Timely reissues, great lost albums, revelatory boxsets and more
Spiritual Eternal: The Complete Warner Bros Studio Recordings
The three mid-’70s albums included here marked Coltrane’s transition from the cosmic jazz of her best-known work to the more devotional vibes of her ashram music as collected on last year’s World Spirituality Classics. 1975’s Eternity found her experimenting with dramatic orchestral arrangements as on a tribute to Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring, while 1977’s Transcendence more than justifies its title.
Big Star may have been criminally underappreciated in the band’s lifetime, but they were household names compared to fellow Memphis power-poppers Zuider Zee, who only issued one album before fading into obscurity. This comp of surprisingly assured unreleased tracks from 1972-74 should help restore their reputation. A must for connoisseurs of Nilsson, Rundgren et al.
DAVID SYLVIAN & HOLGER CZUKAY
Plight & Premonition/Flux & Mutability
2018 was a good year for David Sylvian. His 1999 solo album, Dead Bees On A Cake, finally made its vinyl debut, while there were also half-speed vinyl remasters for Japan’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum. Key, though, were these reissues of his two collaborative albums with Can’s Holger Czukay, from 1988 and ’89, that made use of found sounds to generate austere but beautiful ambient soundscapes.
Songs Of Rapture And Redemption
This vinyl rarities set collected live recordings and demos, but in many ways displayed Sill’s rare talent in greater relief than her more polished studio albums. The 19 tracks here certainly supported JD Souther’s claim that Sill’s songwriting was “school for all of us”; “The Donor” appeared immaculately stripped down, while a demo of the melodically complex “The Kiss” was even more affecting for its slight imperfections.
Ryuichi Sakamoto may be the most famous graduate of Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, but this year’s reissues of five albums recorded between 1973 and 1989 revealed, his former bandmate Hosono as an equally notable figure. From the arch country-bossa of 1973’s Hosono House to the warped synth-pop of 1982’s Philharmony, they combine fearless musical cross-pollination and experimentation with an endearingly screwy charm.
The Words In Between
As a huge-faced fingerstyle guitarist on Whistle Test, his flares flapping in time, Bristolian Dave Evans is alleged to have impressed his fellow guest, Lou Reed. Far-fetched as that may be, his first album for Ian A Anderson’s The Village Thing records was a heavily played, narrowly circulated work. An album of understated carpet-level observation from Evans’s Clifton milieu, its mode and scenarios feel familiar; but all the while fresh, timeless and lacking in guile.
Treasure Hiding: The Fontana Years
The notion that the Cocteau Twins were somehow diminished by leaving 4AD for a major label was proved to be bunkum by this four-disc survey of their post-1990 output. Liz Frazer’s largely comprehensible lyrics marked a new level of emotional candour and the serenity of the music feels particularly hard-won given the tensions between her and Robin Guthrie at the time. Utterly bewitching, still.
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS
Super Furry Animals At The BBC
From a boisterous version of “God! Show Me Magic” dedicated to Bunf’s dead pet hamster to a tenderly magnificent “Fragile Happiness” recorded live in John Peel’s living room, this was a life-affirming caper through the band’s early catalogue that made you yearn for new Super Furry action. Oh yes, and the vinyl came embedded with yeti hair.
PET SHOP BOYS
With Neil Tennant’s lyrics finally afforded the status of high art thanks to a new lyric book from Faber, the Pet Shop Boys’ deluxe reissue programme concluded with the re-release of Very, Bilingual, and probably their finest hour, 1990’s Behaviour. Its high standard was maintained across a disc of “Further Listening”, including classy B-side “Miserablism” and the ambient mix of “Music For Boys”.
Forever Changes 50th Anniversary Edition
An album concerned with impending death, Love’s third LP has proved surprisingly enduring. This deluxe reissue admittedly offered little new – a backing track and an outtake of another were the only previously unheard cuts – but it handily collected everything, alternate mixes and the like, into one package. The original album, crisply remastered by Bruce Botnick and included on vinyl and CD, is still a spooked masterpiece, of course: “We meet again… you look so lovely,” as Arthur Lee sings on “You Set The Scene”.
Loving The Alien (1983 – 1988)
Bowie’s 2018 captured highlights from across three decades. April gave us Welcome To The Blackout from 1978’s storied Isolar II tour; in November, his legendary set from Glastonbury in 2000 was finally released after years in limbo. But this ‘80s box set – covering Bowie’s “difficult” superstar years – offered many joys. Not least, a “new” version of Never Let Me Down that repositioned the album as, if not exactly a lost classic, then certainly worthy of reassessment.
