Under the Radar’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide Part 9: Music Reissues and Box Sets
Including Releases from Prince, Cocteau Twins, The Divine Comedy, The Charlatans, and More
Dec 24, 2020
For the ninth installment of our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide we offer up a few music reissues and box sets (we are a music magazine and website after all). This guide is a little lighter than in previous years as some notable reissue labels didn’t have product to easily send out due to COVID-19 challenges. So there are many other titles you could also consider from Rhino, Sony Legacy, UMe, and others.
Also check out the other parts of our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide: Part 1 on video games, Part 2 on drinking, Part 3 on table top and board games, Part 4 on collectibles, Part 5 on toys, Part 6 on books and graphic novels, Part 7 on Blu-rays and DVDs (which was split into part one and part two), and Part 8 on apparel, technology, and household items. This is our final installment.
Prince: Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition) (Warner/Rhino)
Prince had quite a few masterworks in his time, but few tapped into the particular anxiety of the 1980s like 1987’s Sign o’ the Times. The double album topped The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll for best albums that year and its title track also topped their singles poll. It is routinely considered one of the greatest albums of the 1980s, but also shows up on a lot of best albums of all time lists. Since Prince’s untimely death in 2016 at 57 years old, his extensive vault of unreleased material has been kicked open and the new Super Deluxe Edition reissue of Sign o’ the Times mines that well. It includes eight CDs and one DVD. Discs one and two feature the remastered album for the first time ever. Disc three has all the single edits and mixes, remastered. Discs four, five, and six is where you find all the real good stuff, 45 previously unreleased tracks from Prince’s vault. And then discs seven and eight feature the previously unreleased Live in Utrecht album, recorded in June 1987. Finally, the DVD is a Live at Paisley Park performance recorded on New Year’s Eve 1987 and also previously unreleased. Any true Prince fan needs this box set. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
The Doors: Morrison Hotel (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Elektra/Rhino)
The Doors’ 1970 album gets the 50th anniversary treatment in this new box set. It was the band’s fifth album and found them returning to their blues-rock roots after the brass and string arrangements than peppered their previous album, The Soft Parade. The vinyl album was split into two sides that had separate titles, Hard Rock Cafe and Morrison Hotel. The former inspired the name of the popular music memorabilia-themed restaurant chain. This reissue includes the original album on both vinyl and CD, as well as a second CD of 19 previously unreleased alternate takes. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
The Charlatans: Between 10th and 11th (Expanded Edition) (Beggars Arkive)
The most meaningful reissues are those that offer a collective opportunity to reevaluate, not just celebrate. The Charlatans’ second album was well received by some outlets on its release in 1992, but those who remember the era will recall the British music press generally being down on it, and quick to shunt it aside once the band’s mid-’90s heyday commenced. The lingering impression was unfortunate, but it means that Between 10th and 11th can rightfully claim to be the real hidden gem in their catalog.
Looking back, the unfavorable critical estimations might have had more to do with the build-them-up-and-knock-them-down cycle that was so prevalent in the UK music press. Having come out surfing the Madchester wave with some bright early singles and a strong debut LP, perhaps the pop music calendar determined it was simply “their time” for a bit of backlash. The Charlatans weren’t the only ones being prematurely taken down a peg at that very moment. In the same September 1992 issue of Melody Maker that wondered “Whatever Happened to Shoegazing?” on its cover, a write up of the Charlatans’ performance at that summer’s Reading Festival was more concerned with singer Tim Burgess’ stage manners than the music.
This wasn’t the case in the U.S., where the album’s single, “Weirdo,” made it onto radio and MTV, and became the Charlatans’ best known song through the decade. Maybe it’s because it was named after Manhattan avenues, or maybe it’s because the songs and Flood’s production had a more transatlantic feel than debut Some Friendly, but the connection between Between 10th and 11th and America is reconfirmed by this expanded reissue. For one, there’s the photograph that stretches across the inside of the gatefold vinyl cover (where even the bananas are expanded), of late keyboardist Rob Collins playing to a huge crowd in Washington, D.C. in 1992. Even more significant is the concert recording they chose for the bonus LP, the old fan club Isolation 21.2.91 bootleg of their February 1991 show at the Metro in Chicago.
Burgess’ album listening parties on Twitter this year have by now included most Charlatans albums, and back in April it was Between 10th and 11th’s turn. Good insights were revealed, most interesting among them being that the band entered the studio with essentially only two songs fully written for it, “Weirdo” and “Can’t Even Be Bothered.” This makes sense in that those are both standout tracks, but what it really throws into relief is how much The Charlatans were improving as songwriters and musicians at the time. Some Friendly had groove and hooks, but with dynamic compositions like “Ignition,” “Subtitle,” and “Can’t Even Be Bothered,” the band were uncovering a greater depth. “I Don’t Want to See the Sights” and “Tremolo Song” are immediate but also don’t give up everything at once.
