In 2018, the music world saw amazing reissues spanning rock titans to indie upstarts and electronic to pop of all stripes.
7. Liz Phair - Girly-Sound to Guyville (The 25th Anniversary) (Matador)
Nevermind, OK Computer, and The Chronic are routinely mentioned in "Best Albums of the '90s" discussions. But Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville beats out all three for the sole reason that it managed to capture so much of that decade's strongest musical elements, from its DIY production value to its direct, confessional songwriting; so much of which has been quoted enough to make it quality as classic rock. Exile in Guyville was a watershed moment in rock because few debut albums have ever sounded so confident and realized. Of course, for an album that groundbreaking, there had to be a genesis. And Girly-Sound to Guyville supplies that material.
Recorded in 1991, Phair was in a position like many recession-ravaged post-college graduates. "Hello Sailor" hints at one of her stock in trades of pairing childhood nursery rhymes with lacerating lyrical honesty. These early recordings not only secured her an album deal with Matador, but also ended up on her subsequent albums. Far from a nostalgic victory lap, these three demos more than merits another purchase of this genre-defining work. - Sean McCarthy
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6. John Lennon - Imagine (The Ultimate Collection) (Capitol)
Arriving just ahead of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles ("White Album") and the in-depth exploration of that album, Yoko Ono oversaw the remastering and remixing of John Lennon's second solo album, 1971's Imagine. The Ultimate Collection is immersive and immense, building upon the sincerity and professionalism of the original album with outtakes, demos, and unique "Evolution Documentary" tracks that depict the building and mixing of each track from the studio perspective. The reissue additionally featured two Blu-ray discs of the materials in the Ultimate Collection, as well as the Imagine film and "Gimme Some Truth" documentary.
Considering the focused approach and strong outcome of Lennon's 1971 album, ranging from the career-defining "Imagine" to confessional tracks like "How?" and "Oh Yoko" and to the bitter attack on Paul McCartney in "How Do You Sleep?", the Ultimate Collection edition succeeds through a commitment to Lennon's vision. The massive reissue highlights the original album and Lennon's vision by focusing on his approach to recording Imagine, the elements and strength in the songs included, and Lennon's confidence and voice from the early 1970s. The result is a fresh take that ironically rubs against McCartney's success with Egypt Station and illustrates Lennon's creative and emotional relationship with Ono that first emerged in the songs written and recorded for The Beatles. - Richard Driver
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5. Bobbie Gentry - The Girl From Chickasaw County (The Complete Capitol Masters) (Universal)
Not only does this eight-disc collection have outstanding sound quality, but it's also 2018's most beautifully-presented reissue, housed in a David Downton-illustrated box, with photographic postcards and an accompanying hardback. It's also single-handedly restoring Gentry's reputation. She was never just a Vegas hoofer (although she could fulfill that role with consummate skill). Nor was she the one-hit-wonder that lazy writers sometimes call her. As her three self-written albums (Ode to Billie Joe, The Delta Sweete, and Patchwork) prove, she was a singer/songwriter/producer to whom music history should be far more favorable.
Compiler/producer Andrew Batt has gathered all seven Capitol albums, a vast array of extras, 75 previously unissued tracks, an unreleased jazz album, and a Live at the BBC set, making this by far the best treatment Gentry's work has ever had. From her smoky voice to her story-songs ("Fancy", "Ode to Billie Joe") blending country, pop, and soul, Gentry was a singular talent. This groundbreaking presentation should be enjoyed in physical form, accompanied by Batt's formidably researched notes. If only every artist's catalog were treated with such style, quality control, and intelligence. - Charles Donovan
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4. Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983 (Warner Bros.)
