Remembrance of Things Past

A look at 2012 in musical reissues

Digital technology, still being in its infancy in the grand scheme of things, has a definite perk: the ability to remaster and greatly improve already monumental albums. Hence we have The Reissue, wherein a band or record label remasters (or sometimes just repackages or reprints) an album so that it can be resold in a shinier, newer, fresher form. Since these albums aren't really "new," so to speak, they often get ignored by end-of-year lists.

But that's not to say reissues aren't something to include in end-of-the-year lists because they often inject new life into long-forgotten or even classic albums. But the question always is: If one has the original album, does one really need the reissue? To help you out, here's a very brief selection of notable reissues from 2012, in alphabetical order, with my own personal advice as to whether the reissue is worth the purchase.

Archers of Loaf, Vee Vee (Merge). Merge Records reissued three Archers of Loaf records in 2012, but this one I listened to on cassette in my car during the summer of 1995. It was the first summer I could drive, so it holds a special place in my heart. All three reissues have new liner notes, bonus tracks and album art, but Vee Vee is the only one that was actually remastered.

WORTH IT? Yes. The remastering sounds awesome, but then again, I'm comparing it to an 18-year-old cassette.

Bikini Kill, Bikini Kill EP (Bikini Kill Records). Originally released in 1991, Bikini Kill's debut changed the lives of many girls, including this one. The 20th anniversary reissue makes me feel both old and like a teenager again—I haven't heard these songs in years, and I can still remember all of the words. This reissue is only on vinyl, and it has that signature Bikini Kill scruffy crunch.

WORTH IT? Definitely, especially if you're like me and you only had this EP on a cassette tape your friend copied for you in the '90s and you're a vinyl fan.

Calexico, Feast of Wire, The Black Light and Hot Rail Deluxe Limited Editions (City Slang). Each of these Calexico albums was rereleased this year with bonus discs including demos and outtakes on LP and double CDs. They look gorgeous, but are they WORTH IT? Not particularly (sorry, Calexico!), unless you have a favorite or you don't already have one of these records to begin with, in which case, what's your problem? Do you not realize you live in Tucson?

The Faint, Danse Macabre Deluxe Edition (Saddle Creek). Danse Macabre, released originally in 2001, helped start the onslaught of what came to be called (the modern version of) no wave—synth rock with new-wave technology but a rougher edge. Before the Faint, indie rock bands wouldn't touch the '80s with a 10-foot pole. Before the Faint, people didn't dance at indie rock shows. Danse Macabre changed all of that. This remastered reissue has bonus tracks and DVD footage of live shows along with the projections the band used during their sets—that was also something they pretty much made cool, by the way.

WORTH IT? Totally. The bonus tracks are awesome. There's a cover of Bright Eyes' "Falling Out of Love at This Volume," which was originally only available on a German single.

Paul and Linda McCartney, Ram Special Edition (Hear Music). The only album Paul and Linda recorded together, in 1971, has been given the full reissue treatment—as with Graceland (see below), you can get it in various forms, the most expensive being a gargantuan box set that'll set you back many, many dollars depending on where you buy it. I'll admit I hadn't heard the original recording, but the remastered version respectfully revisits this era of McCartney's songwriting.

WORTH IT? Nope. The cheaper remastered version without all of the booklets and stuff is a good buy if you don't already have the original, but the scope of this box doesn't merit the expense.

Paul Simon, Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition (Sony Legacy). When this album was originally released in 1987, it was groundbreaking. It wasn't the first American record to utilize African musicians or bring the African voice to the American mainstream, but what was different about Graceland was that it didn't directly address issues of apartheid, and it blended African rhythms with country and zydeco in a way that actually made sense. The 25th-anniversary reissue comes in several different forms—there's a pricey coffee-table-sized box set with four CDs, a DVD of the 2011 documentary Under African Skies, a replica of Simon's lyric notes, live concert footage and videos. Or, for wallet watchers, there's a far cheaper version with just the remastered album, a few bonus tracks and a DVD of the documentary along with videos.

WORTH IT? The cheaper version is definitely worth it—subtle details pop out in certain songs, and it still comes with the documentary.

Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin). This double album originally came out in 1995, and even though it had such radio hits as "1979" and "Tonight, Tonight" and won a Grammy, in my humble opinion it lacked the energy and grit of earlier Smashing Pumpkins records. Plus, it was overly long. This reissue has 64 additional tracks (64! on an already-double album!) and even the MP3-only download of the record is currently $36.99 on, which means the whole box-set deal costs enough to feed an entire village for a week.

WORTH IT? No way, unless you're a seriously hard-core Smashing Pumpkins/Billy Corgan fan and you want to hear "Tonight, Tonight" without strings for some odd reason.

Various Artists, Drop Down on Florida (Dust to Digital). In 1981, the Florida Folklife Program went around and, John Lomax-style, recorded local musicians playing traditional African-American music. The original release, only on vinyl, included two sections: secular music and sacred music, with a pure Southern blues twang coming through crisp and clear. The 2012 reissue includes 28 new tracks and an expanded book documenting the process and new images.

WORTH IT? Maybe, if you're a serious blues/roots/folk fan. The recordings possess vibrancy and authenticity, and previously hadn't been available digitally.

Woody Guthrie, Woody at 100: Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection (Smithsonian Folkways). This box set, released in 2012 to commemorate what would have been the folk legend's 100th birthday, is a three-CD set with many classics and lots of live recordings that show Guthrie at his best.

WORTH IT? Yes, but only if you're a fan of live folk music recordings and the history they represent. Otherwise, there are far cheaper compilations of standard Guthrie tunes.

Other 2012 reissues of note (also in alphabetical order): several Anvil albums; Blur, Blur 21 (a 21-CD box set of all Blur albums and unreleased tracks); the first six Bright Eyes releases; Codeine, Frigid Stars, Barely Real EP, and The White Birch; the Eraserhead original soundtrack on vinyl; GZA, Liquid Swords (which comes with a chess set); Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights 10th Anniversary Edition; Massive Attack, Blue Lines; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Nocturama, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, and DIG!!! LAZARUS, DIG!!!; Ride, Going Blank Again; Roxy Music, The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982; Sugar, Copper Blue and File Under: Easy Listening; The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Box Set.

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