Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last Minute Music Gift Guide: U2, Nirvana, R.E.M.

Achtung Baby is one of the crowning achievements in the U2 catalog and equal in stature to The Joshua Tree.

An experimental effort at the time, co-produced by Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite, it spawned five top 10 modern rock singles in America and blew the Irish band's worldwide popularity to gargantuan proportions.

For the 20th anniversary this year, Island/Interscope/UMe pulled out all the stops to provide the full-on reissue treatment.
There are five versions: 
1. The remastered original album
2. A double disc deluxe edition with the original album plus B-sides and rarities.
3. Super deluxe edition with six CDs, four DVDs, a 92-page hardback book and 16 art prints in a wallet.
4. Limited release vinyl box set of four LPs (two pressed on translucent blue vinyl have remixes and B-sides) and a 16-page booklet. 
5. Limited, numbered uber deluxe edition - a magnetic puzzle tiled box of six CDs, including the original album, follow-up album, Zooropa, B-sides, remixes and re-workings of previously unheard material recorded during the Achtung Baby sessions. Four DVDs, including 'From The Sky Down', 'Zoo TV:Live From Sydney', all the videos from Achtung Baby and bonus material,  the Achtung Baby double vinyl album plus five clear 7" vinyl singles in their original sleeves, 16 art prints taken from the original album sleeve, an 84-page hardback book, a copy of Propaganda fan club magazine, four badges, a sticker sheet, and a pair of Bono’s trademark 'The Fly' sunglasses.

The 'Kindergarten' disc of demos/early versions of Achtung Baby tracks on the uber set will be a revelation for diehard enthusiasts. Hearing alternate arrangements and lyrics is a real eye opener.

"Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World," for example, is basically acoustic - the way Bono and The Edge would perform it on later concert tours. An eight-minute long "Love is Blindness" is even more haunting than the version we all know.

Longtime fans will already own many of the extended remixes, but those who don't will find a U2 well-suited for the dance floor. Among the B-side covers are the band's intriguing takes on the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" and Cole Porter's "Night and Day (remix)" - all available on the 2CD version.

The deluxe edition comes in a cardboard Digipak, which folds over, book-style, with two photos and the multiple image panels from the front/back covers. The track listing folds on the inside and there is no title on the CD spine, but those are minor quibbles. Full lyrics and credits are reproduced from the original booklet. All of the rare photos are saved for the expensive box sets.
1991 was obviously a great year for alt-rock music, as it also saw the release of Nirvana's groundbreaking Nevermind CD.

Reaching No. 1 in the U.S. and elsewhere, it eventually moved over 30 million copies and became a highly influential landmark, recording, thanks to such hits as "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Come as You Are" and "Lithium." 

For the commemoration of the two decade-old classic, Geffen/UMe put out several versions of Nevermind. First is the original standalone album and a 2CD deluxe edition, featuring the remastered album and B-sides, the Smart Studio session demos (recorded with producer Butch Vig and making their full official release), "boombox" rehearsals and BBC sessions. 

The "boombox" songs are rough and lo-fi. Along with other early sessions, they provide a glimpse of how the arrangements progressed or stayed the same. A pair of BBC recordings are just as exciting as Nevermind.

As for the packaging of the deluxe, the booklet has extra photos, credits and no lyrics (like the original). The studio tape box images are reproduced under the CD trays, which is a nice touch. The overall sound is just as dynamic and hard-hitting as it was back then.   

Next up is a four LP, 180-gram heavyweight vinyl edition, featuring the same 40 tracks as the deluxe edition, a remastered CD of the original album, and digital versions of the standard and deluxe editions.

Then there's the limited, numbered super deluxe edition: only 10,000 copies were available in North America; 30,000 for the rest of the world. Featuring the original remastered album, previously mentioned studio and live B-sides, etc., the big selling point here is the exclusive Devonshire mixes - the album produced/mixed by Vig, as opposed to the commercially released final version produced by Vig and mixed by Andy Wallace.

Elsewhere on the super deluxe set is an exclusive 1991 Halloween concert at Seattle's Paramount Theatre in its entirety, available for the first time on DVD (which also features all four music videos from the album), a 90-page bound book full of rare photos, documents and other visual artifacts of the era.

The Paramount concert was transferred from 16mm film and multi-track audio and is the only known Nirvana concert shot to film. It has a 1080p high-definition picture in uncompressed 5.1 surround sound and stereo. 

R.E.M.'s expanded 25th anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant was one of the year's best reissues. It features the remastered original album, plus 19 previously unreleased demo recordings cut prior to the album’s studio sessions. 

The commemorative release also adds new liner notes by music journalist/author Parke Puterbaugh, with the 2CD package presented in a lift-top box with a poster and four postcards. The remastered album was also reissued by Mobile Fidelity on 180-gram vinyl in faithfully replicated LP packaging.

R.E.M.’s fourth studio album, Lifes Rich Pageant was recorded by vocalist Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry at John Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Indiana. 

Produced by Don Gehman (John Mellencamp), Pageant includes the singles “Fall On Me” and “Superman.” The album was R.E.M.’s first to achieve gold certification and reached the band’s then-highest chart position of No. 21. 

“The Athens Demos” includes drafts of Pageant’s 12 songs, plus additional demos of songs that were later recorded for other releases. Today, the songs sound crisp and clean on this new version and the demos are also top notch.  

After announcing it was splitting up, R.E.M. also issued the comprehensive Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982 - 2011, on Warner Bros.

The 40-track album assembles material from R.E.M.'s entire back catalog, including both the I.R.S. (1982-87) and Warner Bros. (1988-2011) labels.

Liner notes were written by band members. Three new songs were finished by R.E.M. after they completed final album Collapse Into Now: "A Month of Saturdays," "We All Go Back To Where We Belong," and "Hallelujah." 

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