I turned 38 this past weekend. I am now — and have been really for the past three to five years — the target market for reissues and catalog.
When I was young, I had a chip on my shoulder about people who would buy up reissues and special editions. Pfeh. Living in the past. Why don’t you all man up and listen to something new? That was my foolish, youthful thinking.
Then I reached a point where that old Battlestar Galactica proverb reared its head — all this has happened before, and it will happen again.
I program my TiVo to catch this music video program on LOGO called NewNextNow. It’s not a bad survey of what’s bubbling under the floundering hit-making machinery of the media conglomerates. (Although most of the music featured on the show is made by major labels.)
But I’ll listen to these so-called new bands, and I inevitably rattle off comparisons — ah, that’s Echo and the Bunnymen fronted by Ben Gibbard. Oh, look, a guitarist who idolizes the Edge. And those 8-bit blips and bleeps are so post-Kraftwerk, pre-Nick Rhodes.
The new isn’t really new, now that I’m knocking on the door of 40. But here’s the thing about the past — it can be every bit as unexplored territory as the new. And even the familiar sounds different at 38 than 18, let alone 28.
So bring on the reissues and the catalog. I’m a grown-up now.
Annie Lennox, Diva
When this album was released in 1992, I didn’t understand why everyone lost their shit over it. I bought it, listened to it and ultimately sold it for cash a number of years later. To me, it felt icy. Annie Lennox’s voice has often been described as cold, but despite the emotionally rich content of her lyrics, the music was stiff and mechanical, a slave to too many canned drum beats and synth pads. Sure, a couplet such as "Dying is easy, it’s living that scares me to death" is poignant and all, but when the most human song on the album is a cabaret number tacked on the end, something is amiss.
Or I could just be full of myself.
That was the opinion I had back in the 1990s. After rediscovering Savage, I thought I’d give this still-obviously lauded album another shot. Was it really as bad as I thought it was? Actually, no. The music is still pretty stiff, but Lennox actually does overcome its faults. A more human touch, like the one of Songs of Mass Destruction, would have really pulled me further into it, but it is what it is. "Keep Young and Beautiful" remains the most decent track on the album.
Erasure, The Innocents
It’s taken me 22 years to part cash for this album. I dubbed a copy of it from my friend back in high school and never got around to owning it myself. Then I downloaded it from eMusic a few months back, which finally convinced me, yes, it’s time to give Erasure some payment for this music. Of course, I hadn’t listened to the album since the early ’90s, when the cassette player gave way to a compact disc player, and the dub copy got buried under junk. (Or it could have been stolen in a burglary. I’m not sure.)
The Innocents, of course, is the Erasure album to own if you must get an Erasure album. Back then, Erasure was the band you turned to if you wanted something significantly lighter than Depeche Mode and less arty than Duran Duran. The songwriting on this album is spot-on, and the arrangements transcend the technology on which they were played. I like this album but not enough to drop cash on the deluxe edition with extra tracks and a DVD.
Exposé was all over the radio, ca. 1986. Part of me felt tempted to buy this album at the time, but all that exposure (ha ha) made the point moot.
I’m not sure why I found myself craving to listen to "Seasons Change" and "Point of No Return" many months back, but I found the album on Lala and discovered it wasn’t all that bad. (I would eventually download it from eMusic when the BMG catalog became available.)
The four singles — "Seasons Change", "Point of No Return", "Let Me Be the One" and "Come Go with Me" — are the linchpins of the album, but the remaining tracks aren’t totally throw-away filler. "Extra Extra" and "Exposed to Love" have some pretty nifty arrangements, and there’s something charmingly Banaramarama about the trio’s vocals.
If anything, this album reminds me of the old Bubblegum Crisis soundtracks. (Whoowee, am I dating myself.) Certainly an album for a good dose of nostalgia.
Hiroshima, Another Place
Hiroshima’s primary strength is the instrumental, but it didn’t stop the band from giving vocals a good college try. Let’s just say the band’s lyric writers would never give Simon Le Bon a sleepless night. Thing is, Hiroshima could never really attract very good vocal talent, and the singer spot in the band was pretty much equivalent to the drummer in Spinal Tap.
Another Place is probably the one album where Hiroshima really tried to push the vocal territory. Side B of the album prominently featured Barbara Long, a raspy singer channeling Yvonne Elliman. The results were … all right.
Long would provide a smattering of vocals on Go before making way for Maragaret Sasaki-Taylor on East. Sasaki-Taylor didn’t have Long’s projection, but she had a clearer tone — if only she was mixed a bit more forward in the music. Music-wise, East found Hiroshima playing harder than they ever have and would ever again. There’s a real rock attitude in "Living in America" and on the title track.
