With uncertainty, doubt, poverty, environmental devastation, looming scarcity, and event-level extinction staring us down in the distance, I personally find it comforting that the current number-one single in the country has a chorus that goes "I'll gas up the jet for you tonight, and baby we can go wherever you like." Why? Because as ridiculous as T.I.'s sentiment is, the role of our pop stars has never been to address serious issues: it's been to further our own ridiculous ambitions, to dream the impossible dream, to live our life as if there's no tomorrow, and ultimately, to give false hope to those that need it most.
And you know who needs false hope right now, among others? The major record labels, who are pulling out all the stops to release a plethora of new and re-issue albums in the hopes that they can pump some blood back into what is increasingly looking like a moribund anchor for their business model — the physical recorded musical album.
What does this mean for you, Joe or Jane Consumer, as you run to the shops to spend your ever-dwindling disposable income on frivolous rock and pop music? It means that you live in historic times: you get at least one more chance to ride on a dinosaur, to be the last generation, perhaps, to say "I got this incredibly rad box set for Christmas" or "I stood in line at midnight to pick up a copy of Chinese Democracy."
When you look at it that way, it's almost your duty — nay, destiny — to at least peruse this list of year-end musical offerings and appreciate it for the end-of-civilization fire sale it represents. Excelsior! Carpe diem! The future is yours!
Box sets and re-issues: The end of the end of music (with an extra bonus disc of demos and rarities)
When I was an adolescent, in the late '80s and early '90s, wading knee deep through box sets in my bedroom, casually using disc four of Eric Clapton's Crossroads as a drink coaster, I would sometimes think,"How did my parents ever survive without all of the classic-rock lexicon neatly bundled, archived and annotated, with outtakes and bonus tracks?" Twenty years later, it is sometimes surprising that there are still musical nooks and crannies left to be made into box sets. But this season, a plethora of crazy re-issues is hitting the shelves — and some of them are (gulp) collections of artists who emerged post-box-set-era themselves.
The Complete Motown #1's Box (Motown/Universal) Often, box sets add unnecessary supplements to well-known material, but the best ones pare down limitless musical material into a comprehensible canon. So it is with the Motown label's legendary discography. Universal off-shoot Hip-O Records is in the process of exhaustively issuing 12 box sets containing every single ever put out by the label, but there has to be some middle ground between that kind of obsessiveness and the Murphy Brown soundtrack, right? Well, here it is — and it's a statement to the insane success of Hitsville U.S.A. that even just limiting the scope of the box of number-one pop singles still leaves the listener with 191 tracks to wade through.
All the joy, pathos, and drama is contained within a miniature replica of the original Motown building. You can listen to the joyous music and just imagine, within those hallowed halls, the backing musicians getting screwed out of a living to the beat of a generation coming of age. "How Sweet It Is," indeed!
Genesis: 1970-75 (Rhino) For prog-rock fans, the recent Genesis deluxe- treatment remasters have been torture — even greater torture than the constant humiliation and self-hatred that comes with being a prog-rock fan in the first place. Inexplicably moving backward chronologically so as to put off the Peter Gabriel–era material for last, it's almost as if Rhino took to heart the scene in American Psycho where the titular '80s serial killer, in a lengthy monologue on the enduring legacy of later Genesis and solo Phil Collins, dismissed Gabriel's Genesis as "too artsy, too intellectual." And there is a certain logic to that. The Peter Gabriel of Genesis, before he became an inspirational godhead of world music in the '80s, was a complete and utter loon, painting his face white, wearing his hair in an inverse mohawk and squawking songs about hermaphrodites and killer plants on top of overly busy polyrhythmic mumbo jumbo. But at the same time, the band had a power and naive over-ambition that peaked with the watershed prog twofer The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which is included here, along with every other Gabriel-era album and a cornucopia of live video footage.
New Order: Movement / Power, Corruption, & Lies / Low-Life / Brotherhood / Technique (Collector's Edition) (Word Entertainment) When the three surviving members of Joy Division transmogriphied their anguish over their lead singer's suicide into dance-floor abandon as New Order, they also ushered in a new era of the pop single. They released song after song that became massive hits with no corresponding album. "Blue Monday" became the best-selling 12-inch single in UK history, and yet if you just bought New Order's albums, you'd be in the dark on a huge part of their legacy — which is why these reissues are so crucial to re-contextualizing the groundbreaking new-wave band's music.