5. Guns ‘N’ Roses, Appetite For Destruction
Guns ‘N’ Roses blew my world apart in the last half of 1987. Although Hollywood hair metal bands vainly tried to evoke the grittiness of the Sunset Strip gutter with varying degrees of success, it was all rendered impotent by Appetite For Destruction. GNR were just as contrived as all the other bands – signed to Geffen, releasing a fake live album to build hype – but they could play, and most importantly, evoke the trashiness, glam, the fun, and the sinister side of the Strip. They were the Stones, New York Dolls, Aerosmith, and Stooges all at once, with a contemporary sound that tapped into the youth zeitgeist at the time. Mötley Crüe couldn’t do that to save their lives. It wasn’t until summer 1988 that Appetite exploded into the mainstream, but all the while before that I obsessed over the record: the menacing “Welcome to the Jungle”, the spiteful “It’s So Easy” and “You’re Crazy”, the filthy “Nightrain” and “Mr. Brownstone”, the soulful “Sweet Child” and “Think About You”, the lurid “Rocket Queen”. Time has been very kind to the album, too, remaining unmatched by any rock record since. This splendid reissue does justice to the original, and the super deluxe version is crammed with gems, from the scorching “Shadow of Your Love” to the shockingly strong 1986 demo of future classic “November Rain”.
4. Chris Squire, Fish Out of Water
It took me a long time to get into Yes, but when I did, it clicked in a way I had never imagined it would. I slowly and steadily immersed myself in their discography, spending months at a time with each album in chronological order. Every time signature, vocal melody, riff, keyboard solo was listened to with careful attention. It was the inventive bass playing of Chris Squire, however, that really got my attention, and hearing what he did in the 1970s made me realize how profound an influence his melodic, upper-register style was on the likes of Geddy Lee, Steve Harris, and Peter Hook. Of the band’s series of 1975 solo albums, Squire’s Fish Out of Water is easily the best, so strong, so fully-realized that it ranks side by side with all the best Yes albums. He was a very clever songwriter and a remarkably strong singer, and this album is progressive rock at its finest: inventive and incessantly catchy. As luck would have it, just as I was searching high and low for a proper copy of the album, Cherry Red announced their swanky reissue, and I scooped it up immediately. It’s a crucial part of the Yes experience, essential for anyone interested in classic prog.
3. Bob Dylan, More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14
Well, here it is. The holy grail of Dylan bootlegs, the one fans had been clamouring for since the start of the “Bootleg Series” in 1991. Comprised of the complete sessions for the classic Blood on the Tracks album recorded in New York in September 1974, it featured Dylan at his most poetic and personal. On the eve if its release Dylan pulled the plug, keeping only one track and hastily re-recording the rest in Minnesota that December. These sessions are a goldmine for hardcore fans, who love to obsess over every minute change in each stripped-down performance. Personally, my interest in immersing myself into these demo tracks has waned a little, as I greatly admire the ramshackle album as it is (though “Up to Me” remains one of the most inexcusable album exclusions in recorded music history) but make no mistake, More Blood, More Tracks is astounding to dip into. Heck, if I may be so bold, I’d say that the single-disc version of More Blood, More Tracks is superior to the actual Blood on the Tracks because these stripped-down demos are so strong. Best of all, although ample opportunity is given to fans to draw their own conclusions of all the metaphors and themes, and the liner notes by Jeff Slate are lovely, Dylan offers no autobiographical insight. Which is perfect. Why ruin the mystique of this enigmatic masterpiece?
2. Rush, Hemispheres (40th Anniversary)
With the band pretty much retired, Rush continue to mine the past, this time by re-releasing their fourth best album, the ambitious Hemispheres. Did this great record need to be released again? Not really, but a) it’s such a splendid record that fans (including myself) relish any opportunity to celebrate it, and b) like A Farewell to Kings a year ago they’ve put together a terrific little package. This reissue is appended by an energetic live disc as well as outstanding liner notes by scholar Rob Bowman (totally worth the price, in my opinion) but at the heart of it all is this wacky four-song album. The band has always looked back on this period as being more difficult than it had to be, stating that the drive towards complexity had reached its breaking point, spawning the revelatory change in direction on 1980’s Permanent Waves. But for all the self-detrimental sentiment, this is actually an insanely catchy and disciplined prog album. Sure, the title track is 18 minutes long and was apparently a colossal pain to write and record, but what a catchy, riveting epic! “Circumstances” remains one of Rush’s best deep cuts, “The Trees” is a fun allegorical tale, while the playful and exuberant “La Villa Strangiato” is probably my favourite rock instrumental of all time. Hemispheres is near and dear to most Rush fans, and this expanded version is as satisfying as I could have hoped.
1. Metallica, …And Justice For All (Deluxe Box Set)
And with that, the circle is complete. Metallica’s extensive reissue series ranks as the greatest such endeavour in the history of heavy metal, and the fourth instalment caps of an extremely thorough exploration of the evolution of the most important metal band of the 1980s. We teenagers had to wait an agonizing two and a half years and change for a follow-up to the instant classic Master of Puppets, and what we heard in August threw us completely for a loop. Arriving at a time when expectations surrounding the young band were sky high, …And Justice For All turned the metal world on its ear with its staunch, rigid, antiauthoritarian, uncompromising music and attitude. With its dry production, often dizzying technicality, and the ferocious chemistry of rhythm guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, it was by no means an easy listen, but nevertheless was the band’s commercial breakthrough, bolstered by the immortal “One” (and its legendary accompanying video) and the subsequent world tour that saw Metallica headlining arenas for the first time. Like the previous three reissues of seminal records Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets, the deluxe reissue of Justice pulls out all the stops, with riff tapes, demos, rough mixes, the remastered album, and live recordings (I can’t express how great it is to have a properly remastered live album of the phenomental Seattle 1989 performance) spanning six LPs, 12 CDs, and four DVDs, as well as a hardcover book, lyric sheets, and innumerable ephemera. It’s another master class in classic heavy metal for any neophyte, but it’s the longtime fans who will find it most rewarding, afforded the chance to hear in minute detail how this towering classic was built, brick by painful brick.