Piano & A Microphone 1983, the inaugural release from the vaunted Prince vault, is some of the most bizarre and beguiling music we've ever heard from the Purple One. His piano is a rhythmic engine, and his voice is abstract and garbled, more like the exhortations of Keith Jarrett or Joseph Spence than the "skinny motherfucker with a high voice". Piano & A Microphone is ostensibly meant to give us an insight into how he put the music from his classic Purple Rain period together. But it raises more questions than it answers. Is "Why the Butterflies" an unfinished sketch or a cryptic abstraction? What is the "black mouse" on Cold Coffee & Cocaine? Is that astonishing version of "International Lover", which eliminates the tongue-in-cheek Lothario strut of the original in favor of a halting and sincere declaration of puppy love, a minimalist reduction or a mere warm-up? There's something voyeuristic about putting out an unfinished rehearsal tape to kick off the Vault reissue campaign, but it's refreshing to know his music still lives in mystery. - Daniel Bromfield
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3. The Posies - Frosting on the Beater (Omnivore Recordings)
Frosting on the Beater was the third album by the Posies and the one which accidentally placed them on the fringes of grunge. That's a weird place to be for a band who owe more to the Zombies and the Hollies than to Blue Cheer or the Stooges. Producer Don Fleming coaxed a set of confident, aggressive, but always tuneful performances from the band, whose previous album had a whimsical, almost psychedelic feel. The gloves are off here and songs like "Dream All Day", "Solar Sister", and "Definite Door" combine unhinged, righteous guitar lines with McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman harmonies. If you were slightly wary of those rather disheveled looking, plaid-clad bands with evil intent in their eyes, the Posies were the perfect gateway drug. Did someone say "pop sensibility?" Well, they were right.
Even at their most intense on tunes like "Lights Out" there's still a tune you can whistle while the guitars give you terminal tinnitus. As with all Omnivore reissues, the 2018 version of Frosting on the Beater looks stunning and is loaded with tasty extras, not that any are needed. This record already stands head and shoulders above most of the albums released in the first half of the 1990s. There was way more to American guitar-based rock than Nirvana in that almost forgotten decade, and the Posies proved that in spades. - Ian Rushbury
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2. Bob Dylan - More Blood, More Tracks (Columbia/Legacy)
There are two editions of More Blood, More Tracks: A one-disc (or LP) regular edition, or a six-disc deluxe edition. If you are a Bob Dylan fan of any stripe, you know exactly which of the two was built for you, but the good news is that both deliver beautifully. The idea behind More Blood, More Tracks is the offering of a window into the studio during the recording of Dylan's celebrated Blood on the Tracks album, and the one-disc version gives us an alternate take on the entire album, with the bonus inclusion of the excellent "Up to Me", a song previously relegated to compilations. "Tangled Up in Blue" is mellower, "Shelter from the Storm" is like a runaway train, and so on.
Dylan had a way of being able to apply a set of lyrics to a variety of settings until he found one that fit, and while you'll rarely consider one of the alternate versions to be the definitive version, every single one is interesting -- and the sound quality is immaculate -- for anyone familiar with the original. Completists, of course, will adore the six-disc edition, which applies that perfect sound to almost every take of every song recorded at those sections, presented in chronological order. Do you need 11 versions of "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"? Probably not. Is it fascinating to hear all of them just to hear how it developed over the course of September 16 and 17, 1974? Absolutely. - Mike Schiller
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1. The Beatles - The Beatles (The White Album) (50th Anniversary Edition) (Capitol)
Beatles fans had a field day with last year's 50th anniversary deluxe reissue of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but 2018 brought what the more obscure fan had really been waiting for – a full-on, super-deluxe edition of the strangest, most self-indulgent and perhaps most complete Beatles album ever made during their tremendous eight-year recording run. "The White Album" – officially titled simply The Beatles – was the sound of the band's slow-motion breakup. Personalities were clashing, arguments were heated, and several of the songs were recorded solo.
The result is an album filled with a variety of styles, from the Beach Boys-inspired glee of "Back in the U.S.S.R." to the visceral gut punch of "Yer Blues", from the gentle acoustic folk of "Mother Nature's Son" to the brass-infused funk of "Savoy Truffle". And that's not even counting the epic, polarizing sound collage "Revolution 9". All 30 tracks are expertly remixed, giving them a welcome sonic punch. Ringo has never sounded better, and harmonies are more clearly focused. The voluminous bonus material includes the famous Esher demos, alternate takes, and early versions of songs that would end up on later Beatles albums ("Let It Be", "Across the Universe") as well as solo albums (Geroge Harrison's "Not Guilty", John Lennon's "Child of Nature", which was eventually rewritten as "Jealous Guy"). An essential document of one of the most important rock albums of all time. - Chris Ingalls
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