The continued rise of reissues is one of our favorite trends. This year, nary a nook in the musical universe was untouched. We were blessed with updates of classic albums from the Rolling Stones and Galaxie 500, the Cure and Bowie, Wire and the Fall. We got ragas from Charanjit Singh and influential pop-punk from Cap N’ Jazz. We got a remastered Raw Power. And we got unearthed gems from Bob Desper and Linda Bruner and Black Tambourine. Which is just to say that it was hard to pick our favorites from among the glut on offer. But here are a few reissues that we think stood out this year.
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew [Sony; originally released in 1970]
Jazz fusion’s an ugly word in some circles but there’s no denying the influence or impact of this album, which solidified Miles’ reputation as one of jazz’s great innovators. Along with some of the best backing men of all-time–John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin, among others–Miles split the cool vibe of classic jazz in multiple directions, going rhythmic, electric and above all, decadent. The title track and “Pharoah’s Dance” push the limits of jazz form, showcasing a maestro at the turn of an era.
Fela Kuti: Shakara/London Scene [Knitting Factory; originally released in 1971 and 1972]
What can’t Broadway cure? Relevant again thanks to a recently acclaimed musical that bears his name, the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti saw the bulk of his lengthy discography reissued in 2010. It’s hard to go wrong with any of these albums, but the two-for-one split of London Scene and Shakara is a particularly fine moment: backed by an all-star cast of musicians like Cream’s Ginger Baker and legendary drummer Tony Allen, Fela spits righteous over seven songs and 70 minutes of blistering rhythms. “Egbe Mi O,” which translates to “Carry me, I want to die,” crackles with particular vigor as Fela’s voice cuts through a swarm of horns for the most convincing proselytizing you can’t understand. It’s no wonder that generations of American musicians have spent their time trying to rip off his best grooves.
T.Rex: The Slider [Fat Possum; originally released in 1972]
For years, 1971’s Electric Warrior was the main totem held up from Marc Bolan’s career — those singles, that cover, that groove! — but with the re-release of The Slider, music fans could finally figure out why EW’s liner notes read, “Get the next one — it’s better.” And it was no wonder. The Slider’s heavier riffs and return to hippie aesthetic makes for a more joyous, righteous record: the carefree cry that opens up “Metal Guru,” the free association of “Telegram Sam,” the poignant slink of the title track. Bolan would hit higher highs, but never as consistently as he did on The Slider.
Iggy and The Stooges: Raw Power [Columbia; originally released February 1973]
In 1997, Iggy Pop famously remixed Raw Power, the Stooges’ classic third album, by making it as loud as possible — if you look at the waveform, it’s enough to make any audiophile cry. David Bowie’s original mix was restored for this reissue, and while the treble-heavy sonics don’t jump out as much (and really, how could they?) it’s interesting to hear how people were listening to the album for over 20 years. “Search and Destroy” doesn’t sound like a brick wall anymore, but it still trembles with potency while managing to be more radio-friendly. The second disc has an insane live set that comes off as rambling and destructive as it must’ve been to watch.
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise [Columbia; originally recorded in 1977-78]
Is there anything more American than the Boss? With loads of songs about broken towns and dead-end jobs, The Promise was an especially timely sound in the still-shitty economic wasteland of 2010. Collecting unreleased songs and alternate takes from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, The Promise shows off a more rocking version of “Racing in the Street” (the haunting coda to Darkness, reworked here for more traditional oomph), the original cuts of songs like “Because the Night” (which Springsteen would give to Patti Smith when he decided not to release it himself) and “Fire” (which went to the Pointer Sisters) and other odds and ends that never made it out of the studio when the Boss was recording that anticipated follow up to Born to Run. It’s not impossible to think why — most of the songs don’t seem to fit in on Darkness — but listening to them collected here serves as a reminder of the time when Springsteen was seen as a lyrical heir to Bob Dylan and how even on his off days, he could forget more good songs than most bands would ever write.
Weezer: Pinkerton [DGC; originally released in 1996]
If you were one of the thousands of seemingly troubled teens who held up Pinkerton, originally released in 1996, as their emotional Bible, it’s a little jarring to hear how desperate and pathetic Rivers Cuomo sounds on this reissue. More than a collection of epic love songs, it’s a document of a seriously traumatized mind — seriously, imagine any of your twentysomething friends telling you that they’ve entered a pen-pal dalliance with a Japanese tween — spitting out all of his ugliest associations and ruminations. Why can’t lesbians fall for straight guys? Why can’t the sad boy always get the girl? Why even go out and do anything? Get over yourself, right? And still: When it comes together like the catharsis on screamed anthems like “El Scorcho” and the tenderness of “Butterfly,” Cuomo comes off more like a tortured pop genius (think Brian Wilson) than an abject weirdo (think Brian Peppers). Just, um, try to forget about the time you thought it was a good idea to put “Tired of Sex” on a mix CD for your crush.
Prefix’s Best Of 2010:
Best Albums / Reader’s Best Albums / Staff Best Albums / Best Guest Appearances / Albums From 2009 We’re Still Listening To / Top 10 Mixtapes & Free Rap Albums / Best Reissues / Rap Verses / Worst Album Covers / Best Album Covers