Revisiting Reissues: Hits and misses from re-releases in the '00s

Ah, reissues.  At times, they're an opportunity to do justice to a long-last masterpiece, at others simply one more way for labels to squeeze a little more profit out of an old cash cow .  Most recently, this category's been nothing short of an extravaganza: if the '90s were the decade of box sets, then the '00s saw almost every imaginable back catalog get the deluxe treatment, from all the old favorites to the most obscure cult rarities, as free downloading and file sharing forced labels to find new justifications for us to fork over our hard-earned (and increasingly scarce) dough on endless repackaging.

In honor of this trend, Gimme Noise offers a handful of representative reissues to help illustrate the best and worst trends that those of us (re)collecting all the old faves had to parse through in the aughts.

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Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins
It seems hard to believe that the slacker kings of indie rock would set a bar in this category, but it's even harder not to consider their series of reissues as doing anything other than raising the standard.  Beginning with Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe, the titles alone are a worthy addendum to the originals, but these collections are full of goodies.  In the case of L.A.'s Desert Origins, the two-disc set features a slew of singles, B-sides, and outtakes, plus an entire second CD of rehearsals - a number of them top-notch - from before the recording sessions, including early versions of album material that even stretched as far as Wowee Zowee and provided some intriguing insight into the formation of the music (biggest "surprise": don't put too much stock into the lyrics).  Add to this an extensive booklet featuring artwork and some hilarious song explanations from Stephen Malkmus written for Melody Maker, and this had everything the nerdy audiophile could want in a reissue.  Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't such a stretch for Pavement after all.

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The Who, Live at Leeds (Deluxe Edition)
Live albums can pose a particularly tricky situation when considering reissues, as they tend to sample much longer performances.  In the case of Live at Leeds, the original classic was lean, mean, and all but an EP, clocking in at a brisk 20 minutes with only six songs, though it was stuffed with memorabilia and packaged as a faux-bootleg.  The problem, of course, is that the actual concert was over three hours, complete with a performance of Tommy in its entirety.  When Leeds was remastered in the mid-'90s it was expanded to include everything but the Tommy material, so the door was open for further releases with more than an hour still in the vaults.  Naturally, MCA took heed a few years back, offering up the already bloated 1995 version and adding the missing rock opera interlude on a second disc.  Yet, this still didn't solve the problem: little bits of between-song banter were edited out, so Leeds remains incomplete and, worse still for the true completist, out of sequence...  The question inevitably arises: when does making a comprehensive account begin to dilute the impact of the original?  In the case of Leeds, there still isn't anything that compares to the power of the original, which was a fine statement if not the whole story.

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The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers
Every once in a while, a reissue helps save a true gem from obscurity, or worse yet, from completely disappearing.  In the case of Jonathan Richman's seminal proto-punk debut, it had been out of print for years and was offered a lifeline when Rhino - who should get some love for saving a number of old albums in similar fashion - reissued and expanded it a few years back.  Not that this album hadn't already been similarly mistreated: featuring future members of the Talking Heads and the Cars, the original lineup of this Boston ensemble had disbanded four years before this album was hobbled together in 1976, the material picked at random by the record company from separate recording sessions.  Over the years, various collections with usually inferior versions of the songs have popped up claiming to present the "Original Modern Lovers," but with the track order of the definitive original restored and other essential songs that had previously been missing given their rightful place ("I'm Straight" being the most obvious), this was a timely and appropriately assembled reissue of a highly influential if often-overlooked album.

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