Rock music is getting old. It’s been 60 years since the Telecaster was released, 50 years since Elvis got out of the army, 40 years since Hendrix died, and over 30 since the Sex Pistols imploded. This fact, combined with a record industry that isn’t making any money anymore, has led to an interesting phenomenon: the rise of the deluxe reissue. More and more, record companies are cashing in on the fact that it’s older music lovers who have both disposable income and the propensity for spending it by furnishing them with reissued packages of records they already own, along with fancy booklets/bonus tracks/remasters/etc. This, of course, means there’s plenty of shite being peddled out there, but it also means there’s a heap of fantastic music that’s being reintroduced into the public consciousness, often on nice new vinyl or as high-quality digital files. Here are our picks for ten of the worthiest reissues to be released in 2010.
In his book Black Postcards, former Galaxie 500 main man Dean Wareham bemoans the number of times he’s had to answer the question, “So why aren’t you more famous?” But when you’ve made a trio of albums as good as these, it’s a question you’re going to get asked. Galaxie 500 remain one of the great underrated bands of the ‘80s, purveyors of a sound that’s as dreamily beautiful now as it was 20 years ago. Watch in particular for their cover of Joy Division’s “Ceremony,” which features as a bonus track to On Fire.
A pair of solo records from the two men otherwise known as Cluster, these are part of a series of fantastic releases exhumed and re-packaged by Berlin-based Bureau B records over the course of 2010. Apart from Moebius and Roedelius, the label has released albums by Michael Rother, Cluster & Eno, Riechmann, Faust and plenty more, making it a treasure trove for anyone interested in the weird and wonderful music that came out of Germany during the 1970s. These two albums are particularly notable for their proto-synth pop flavors, with Tonspuren full of jaunty melody while Wenn der Südwind Weht explores more atmospheric sounds.
Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
Springsteen was already a chart-bestriding megastar by 1978, with Born to Run having pushed him onto high rotation on drive-time FM radio around the world. He could have set himself up for life with another album of high-octane chartbusters – but Bruce didn’t want to do that, y’see. Instead, Darkness on the Edge of Town – released after a three-year recording hiatus due to a series of legal battles with his former manager – is a catalog of outer suburban alienation and disaffection, moods that appeared to parallel Springsteen’s feelings about the stardom thrust upon him. As such, the album marked something of a turning point for The Boss, leading him in the direction that would yield his best two albums: The River in 1980 and Nebraska two years later. As for the reissue, a double-CD compilation of outtakes plus three DVDs is enough to make fans’ eyes water.
Charanjit Singh Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat (1982)
We touched on this album in our East-West mixtape a few weeks back, and it remains one of the most intriguing reissues of 2010. The idea that a Bollywood producer armed himself with a Jupiter-8 keyboard and a couple of synths that were just on the market back in 1982 – namely the TB-303 and TR-808 – and produced a proto-acid house record years before acid house was invented is almost too outlandish to be true… but true it is. Singh’s record marries the 808’s beats and the 303’s trademark sinuous bass sounds to traditional India ragas (essentially, the modes on which the melodies in Indian classical music are based), creating a hyper-modern trans-continental record that still sounds remarkable today.
The Cure Disintegration (1989)
Rarely has there been a more appropriately named album than Disintegration. It was recorded at a time when the band themselves were falling apart – drummer Lol Tolhurst spent most of the sessions drinking, and was eventually fired, while Robert Smith was hoovering LSD, weathering a late-20s crisis, and refusing to speak to anyone. His lyrics for the record are largely morose and deal with disintegrating relationships, both romantic and otherwise, while the music found The Cure abandoning the pop stylings of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and revisiting the darker sounds of their early ‘80s ouput. Against all odds, the result was a classic, full of songs that were both mordantly depressing and somehow perversely uplifting. The long-delayed reissue will satisfy even the most ardent Cure fan – a remastered copy of the album, plus a disc of Smith’s home demos and a live recording from Wembley in 1989.
Queens of the Stone Age Rated R (2000)
If, likeus, you spent your 20s ticking off the drugs mentioned in “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” you may find it both alarming that this album is now ten years old, and something of a relief that you’re still compos mentis enough to purchase the reissue, which includes live tracks and a couple of studio out-takes.
The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street (1972)
The mass music press circle-jerk over this reissue might have you thinking that no-one’s actually recorded anything worthwhile since. Still, if you can set aside the hype and all the tedious stories about just how wasted the Stones were for the recording, what remains is surely the band’s creative pinnacle – a sprawling double album that encompassed everything from the blues to soul and gospel. The remastering job done by Mick Jagger mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, but the bonus tracks are fascinating listening and the new box set really does deserve a place on any fan’s shelf.
Spiritualized Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (1997)
And now we come to what is, in our of course entirely subjective opinion, the single greatest album of the 1990s. Thirteen years after its release, Jason Pierce’s heartbroken masterwork is still a thing of wonder, building layer upon layer of sound over simple chord and lyrical structures to create music of transcendent beauty. It really needs to be listened to as an entity rather than a collection of songs, a single piece that swells into free-form crescendos and recedes into wounded balladry, at one moment traversing cold, alien soundscapes like those of “The Individual” and “No God, Only Religion,” the next the stark, plaintive melodies of “All of My Thoughts” or “Broken Heart.” The deluxe reissue takes the album’s original pillbox packaging to its logical extreme – no one in their right minds is actually going to play 12 separate CDs, one for each song – but the bonus discs, which feature multiple takes and versions of each song, are compulsory listening for fans. If you don’t own this, you really should.
The Stooges Raw Power (1973)
As noted a few pages back, remastered versions of old records are a dime a dozen these days, but there’s rarely been an album more ripe for remixing than The Stooges’ Raw Power. The record has an interesting history – Iggy hated David Bowie’s original mix, which he claimed made the songs sound “weedy.” He remixed it himself in 1997, pushing everything to the opposite extreme and producing one of the loudest records ever. Unfortunately, this didn’t exactly receive universal acclaim either – guitarist James Williamson said the remix “sucked,” while Ron Asheton also distanced himself from it. The new “Legacy Edition,” released this year, restores the Bowie mix and remasters it for good measure, and also includes a bonus disc of studio demos (including the immortal “Cock in My Pocket”).
Fela Kuti, generally
The success of the Fela! musical on Broadway has had a welcome side-effect – it’s led to a slew of Fela reissues. Leading the way have been Brooklyn label Knitting Factory, who earlier this year reissued 13 albums from Fela’s early career – they cover the period from 1969-1977, up until the point where his Lagos compound was raided by government troops who burned his studio to the ground, beat Kuti severely, and murdered his mother. Our only complaint is that neither Zombie (the album that provoked the government’s rage) nor career highpoint Coffin for Head of State (Fela’s gloriously, wondrously defiant reaction to the murder) are amongst the reissues. But there’s still a shitload of Afrobeat to explore, and all on lovely heavy vinyl.
Honourable mentions: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Now I Got Worry (1996); David Bowie, Station to Station (1976); Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (1970); St Etienne, So Tough (1993); Chris & Cosey, Heartbeat (1981)