The album was also a step forward for Burgess, who was reaching for a more poetic voice (the lyrics are all helpfully printed on one of the inner sleeves here), specifically taking influence from E.E. Cummings with “(No One) Not Even the Rain.” Flood’s influence on the music may not have been universally lauded at the time, but his production is a significant part of what distinguishes this record in The Charlatans’ discography. Each song has its own presence, but the whole album moves in continuous flow, a quality which was surely enabled by the malleability of material which had not been set in stone before the tape began to roll. Most of all, it’s that crucial intangible, atmosphere, that colors Between 10th and 11th and places it both in and out of its era in a way unlike other Charlatans albums. By Ian King (Buy it here.)
Danny Elfman: Batman: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Mondo)
Few superhero scores have gotten as much mileage as Danny Elfman’s for 1989’s Batman. Not only was it featured in Tim Burton’s hit movie, one of the first to help launch the big screen superhero craze, in 1992 it also became the theme song to Batman: The Animated Series, which is considered one of the greatest cartoons of all time, and the music has also soundtracked various Batman video games. Elfman also did the score for Burton’s 1992 sequel Batman Returns, but wisely bowed out when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise. However, Elfman did the score for 2017’s Justice League and it was fun to hear him work in his iconic Batman theme while Ben Affleck was superhero-ing as The Dark Knight. As part of their soundtrack vinyl reissue series, Mondo has put out one for Batman (as well as Batman Returns). It’s on 180-gram vinyl and one half is colored black from Batman and the other colored purple for The Joker. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
John Williams: Jaws: Music From the Motion Picture (Mondo)
When you hear John Williams’ chilling Jaws theme you know exactly what you’re in for and it’s hard not to tense up, even though the music has been parodied and repurposed over the years. I saw Jaws accidentally when I was way too young. I was popped in front of a TV at some random relative’s house while the grownups caught up and spoke about adult things. I was probably six or seven. Suddenly, before my eyes, the film started. I watched a woman go skinny dipping at dusk, but then that music started and the next day her shark bitten remains washed up on shore. I wasn’t too keen about going out in the ocean after that. Mondo has reissued the score on two 180-gram LPs. The package features original artwork by Phantom City Creative and the two LPs are “blood in the water colored vinyl.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
John Williams: Jurassic Park: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Mondo)
John Williams and Steven Spielberg have collaborated many times over the years, with the majority of Spielberg’s best known films featuring music by Williams. That collaboration continued with 1993’s Jurassic Park (released 18 years after 1975’s Jaws). It’s quite amazing how much longevity the Jurassic Park franchise has had. You would’ve thought that years ago the producers would have stopped working out clever ways to get characters back to island of dangerous dinosaurs, but the sixth film, Jurassic World: Dominion, is due out in 2022. It all started in 1993 and Williams’ score is a big part of what made the film so memorable. Mondo has reissued the score as a 2-LP set, on 180-gram translucent green vinyl. It features original artwork by JC Richard. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
Various Artists: 2001: A Space Odyssey: Music From the Motion Picture (Mondo)
Who could’ve guessed that alien monoliths would’ve been trending so much on social media this year, but that’s 2020 for you. Various monoliths appeared and disappeared around the world in what was likely an elaborate practical joke or art project, but… you never know. Of course thoughts immediately went to Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968. Mondo has reissued its soundtrack on 180-gram vinyl, with the music being remastered at Abby Road Studios. The film features music from various classical composers, some of it is beautiful and some of it is positively disturbing. The 2-LP set features artwork by Matthew Woodson and the die-cut gatefold jacket fittingly features the black monolith. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas: Original Soundtrack (Craft)
Few soundtracks to a TV special are as special on their own as Vince Guaraldi Trio’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even if you weren’t alive when it first aired on CBS on December 9, 1965 you’ve likely seen it and perhaps many times over, as viewing it is a Christmas tradition for many. The jazzy soundtrack is bound to give most listeners warm fuzzies. And it’s actually the second best selling jazz album in history, beat only by Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. This year, in honor of the 70th anniversary of Peanuts, Craft Recordings have reissued the soundtrack on vinyl. It comes with a very cool lenticular print of the original album cover, so that it looks like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Linus are dancing in front of a Christmas tree (with Snoopy perched on top). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
Cocteau Twins: Garlands (4AD)
There aren’t many bands that had such a significant impact on music as Cocteau Twins. Particularly since the first wave of punk threw a curveball and changed perceptions on how music could and should be made.
Even to this day, their music sounds as if it were created by aliens from another planet altogether. Almost impossible to pigeonhole from the outset, it wouldn’t be amiss to say a number of genres have since emerged purely off the back of Cocteau Twins’ unique sound (shoegaze, dreampop, ambient rock). Yet when they first emerged from the industrial town of Grangemouth in Scotland’s Forth Valley as three teenagers immersed in the more creative side of punk it proved a head scratching moment for some.
Influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees and part of a new wave of groups whose music and ideology was a million miles away from punk’s “no future” nihilism, Cocteau Twins found themselves initially picked up by the goth movement that was slowly building around the UK. With bands like The Cure, The Birthday Party, and The Chameleons also gaining momentum around the same time, there were a number of kindred spirits.
What set them apart was Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal, or “the voice of God” as it was often referred to. It’s revelatory compared to the present that their debut release for then fledgling independent label 4AD was an album. Comprised of eight songs and released in 1982, Garlands represented a year zero for alternative guitar music. Indeed even now, it’s hard to believe these songs were written and recorded almost 40 years ago. Its eight pieces still stand proud as timeless artefacts from an era where synthetic pop was all the rage.
Now reissued on vinyl for the first time in a decade with remastered audio, songs like “Wax and Wane” and “But I’m Not” undoubtedly influenced a generation of effects pedalled guitar slingers decades on. While “The Hollow Men” sounds as hauntingly beautiful today as it did when first released some 38 years ago.
While revisiting Garlands for this review it made me think of an interview I did with Robin Guthrie seven years ago. In it he said, “There’s still too many folks that just cannot let go of the Cocteau Twins. On one hand it’s quite fantastic but on the other it’s quite sad. I was speaking to someone after a show and we got onto the set I’d just played but all they wanted to talk about was why I didn’t play their favorite songs off Garlands?”
Which as frustrating as that must be for any artist, with a back catalogue as astonishingly good as Guthrie’s, perfectly sums up the impact and longevity of this record.
Simply breathtaking in every possible way. By Dom Gourlay (Buy it here.)
Cocteau Twins: Victorialand (4AD)
Four years on from their debut Garlands, Cocteau Twins had become an established act on the UK alternative scene. Two albums and eight EPs followed hot on the heels of Garlands. Each and every one a stark and refreshing step on from its predecessor whilst still retaining the opulent beauty and sheer originality that made Cocteau Twins one of the most invigorating musical ensembles to emerge from the 1980s.
While its three predecessors all highlighted different facets of the band’s creative ingenuity, 1986’s Victorialand represented a marked progression from anything the band had released before. If the two EPs released six months prior to Victorialand offered a hint of what was to come next—Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay, both essentially a collection of experimental demo recordings to test the sonic capabilities of the band’s new studio—the album itself proved to be an endearing affirmation of the adage “less is more.”
With regular bass player Simon Raymonde on extra curricular duties with This Mortal Coil, Victorialand sees Cocteau Twins at their most stripped back. Although not exactly an acoustic album in its most pedantic form—Cocteau Twins never really did acoustic records—Victorialand is as bare a document as its creators ever mustered.
Recorded without bass and percussion, instead focusing on acoustic guitars occasionally accompanied by Richard Thomas on saxophone and tuba. Victorialand lets the confines of its surroundings provide the atmospherics over Robin Guthrie’s signature melodies, while Elizabeth Fraser’s flawless vocal performance throughout guides each of its nine pieces into a blissful state of tranquillity.
If anything, Victorialand heralded the birth of ambient rock that would see Enya have a number one hit record two years later with the not entirely un-Cocteaus sounding “Orinoco Flow” while a whole new genre later to be known as shoegaze blew up around it on both sides of the Atlantic.
So it’s a welcome vinyl reissue for an album that celebrates its 34th birthday in October. Not to mention the first time it’s been available on 33 as opposed to its initial pressing on 45, the remastering having a rare, noticeable impact on this occasion. By Dom Gourlay (Buy it here.)
The Divine Comedy: Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time – Thirty Years of The Divine Comedy (Divine Comedy)
For those who have been following Neil Hannon’s career for many years, it’s a bit hard to fathom that his The Divine Comedy project has been going for 30 years now. Many of a certain age discovered him in 1996, at the height of Britpop, with Casanova, when its singles “Something for the Weekend” and “Becoming More Like Alfie” were hits in England. But that was The Divine Comedy’s fourth album! Hannon channeled such orchestral influences as Scott Walker (before his music got weird) and composer Michael Nyman, but he did so with such clever and amusing lyrics. He rivaled Jarvis Cocker as the best lyricist of Britpop and is arguably one of the best songwriters of the last three decades (not that he’s ever truly gotten his due). Like Cocker, Hannon is still going strong, releasing a delightful new Divine Comedy album, Office Politics, just last year. Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time is a massive and impressive box set that collects all of The Divine Comedy’s albums, including 1990’s debut Fanfare for the Comic Muse, which Hannon has long disowned for sounding little like the rest of his work, and spanning all the way up to Office Politics. Each album includes an extra disc of B-sides and demos, many unreleased, and new liner notes by Hannon. There’s also Juveneilia, a two-disc collection of early recordings, including one childhood recording of Hannon singing and playing a church organ when he was only around 13. Plus it includes a previously unreleased concert film recorded with a full orchestra at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London in 1996. And most importantly when it comes to Hannon, there’s a book with all the lyrics. The whole thing is elegantly packaged as if it’s a collection of small books. To find out more about the box set, read our new interview with Hannon about it. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)
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