Reissue CDs: The Best of 2012 | New music reviews, news & interviews
Reissue CDs: The Best of 2012
Can's 'The Lost Tapes', a collection of previously unheard material, shows how it should be done
Can’s The Lost Tapes towers over any of the other reissues theartsdesk has covered this year. Although not strictly a reissue – it collected unheard recordings from tapes which had lain in the band’s archive – it rewrote the story of the seminal German band, offering a new perspective on their creative process and what they had issued. More than any of this, its three discs were a great listen and as essential as any of their albums - Soundtracks, Tago Mago and Future Days.
Re-reviewing The Lost Tapes is unnecessary, but taking it as a yardstick for the year’s other reissues is, by turns, gratifying and infuriating. Disinterring lost material this good is a rarity, although trawls through archives can yield gems which surprise and add to the understanding of an artist. A startling and raw 15-minute version of “Evil Hoodoo” from 1966 by garage band The Seeds was too long to be issued at the time. But now it shows how far out these proto-punks were. The demos recorded in preparation for The Jam’s The Gift intrigued, while the release of Blur's “Sir Elton John's Cock” on the 21 box revealed it to be short and insubstantial. More satisfying was a collection of previously unheard demos from Southern soul producer, songwriter and singer Dan Penn which showed him in a new light, confirming that as a recording artist he was as great as those he was worked with. A benchmark release.
The Jam’s The Gift was one among the ever-increasing tide of multi-disc anniversary reissues of single albums (marketed as, amongst other things, deluxe edtions and super deluxe editions with concomitant price levels), where the weight of the bonus material often buried what was great about the album in the first place. Chief amongst these was an over-egged, high-price edition of The Smashing Pumpkins’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. T. Rex fans had their wallets tested this year, with both The Slider and Electric Warrior getting the anniversary treatment. More surprising were reissues of less venerable albums, ones where it’s hard to believe the lack of time between the original release and now could bring a fresh context: James Yorkston & the Athletes’s Moving Up Country, Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights and The Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land (bulked out with remixes by contemporary producers that were a wasted opportunity). At least these were coherent, where a reissue of the first House of Love album was a mess, sequencing and package-wise.
At the other end of the scale, rather than focusing on a single album, another trend gaining momentum (from major labels) is the low-price, no-frills box of a raft of albums by an artist whose catalogue they have the rights to. This year we’ve seen Alice Cooper, Miles Davis, Elton John, The Replacements and more treated in this perfunctory way. A good, wallet-friendly way to pick up the bulk of a catalogue, but nonetheless cheap and in keeping with the sad devaluation of music that seems inescapable – but not necessarily inevitable, despite this apparent collusion from the labels. A collection of Bill Withers' albums showed that this approach can taken thoughtfully, eschewing the sausage machine method.
More bizarre were pointless anniversary reissues of albums which had already had this treatment: new editions of R.E.M.’s Document and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars offered less than last time around and perplexed.
But the out-of-the-blue releases have the biggest impact. A skimpy, lazy Steve Winwood reissue is never going to measure up against finally hearing Jimmy Page's Lucifer Rising soundtrack, the complete Kinks BBC recordings, a box set which repositions Liverpool’s The Searchers or surprises like The Gary Burton Quartet’s overlooked 1968 In Concert and a mind-expanding, educational journey into the heart of Colombia's music. Which is partly why Can’s revelatory The Lost Tapes is indispensable. That and the combination of great music, spot-on packaging and making the effort to say something new.
Listen to "Millionenspiel" from Can's The Lost Tapes
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