Sunday, December 17, 2017

Last Minute Music Gift Guide 2017: Box sets and reissues

For music fans, seeing their favorite artists release box sets and elaborate reissue packages of nostalgic albums is big deal. If you have a music aficionado on your Christmas shopping list, here is a holiday gift guide:

The Joshua Tree

The lowdown: For U2, much of this year has been a time of reflection, as the band embarked on a world tour to mark the 30th Anniversary of its most acclaimed and successful studio album, 1987’s The Joshua Tree, and played the songs in their original running order.

What’s inside: An embossed gold-leaf Joshua tree adorns the outside case of this astounding super deluxe collector’s edition box set. There are seven LPs on 180-gram vinyl, including: The Joshua Tree 2007 reissue version double gatefold LP with Bill Flanagan’s ’07 essay, lyrics and credits in the booklet; Live from Madison Square Garden 1987 double gatefold LP with various live shots on each LP sleeve; The Joshua Tree 2017 Remixes, Outtakes and B-Sides (“Spanish Eyes,” the original “Sweetest Thing,” “Silver and Gold,” an eerie new Jacknife Lee remix of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and an ethereal new Daniel Lanois remix of “With or Without You” are among the standouts). The latter’s sleeve artwork shows Bono’s handwritten lyrics and the Windmill Lane Studios tape boxes and the outer cover is embossed with another Joshua tree image.

An 84-page hardback book comprises guitarist The Edge’s personal never-before-seen 1986 images of the band milling about the Mojave Desert while doing the album cover shoot with Anton Corbijn. Edge admits “there wasn’t exactly a ban on smiling, but Anton encouraged a kind of studied asceticism.” A folio of eight rare 12′ Anton Corbijn color prints are so vivid that fans might want to frame them.

Where to buy:, 

David Bowie
A New Career in a New Town (1977-1982)

The lowdown: The third in a series of box sets chronicling different periods of David Bowie’s career, A New Career in a New Town comprises often-experimental music from the acclaimed so-called “Berlin Trilogy” efforts Low, Heroes and Lodger (helmed by Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti,) Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), the Stage double live album and rarities disc.

What’s inside: The square pull-out box holds the CDs, which are mini LP replicas with white sleeves, lyric sheets and reprints of old Bowie fan club order forms. Stage comes in two versions: the original and an expanded one, while Lodger is paired with Visconti’s new remix (the original mix was deemed “muddy” by some people), which had Bowie’s blessing before his death in 2016. The Heroes EP contains the German and French versions of “Heroes.” On the exclusive Recall:3 CD, there are single and extended versions, the full theatrical Bertolt Brecht’s Baal EP – from Bowie’s appearance in the BBC play; available for the first time on CD – the soundtrack version of “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and more. An amazing 128-page mini-hardbound book contains old news clips, rare photos, lyrics, 7” single sleeves, fascinating commentary by Visconti and other ephemera. All told, this is an excellent encapsulation of one of David Bowie’s more influential musical runs.

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Fleetwood Mac
Tango in the Night
(Rhino/Warner Bros.)

The lowdown: The last Fleetwood Mac album Lindsey Buckingham would be involved in before taking nearly a decade off to concentrate on solo work, Tango in the Night boasted layered harmonies, lush sonics, ample synthesizers, samplers and drum programming often characteristic of mid-1980s music. It was among the venerable English rock band’s most successful – and difficult – albums to complete. Still, it spawned six hit singles at pop, album rock or adult contemporary radio (“Big Love,” “Seven Wonders,” “Little Lies,” “Everywhere,” “Isn’t it Midnight,” “Family Man”).

What’s inside: This 30th Anniversary edition of Tango is available in three configurations: the single remastered original album, an expanded double disc set with rare and unreleased recordings and 12″ remixes and a super deluxe edition containing three CDs, a DVD with music videos and a high-resolution version of the album and a 180-gram LP. The super deluxe tucks the CDs into pockets, while the large vibrant color booklet includes an essay and band interviews by David Wild, album lyrics and credits.

Also noteworthy: Fleetwood Mac’s 1982 album Mirage, with the hit singles “Gypsy,” “Hold Me” and “Love in Store.” The 2CD deluxe version has extensive liner notes with a David Wild essay, outtakes and early session versions. Meanwhile, the deluxe editions of Stevie Nicks’ first two solo albums Bella Donna (“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Leather and Lace,” “Edge of Seventeen”) and The Wild Heart (“Stand Back,” “If Anyone Falls”) include bonus discs with alternate, unreleased and soundtrack cuts. Bella Donna also has audio from a 1981 concert. All are remastered.

Where to buy: 

Elvis Presley
A Boy from Tupelo
(RCA/Sony Legacy)

The lowdown: Before Elvis became a big star, he recorded for Sun Records and honed his craft alongside more seasoned musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black. This comprehensive 3CD, 85-track box set includes all Sun master recordings and outtakes, live and radio performances, the artist’s first self-financed acetate recording and an unreleased track from 1953-55. According to project coordinator and Elvis reissue chief Ernst Mikael Jorgensen, A Boy from Tupelo reportedly took 20 years to complete, with thousands of contributors. It’s quite a revelation to hear the young, unpolished (and yet-to-be controlled by Colonel Tom Parker) Elvis here working out songs like “Blue Moon,” “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” and “Harbor Lights” until he gets it right.

