. Great, infinitely-listenable album by one of the greatest voices of the century? Check. Beautiful packaging that puts CD cases to shame? Check. Price tag-raising vinyl that’ll keep this classic away from anywhere but the most dedicated indie record shops? Check. Bonus outtake material that, while interesting, doesn’t compare to the 30th anniversary deluxe edition from a decade ago? Check. Despite those flaws, it’s great for those who like pretty things on their shelves or the best Motown albums of the ’70s (which is everyone reading this, I’d imagine).
5. Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz: Expanded Edition (Epic/Legacy)
On one level, Legacy’s new reissues of Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman are a great, overdue way to apologize for one of the biggest fuck-ups in reissue history (the last reissues of the CDs in 2002 had re-recorded rhythm tracks on each song, as Ozzy was legally engaged with his onetime bandmates at the time – the problem was that fans had no idea they were buying re-recordings until it was too late). But by restoring the rhythm tracks and eliminating that prior distraction, it more importantly gives fans a chance to rediscover some of the decade’s best melodic hard rock. Anyone who dismisses Ozzy as a reality show clown needs to pick these up and be reminded of his genius, from the urgent voice to the multifaceted guitar textures of one Randy Rhoads, who died far too soon after both albums were released.
4. Michael Giacchino, Up: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Walt Disney Records/Intrada)
One of the challenges of being a nerd is sometimes having a passion for something that even most fellow nerds can’t fathom. Such is the case with film soundtracks: most music geeks can’t get behind the idea of listening to a bunch of background music (or worse, “opera,” as it’s sometimes referred to), so it’s tough to include soundtrack reissues (of which there are many) alongside the usual pop and R&B box set fare.
But the first-ever CD release of Michael Giacchino’s Oscar and Grammy-winning score to Disney-Pixar’s Up is worth a mention. Not only is the 2009 film a high watermark for animated films as modern art, but the score, particularly its heartstring-tugging love theme for the elderly protagonist and his late wife, is a keeper. With it, Giacchino (who’s scored music for Alias and Lost on the small screen andThe Incredibles and Star Trek for multiplexes) establishes his place in the pantheon of great film composers like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams.
And, from a catalogue business standpoint, seeing Intrada Records (who’ve produced quality reissues of soundtracks like Alien and Back to the Future) starting a partnership with The Walt Disney Company to release classics from their archives is one of the most exciting music business stories out there – all too needed in a business where it sometimes feels like everything is going wrong.
3. Nick Lowe, Labour of Lust (Yep Roc)
Since the dawn of the compact disc, Elvis Costello’s catalogue has been revisited with various bonus tracks and extras no less that four times. By contrast, this is only the second reissue of Costello producer Nick Lowe’s 1979 sophomore album, which had a bigger U.S. hit (the effervescent “Cruel to Be Kind”) than Elvis would ever enjoy. If you like your rock bright and witty, this release (which includes all the tracks and B-sides from both U.S. and U.K. pressings) is definitely the set for you.
2. Howard Jones, The 12″ Album / Action Replay Box Set (Dtox)
It’s easy to peg Howard Jones as a relic of the ’80s, a synth-loving, bouffant-haired kid from Wales with a mind for Big Ideas in his songwriting. But there was soul behind those keyboards, as this box set wisely displays. Released exclusively through Jones’ website, this box remasters Jones’ first two EPs: The 12″ Album (1984), which featured great mixes of Jones’ early singles like “New Song” and “What is Love,” and 1985’s Action Replay, which netted Jones his biggest U.S. hit with “No One is to Blame” (beautifully produced by Phil Collins).
As if that weren’t enough, Jones dug through the vaults to release almost every 12″ A and B-side from the first two years of his career, and put it in a nice box set with nice liner notes and respectable packaging. (Why don’t more labels use super jewel cases, anyway?) I can’t wait to see what Jones has planned for the rest of his catalogue, and if you pick this up, I bet you’ll agree.
1. George Michael, Faith: Deluxe Edition (Columbia/Legacy)
It’s funny thinking how Legacy’s deluxe version of Faith was delayed from its original fall 2010 release by George Michael’s latest spot of legal trouble. Had Faith been dumped into stores at the time, it would have still made it into the upper echelon of reissues for that year – but making it one of the first major catalogue titles of 2011 has enabled it to top my list.
What makes the Faith reissue so good? Is it the DVD of great videos from the vault? (Michael’s vintage interview with Jonathan Ross is stunningly mature and focused for a 24-year-old pop star. Try imagining Britney Spears talk as wisely about her work.) Is the CD of instrumental tracks, live covers and (finally) the single version of “Monkey”? What about the gorgeous book-style packaging? Those are great, but they wouldn’t mean a thing if it weren’t for the original album. It’s easy to forget, in light of the last quarter-century, that Faith is one of the greatest albums of its decade; this package is a more-than-adequate reminder.
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