THE BETA BAND
The Three EPs
Astonishingly, it’s been 20 years since The Beta Band shuffled diffidently into our lives, maracas in hand. While the band’s three subsequent albums – which were also reissued this year – had their highlights, a penchant for self-sabotage meant the Betas never quite topped the renegade folk-hop of their first three EPs, collected here on vinyl for the first time.
Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present: Paris In The Spring
Following last year’s terrific English Weather, the Saint Etienne chaps crossed the channel for this typically edifying survey of French pop of the post-’68 era. Gainsbourg’s presence looms large over these sultry orchestral bagatelles, but there’s also room for the excellent jazzy prog of Triangle and Cortex.
For an artist who prides himself on looking forward, Eno spent a lot of time revisiting his catalogue in 2018. In May, he assembled many of his splendid exhibition pieces in the Music For Installations set while, in October, he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his generative music app Bloom. But the biggest noise, so to speak, circled round the latest half-speed vinyl remasters of Music For Films, On Land and Music For Airports, topped off by the ne plus ultra of ambient music – 1975’s hushed masterpiece, Discreet Music.
A Man I’d Rather Be Part 1
Most of Jansch’s excellent work has been reissued over the last few years, but the neophyte would be hard-pressed to go wrong with this boxset compiling his first four albums. Here was the timeless debut, including “Needle Of Death” and “Anji”, the more expansive It Don’t Bother Me, and the stellar Jack Orion and Bert and John – which, respectively, practically invented folk-rock and the courtly guitar duo – all packaged with new liner notes and unseen photos.
With the band still on “indefinite hiatus”, Stereolab’s unique combination of French-accented indie-pop, Farfisa drones and verbose Marxism feels more precious than ever. It is a view reinforced by the first batch of reissues this year – Switched On, Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2) and Aluminum Tunes (Switched On Volume 3) – odds-and-sods comps that fans have long regarded as worthy rivals to regular albums. Conveniently, these are also now being reissued, with Peng! and The Groop Played ‘Space Age Batchelor Pad Music’ the first to drop.
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
50 years on, the last album by the original Kinks remains their best. Now in a deluxe set with double LP and “Continental” vinyl editions, CDs of demos and three 7” singles, Ray Davies’s hymn to more innocent times retains its enormous charm and power. An unpsychedelic companion piece to Sgt Pepper, Village Green doesn’t transform Edwardiania so much as embrace it for what it is, wittily, and rockingly extracting timeless life lessons from a world not so much unlike our own.
The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters
Gentry only ever recorded from 1967 to 1971, but the best of her music – “Ode To Billie Joe”, especially – still casts a powerful spell. This box contained everything, from the sublime Southern Gothic of her debut and the easy-listening lows of Local Gentry to the majestic swansong, Patchwork, plus some fascinating intimate demos, live tracks and previously unheard originals. A criminally underrated songwriter, now given her dues.
Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154
While the current incarnation of Wire continue to administer regular short, sharp jolts of angular art-rock, the three peerless albums they recorded at the tail-end of the ’70s will take some beating. These fulsome reissues collected all available demos and alternate versions, with sleevenotes that dug forensically into every track’s origins.
Girly-Sound To Guyville: The 25th Anniversary Box Set
Phair’s 1993 debut Exile In Guyville introduced her as one of the most important voices in alt.rock, offering witty, worldly commentary on life, sex and indie-scene hypocrisy. This anniversary reissue came accompanied by three discs of “Girly-Sound” tapes – early demos made largely for friends – that served to highlight the poignancy of tracks like “Fuck And Run”.
More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol 14
Running to 87 tracks, this latest instalment in Dylan’s ongoing archival sweep brought us the motherlode of Blood On The Tracks recordings. Hearing the astonishing leaps covered during, say, nine different versions of “Idiot Wind” – or the brilliance of “Up To Me”, inexplicably dropped from the original album – captures Dylan’s restlessly creative mind at full tilt. Revelations? Of course! Here’s Mick Jagger, stopping by with some advice on slide guitar…
I Am Kurious Oranj
Curious back in 1988 – a ballet score? Tell that to The Wedding Present – this strange record, originally conceived as a collaboration for the Edinburgh Festival with Scottish choreographer Michael Clark, possibly plays more coherently now. While dominated by big hitters (“New Big Prinz” “Jerusalem”), the album’s uneven mixture of humorous non-sequitur, sound art and stout indie-rock has come to feel like a microcosm of the band’s entire career. Mark E Smith, throughout, supplies cut-up vituperation.
An American Treasure
Released a year after Tom Petty’s unexpected death in October, 2017, An American Treasure proved to be the perfect epitaph for this beloved musician. Stretching to 63 tracks, this set dug into Petty’s capacious archive, truffling out rarities, outtakes, live and alternate versions showcasing the depth and enduring quality of Petty’s songwriting from 1976’s unreleased “Surrender” to an unheard cut of the poignant “Sins Of My Youth” from the Heartbreakers’ final studio album, Hypnotic Eye.
