The Best Reissues/Live Albums/Compilations of 2015, 5-1

swansfilth5. Swans, Filth (Young God)
The earliest Swans record I was familiar with was 1987’s Children of God, and I’d never paid a lick of attention to their earliest work, back when the band was in its formative stages in the early 1980s. But then this reissue came along back in May, and the entire package was so fascinating that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore uncharted musical territory for myself. And what a massive, fascinating collection of music this is. The centrepiece of it all is, of course, the 1983 album Filth, which as primal and cathartic a yawp I have ever heard in rock music. Non-stop obnoxiousness and misery from Michael Gira and his cohorts. But then the rest of this reissue is fleshed out further by two additional CDs of bonus material, including early EPs, studio outtakes, and a bevy of live tracks that only crank up the intensity even more. It’s miserable, but exhilaratingly so, a portrait of a three or four-year period where Swans broke new ground, anticipating the modern incarnation of noise rock in the 2000s, and most importantly, laying the groundwork for what would be a brilliant, wildly diverse career as experimental music auteurs. (Spotify) (YouTube)

coop4. Alice Cooper, The Studio Albums 1969-1983 (Rhino)
I’ve been a huge fan of Alice Cooper for 30 years, but oddly have never owned physical copies of all of his albums. I had loads and loads of Alice tapes in the 1980s, and a few tape recordings of records, but by the time downloading and streaming came along, I always made do, never upgrading to CD. So this swanky discography box containing 15 Alice Cooper studio albums from 1969 to 1983 came along at just the right time. I’m not even interested whether or not they’ve been remastered, I’m just glad to have them all in such a neat and tidy package. And there’s so much rewarding music, too: the wackadoo Zappa years, the Alice Cooper band’s metamorphosis into badass shock rock geniuses, Alice’s lavish solo period in the mid-’70s, his late-’70s burnout, his punk/new wave reinvention, and his early 1980s burnout, which yielded DaDa, the most underrated album in his entire discography, and one of his best, period. The variety from album to album is remarkable, something few people bother to mention. Coop was a chameleonic artist back then, partly because of his instability, but primarily because he was incredibly brave and arrogant enough to try anything. From “Reflected”, to “Dwight Fry”, to “Halo of Flies”, to “Generation Landslide”, to “Go to Hell”, to “From the Inside”, to “Pass the Gun Around”, not to mention his countless radio hits, it’s all here. Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get any better than this. (Spotify) (YouTube)

zeppelinphysical3. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (Atlantic/Swan Song)
2015 saw the last half of the much-ballyhooed Led Zeppelin reissues come out, and while the last few brought the whole exercise to a sputtering end – the lack of valuable bonus material became tiresome and we really didn’t need a reminder of how much “Bonzo’s Montreux” sucks – the year got off to a blazing start with the absolutely stupendous reissue of 1975’s classic Physical Graffiti. Right up there with the White Album as one of the greatest double albums in rock history, it is peak Zeppelin from start to finish, a perfect amalgam of all the band’s sounds they’d developed over the previous five or six years: rock, blues, folk, heavy metal, progressive rock. That first record is especially potent, and sounds fantastic in tastefully remastered form. What a sequence: “Custard Pie”, “The Rover”, “In My Time of Dying”, “Houses of the Holy”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Kashmir”. Flawless. Yet the second album is where the more subtle rewards lie, like the gorgeous folk of “Bron-Yr-Aur”, the beautiful and hopeful “In the Light”, the sad ballad “Ten Years Gone”, and joyous deep cuts like “Boogie With Stu” and “Sick Again”. I was especially tickled to see the old LP artwork recreated in CD form, too. I still have my old LP version of the album, and it’s a treat to see the die-cut windows on the cover again, complete with interchangeable sleeves. Jimmy Page knocked this reissue out of the park. (Spotify) (YouTube)

rusharf402. Rush, R40 Live (Anthem)
What would a year-end list be without my beloved Rush? It seems I write about a different Rush release, live album, or re-release every year, but for good reason. They do it better than anyone, the guys give their fans only the best. This year especially, which saw a steady stream of outstanding vinyl reissues on heavy vinyl which were so good it made Hemispheres sound even better and even compelled me to reassess Caress of Steel, for crying out loud. As good as those all are, the real gem of 2015 is R40 Live, the document of their incredible North American tour, which saw the trio treat audiences to a three-hour, reverse chronological journey through their massive body of work. The show I saw in Calgary was one of the best concerts I have ever seen, and what a treasure it is to already have a bluRay and CD version of that tour a mere four months later.It was, and still is a glorious experience for a Rush fan, especially the second half, which proves to be a staggering masterclass in 1970s progressive rock. When they go from Permanent Waves straight through to their debut album, you’re agog at all the classics they pull out, highlighted by a 12-minute rendition of “2112”, the god-like “Xanadu”, and a wonderful 12-minute medley of their “Cygnus X-1” epics. This could very well be Rush’s final tour, and if it is, I’m so glad I witnessed it, and that this beautiful memento is with me as well. (Spotify) (YouTube)

dylan65661. Bob Dylan, The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Volume 12 (Sony/Legacy)
The continual unearthing of Bob Dylan’s colossal recorded archives is closing in on its 25th year, and each release has, in its own way, shed astonishing new light on the greatest composer of the latter half of the 20th century. I’ve been following it from the very beginning too, dutifully buying each release as soon as it comes out. There have been many highlights – the Live 1966 and Live 1975 recordings especially – but the 12th installment, though, is particularly special, offering audiences an absolute treasure trove of outtakes from the sessions during Dylan’s most groundbreaking period. This was touched on in fleeting fashion way back on Volume 1, but the attention to detail here is astonishing, and in the case of the complete 18-CD collection, staggering. In 1965 and 1966 the man was on fire creatively, spawning rock’s most towering triptych of albums: Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Every one of those songs are so ingrained in popular culture that hearing new studio versions of them, in complete form or as works in progress, is a revelation, and we can only sit back in awe and listen to these classic works take shape. I try to put into words just how fun it is do discover these alternate recordings, but it’s impossible. Dylan fan can only squirm with glee-induced goosebumps at what they’re hearing. History is being made before your very ears. (Spotify) (YouTube)