What’s inside: The three CDs are tucked into a cardboard holder, which folds out to display a nice montage of Elvis photos (with his parents, on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. The 119-page softcover book has a weekly timeline of exactly what Elvis was doing (or mostly likely doing) from 1953-55, rare photos, posters, concert ads and past interview anecdotes from people who were there. A Boy from Tupelo is a true labor of love.

Where to Buy: 

George Michael
Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1

The lowdown: The first archival release since the singer’s passing on Christmas Day 2016 revolves around Michael’s second solo album, which was released in 1990. Though not as successful in America as the rest of the world, it still went double platinum here and spawned hit singles in “Praying for Time,” “Freedom ‘90” and “Waiting for That Day.”

What’s inside: Housed in a hardback book, the sleekly-designed deluxe edition encases the three CDs (the original remastered album, MTV Unplugged 1996, Bonus remixes, B-sides and extended mixes) and a DVD (a revealing 1990 “Southbank Show” BBC documentary, video clips like the celebrated supermodel starring “Freedom ‘90”) in fold-out pockets. Highlights of the collection include George’s soulful live cover of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “If You Were My Woman” from the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, “Heal the Pain” – a breezy 2006 duet with Paul McCartney, “Happy,” off the Red Hot + Dance benefit album, and stripped down “Unplugged” versions of “Father Figure” and “Everything She Wants.” The book includes multiple photos, handwritten and printed lyrics and an extensive essay by veteran UK music scribe John Aizlewood. 

Also noteworthy: A 2CD package includes Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, MTV Unplugged and a new Nile Rodgers mix of "Fantasy." 

Where to buy: 

The Smiths
The Queen is Dead
(Rhino/Warner Music Group)

The lowdown: Among the defining albums of the 1980s, The Queen is Dead found The Smiths at the top of their game. It included several songs that became staples at college and Modern Rock radio (“There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again”) and later solo tours by Morrissey.

What’s inside: Each disc in the deluxe 3CD/1 DVD box set has a different cardboard casing cover and gatefold photo. In addition to the original album remastered, there is a solid round of demos (which ended up being similar to the final takes, though some laughter is heard on “Never Had No One Ever” and there is studio chatter after “Bigmouth”), B-sides (the longtime Morrissey concert fave “Rubber Ring”) and B-sides, plus a 1986 Boston concert where the group sounds sharp, a 2017 master of the album in 24-bit PCM stereo and three abstract music videos by Derek Jarman.

Where to buy:, 

Midnight Oil
The Overflow Tank
(Sony Legacy)

The lowdown: Earlier this year, when The Oils embarked on a world reunion tour after a couple of decades away, the politically-minded Aussie rockers also put out two mammoth career-spanning box sets. One was The Full Tank: The Complete Album Collection. This companion set primarily focuses on the band’s reputation as an incendiary live act. If anyone doubted how powerful these guys were – and still are – more than 14 hours of audio and video on The Overflow Tank definitely proves it.

What’s inside: The 4 CD/8 DVD set is housed in the center of a tin replica oil can. The earliest live audio footage dates back to 1978 and the video, to 1981. There are entire concerts, riveting documentaries (The making of the 10…1 album, Blackfella/Whitefella – about Australia’s Aboriginal people), an MTV Unplugged, CDs of B-sides, rarities and unreleased demos. The accompanying booklet includes an essay, photos and credits.

Where to buy: 

Bon Jovi
The Albums
(Island/Universal Music Enterprises)

What’s inside: Designed like a tour road case, this limited edition, 17-album collection on 180-gram vinyl is for the hardcore Bon Jovi enthusiast. It includes every studio album the New Jersey rock band has released since its self-titled 1984 debut, a personally curated record of rarities, plus singer Jon Bon Jovi’s solo albums and the soundtrack he did for the 1990 western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory. Half of the titles have never been released on vinyl before and a pair were never issued on vinyl in America. Last year’s This House is Not for Sale is a 120-gram pressing, while 1988’s New Jersey is split into a double album for the best quality.

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Goo Goo Dolls
Pickpockets, Petty Thieves and Tiny Victories: 1987-1995
(Warner Bros.)

The lowdown: After eight years together, Goo Goo Dolls garnered an alt-rock radio hit in 1993 with “We Are the Normal.” Two years later, the Buffalo, N.Y. trio made an even bigger impact when “Name,” off A Boy Named Goo, went top 5 at various formats. 

What’s inside: Originally released as a Record Store Day exclusive last April, this box set collects the band’s first five LPs, tracing their evolution from scrappy indie metalheads to assured pop/rock musicians. In addition to Goo, the self-titled first effort is available here on vinyl for the first time since 1987; Jed and Superstar Car Wash make their vinyl debuts; Hold Me Up is on vinyl for the first time in America. Each title comes with a full-sized sheet of liner notes, lyrics and color photos. 

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