For me, "Is It a Crime?" is the only reason to own this album. Sade may have produced a number of hit singles back in the ’80s, but this song from that era is the band’s master achievement. "The Sweetest Taboo" is really good, "Never as Good as the First Time", not bad either. Of course, "Jezebel" is a showstopper in concert. But the ruthless self-editing of the band’s later work is barely a consideration on this second album. Too many tracks quote the bass solo of "Smooth Operator", and the filler comes across as the filler they are. The porn sax was never a good idea. The Best of Sade is really the best way to filter out the chuff.
The Dukes of the Stratosphear, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball
Yes, I know Andy Partridge has reissued the Dukes of the Stratosphear EP and album on his own label, but I’m not so much of an XTC fan to drop cash on such luxuries. I’ll take the convenience of a single release over the sprawling packaging of a deluxe set. (And they really are deluxe.)
I first listened to Psonic Psunspot back in high school, ca. 1989. The album so faithfully recreated a psychedelic album that when I played it with my sister in the car, she complained about how dated it sounded. I was drawn to the album in spite of myself, and discovering Skylarking a few weeks later would cement my appreciation for the album.
Of course, I didn’t actually own them — I borrowed them from the library. (Who knew the library could be such arbiters of taste?) I had wanted to own them eventually, but XTC and the Dukes of the Stratosphear would get crowded out by other discoveries of the time — namely John Zorn and Kronos Quartet.
Today, the Dukes of the Stratosphear sound exceptional, a sonic wonder captured at a creative high for the band. But the distance of time dulls just how extraordinary the album was when it was released. It was so unfashionable, so painstakingly earnest in its dated sound, it couldn’t help but be charming. "Vanishing Girl" could have been a straight-forward post-punk song, but the heavy reverb and trippy harmonies make it that much more special.
The Smiths, The Sound of the Smiths
The conclusion of "Panic" finally made me realize the appeal of the Smiths and Morrissey. (Aside from the album cover of Your Arsenal. Something about that open shirt just does something for me.) As the song fades, Morrissey and a gleeful chorus cheerily sing a bouncy melody with the words, "Hang the DJ, hang the DJ". A less skilled artist would have taken that incitement to violence more literally, but Morrissey and company make it sound like a pleasant activity to while away the afternoon.
Musically, the Smiths are actually rather cheerful. Picture a Smiths karaoke disc, and you’d hear some spritely music. "The Boy with a Thorn in His Side", "Shakespeare’s Sister", "Ask" — they sound very happy. And then Morrissey comes along and sings stuff about dying in bus crashes and being so miserable, even Heaven knows about it.
But that odd marriage somehow worked, producing tuneful moments in spite of Morrissey’s wordy warbling. And such combination wasn’t tense, because from time to time, Morrissey would crack a joke. I get it now. Good on you, Smiths.
The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
Wow, is this album British. For some reason, I remember the Stone Roses getting associated with the Happy Mondays and the drug culture that surrounded the Manchester dance club scene at the time. The first few listens of this album made me think I really ought to seek out some mind-altering substances, if only to get past the 8- and 9-minute songs that conclude the self-titled debut.
This album got glowing reviews when it was first released, and it’s only risen in stature since then. Honestly, I’m not sure I see it. On first listen, I totally didn’t see it. It did grown on me after a few spins, but the very British-ness of this album is so far ingrained, no multiple viewings of Howards End (or more appropriately, Trainspotting) can bridge the understanding.
That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve its accolades. And no, I have not yet listened to it on any sort of mind-altering substance.
The System, Don’t Disturb This Groove
I like the title track of this album enough to have covered it. The rest of the album is pretty passable ’80s R&B pop, less Jam and Lewis, more Johnny Hates Jazz and Double. (Double? "Captain of Her Heart"? Yeah, I’m dating myself now.)
But like Johnny Hates Jazz’s eponymous album, Don’t Disturb This Groove is anchored by one really great single that makes the other tracks really pale by comparison.
U2, The Unforgettable Fire (Remastered)
The Unforgettable Fire is a fan favorite, and two of the band’s most enduring tracks — "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Bad" — anchor the album. In context of their entire career, it’s definitely not the worst but certainly not the best. Despite the title, The Unforgettable Fire actually is kind of forgettable. Too many of the tracks sound like the B-sides of The Joshua Tree without the experimentation.
The title track and "(A Sort of) Homecoming)" are up there with "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Bad", but "Elvis Presley and Amerca" and "Indian Summer Sky" sound as miscellaneous as, well, most of War.
It’s very much a transitional album.