A host of remastered vinyl reissues from the early years – Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, Grand Prix, Songs From Northern Britain and Howdy! – this set reminded us of the remarkable writing skills of Blake, McGinley and Love (plus sundry drummers). Bandwagonesque, inevitably, stood out as the band’s early masterpiece while the departure of bassist Love in November underscored the gentle greatness of the album’s tracks, including his compositions “December”,“Star Sign” and “Guiding Star”.
In 1968 “heavy” was the word, and for The Beatles, heavy was the atmosphere. Fifty years on, the band’s return to something like rock’n’roll basics after the symphonic conceptions of Pepper – yes, we know you can’t call “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” or “Revolution 9” completely basic – still plays as a glacial, vernacular masterpiece. Now supplemented by additional working demos, we hear how far each Beatle could get on their own – Paul’s exuberant “USSR”; George’s “Not Guilty”; John’s “Julia”, bashfully delivered to George Martin – and how much further when they worked together.
It goes without saying that Roxy Music’s debut still sounds as thrillingly impudent as it did in 1972. Here, for the first time, we got to see how the trick was done: behold fascinating, strung-out early versions of the likes of “2HB” and “Chance Meeting” that reveal Roxy’s prog roots, along with a batch of BBC performances that crackle with mischievous energy.
Driven by acute perfectionism, Lawrence’s reissues essentially rewrote Felt’s history. For Ignite The Seven Cannons, he pared back Robin Guthrie’s production. For what was Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death, he had a whole new title: The Seventeenth Century. Retained throughout, however, were Lawrence’s tuneful and engrossing mysteries.
Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live 1973
A typically busy year for Neil, with his Paradox soundtrack, Promise Of The Real and solo shows and a brief run with Crazy Horse. After last year’s Hitchhiker, Young dug back into the Archive for this gem. Culled from recordings made by Young and the Santa Monica Flyers at LA’s Roxy Theatre during September, 1973, this is strong account of a dark time in Young’s career – witness the dishevelled “Roll Another Number”, or the scarily spaced out “Tired Eyes”.
Piano & A Microphone 1983
One night in March 1983, Prince entered his home studio and sat down at his Yamaha piano. As the tape rolled, he laid down an uninterrupted 35-minute medley of formative ideas and future classics. Plucked intact from the Prince vault, it made for one of the most startling archive releases of recent times – and this is just the beginning…
Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
This year marked the 50th anniversary of a slew of foundational rock texts, each honoured by the obligatory deluxe reissue, buffed up using the latest modish techniques. Among the stacks of bonus material, there were moments of revelation – a pivotal early take here, a telling snatch of studio banter there – but sometimes also the sound of a barrel being scraped.
All of which made the appearance of a complete lost album by John Coltrane, recorded just 18 months before A Love Supreme, that much more staggering. In the sleevenotes, Sonny Rollins likened it to “finding a new room in the Great Pyramid”. Recorded in a single day in March 1963 at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio with Coltrane’s Classic Quartet lineup of McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Both Directions At Once includes unusual renderings of familiar tunes – airy, piano-free takes of “Nature Boy” and “Impressions” – and previously unheard, untitled numbers that find Coltrane favouring the soprano sax rather than his signature tenor.
The story of its discovery adds an element of romance. With the master tapes of the sessions long destroyed, a mono audition reel was discovered by the family of Coltrane’s then-wife Naima. Yet surely there was a catch? If Coltrane deemed this material insufficiently exciting to release at the time, are we overstating its importance now? Both Directions At Once is clearly not a revolutionary work, but 55 years hence, that feels less important than the fact it contains some beautiful music, played with an effortless accord that verges on the mystical.
The work of Coltrane’s son Ravi (and others) in editing and sequencing the album also shouldn’t be underestimated. Disc Two of the deluxe edition provided intriguing alternate takes but Disc One instantly felt definitive. For a long time, it has seemed that the possibility of jazz as a musical expression of social and spiritual concerns was a notion that belonged to the past. Yet a new generation of musicians led by Kamasi Washington and Shabaka Hutchings have breathed new life into the genre. It’s only fitting that a “new” John Coltrane album should be part of this renaissance.
The March 2019 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with New Order on the cover. Inside, you’ll find Pete Shelley (RIP), our massive 2019 albums preview, Sharon Van Etten, Mark Knopfler, Paul Simonon, John Martyn, Steve Gunn and much more. Our 15-track CD also showcases the best of the month’s new music, including Bruce Springsteen, William Tyler and the Dream Syndicate.
Uncut: the past, present and future of great music.