10 Best Reissues of 2013
This year proved a great one for new releases, but it also brought excellent reissues that revisited some of our old favorites. From ‘70s classics to albums celebrating their first decade, our picks for the 10 Best Reissues of 2013 span genres -- everything from New Wave and punk to lo-fi Americana -- and generations, but they all prove to be just as good the second time around.
In October, British New Wave heroes Tears for Fears celebrated the 30th anniversary of their 1983 debut, ‘The Hurting,’ by reissuing the album for the second time (the first being a 1999 box set). The LP is filled with deeply personal lyrics set to sparse synth-pop, and tunes like ‘Memories Fade’ and ‘Mad World' have become modern classics. The new box set includes a second disc of alternate versions, b-sides and remixes, while the deluxe edition includes a CD of live sessions and a DVD of their 1984 concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London.
Roky Erickson’s story often overshadows his music. The one-time frontman for psych-rock pioneers 13th Floor Elevators was famously hospitalized for paranoid schizophrenia and forced to undergo electroshock therapy. However, the music he produced in the ‘80s stands on its own and couldn’t sound more different than the Elevators. This year, Light in the Attic reissued three of Erickson’s albums from the ‘80s — 1981’s ‘The Evil One,’ recorded with his band the Aliens; the 1986 solo set ‘Don’t Slander Me’; and the 1986 collection ‘Gremlins Have Pictures.’ From ‘The Evil One’’s preoccupation with horror-movie monsters to Erickson’s excursions into blues-rock on ‘Don’t Slander Me,’ the trio of albums are extremely coherent in their production and brimming with catchy hooks and the singer’s frenzied vocals.
‘All Hail West Texas’ was the last Mountain Goats album to be recorded on mastermind John Darnielle’s now-storied Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox, before his six-album stint on 4AD. These lo-fi songs are markedly brief — a requirement due to Darnielle’s recording constrictions, which he details in an essay describing his process — but they're also some of the Mountain Goats' most definitive. In addition to Darnielle’s essay on the making of ‘Texas,’ the reissue includes previously unreleased tracks and an alternate take of ‘Jenny.’
Though the method behind the Postal Service’s first and only album, ‘Give Up,' may now be antiquated — Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello snail-mailed the songs’ pieces to each other — it's still shocking that 10 years have passed since the release. That's because the duo’s one-off project led to 10 songs with unlikely staying power. Tamborello’s blippy soundscapes and Gibbard’s self-deprecating lyrics and sugary back-and-forths with former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis have remained fresh in fans’ minds, and many still clamor for a follow-up. While the 10th anniversary may have snuck up on us, Gibbard and Tamborello were really left with no choice but to reissue the beloved album. The deluxe edition brought two brand-new songs, live cuts and remixes, as well as a tour that included stops at Coachella and Lollapalooza.
R.E.M. celebrated the 25th anniversary of 1988's ‘Green,’ their sixth album and first for Warner Bros., with a two-disc reissue, which includes a live recording of a 1989 performance in Greensboro, N.C. The band has often called ‘Green’ an album of experiments, as it saw the foursome changing what they'd come to see as the R.E.M. formula. This is undoubtedly why frontman Michael Stipe breaks the fourth wall in songs like poppy opener ‘Pop Song 89’ and sings, "Should we talk about the weather? / Should we talk about the government?” It was as if the band was directly addressing fans fearful of the dreaded major-label move, and in doing so, they proved they were unafraid of major-key songs where Stipe sings of artist-listener expectations and Peter Buck trades his guitar for a mandolin. The group juxtaposed these almost cheery songs with darker, politically motivated, more typically R.E.M.-ish songs, suggesting they wouldn’t be stymied by those expectations.
“What is this sh--?” That’s what Greil Marcus wrote in his ‘Rolling Stone’ review of Bob Dylan’s 10th album, 1970’s ‘Self Portrait.’ Comprising more covers than new material, it was widely panned as Dylan’s worst output to date. With the 10th volume of its career-spanning ‘Bootleg Series,' Columbia aims to shed light on the album — as well as ‘Nashville Skyline’ and ‘New Morning’ — and the big question is whether they succeed. Dylan himself has claimed the album was intentionally bad -- a means of shedding some of the notoriety he'd received as a '60s protest singer, a designation he wasn’t terribly comfortable with. Luckily, the reissue does provide some keen insight into the album, offering updated, simpler versions of the originals and demos and live recordings from Dylan’s 1969 performance with the Band at the Isle of Wight Festival.
The 10th anniversary edition of ‘Magnolia Electric Co.,’ the final album from Jason Molina's alt-country outfit Songs: Ohia, landed less than a year after the singer’s death from organ failure. Though the album seems filled with Molina’s reflections on his struggles with alcoholism and attempts to overcome it, the singer’s tone is stronger than ever. ‘Magnolia’ has a distinctly haunted sound, but Molina comes across as more determined than ever. He's full of purpose, with a full-band sound propelling his guilt-stricken warble forward. That sound would carry over to his next band, not coincidentally named Magnolia Electric Co. The reissue includes two bonus tracks, ‘The Big Game Is Every Night’ and ‘Whip Poor Will,’ alongside demo versions of all of the songs.
In the '90s, following the success of ‘Cannonball' -- a hit from their breakout second album, ‘Last Splash' -- not to mention a stamp of approval from Kurt Cobain, the Breeders were poised to rise above frontwoman Kim Deal’s other band, the Pixies, in popularity. Twenty years later, listeners get to relive the glory with the ‘LSXX’ reissue of their definitive sophomore album, which saw Deal’s twin sister Kelley come on board as guitarist. The new edition includes the ‘Safari’ and 'Head to Toe' EPs -- which dropped before and after 'Last Splash,' respectively -- as well as b-sides, demos and live recordings from their ‘Live in Stockholm’ album and their BBC sessions.
Housed in a massive box set designed by bassist Paul Simonon to look like a boombox, the Clash’s career-spanning ‘Sound System’ is really a sight to be seen. It compiles the seminal punk band’s five classic albums -- 1977's self-titled debut, 1978’s ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope,’ 1979’s ‘London Calling,’ 1980’s ‘Sandinista!’ and 1982’s ‘Combat Rock' -- and guitarist Mick Jones guided all of the remastering. The set also includes two discs of b-sides and outtakes and a DVD offering never-before-seen footage. It’s up to you to decide whether Jones was correct in calling it the “best box set ever.”
In the years since the release of Nirvana's third and final LP, fans and critics alike have reexamined the album. Was this a calculated farwell from Kurt Cobain, who killed himself in 1994, not quite a year after its release? The 20th anniversary reissue suggests it wasn't. The remastered songs, demos, alternate takes and live recordings suggest that while 'In Utero' was calculated, it was a calculated progression from where Nirvana were on ‘Nevermind’ to where they were possibly heading next.