Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley and Nirvana will vie again for fans’ favors -- and cash -- with the release today of remastered CDs featuring some of the greatest rock music.
They also give us weary hours of unessential add-ons, bum notes, rambling interviews and failed outtakes in over-expanded box sets that will lighten fans’ wallets and sustain record shops even as downloads kill off disc sales.
Fans buying all of Pink Floyd’s rereleases will spend more than $500. On the basic “Discovery” CDs, the band’s prog-rock glory is clearer than ever, especially on “Money,” with its ringing cash tills. These 14 albums already have sold 200 million copies. They are a good starting point for anyone who hasn’t sampled them -- if there are any such people.
“Dark Side of the Moon,” which has sold 50 million copies since 1973, also comes in a two-CD “Experience” version adding an impressive live performance and a six-disc “Immersion” set that’s way too much. It also includes a scarf, coasters and a track off the wisely abandoned “Household Objects” project. (The group tried to make music using wine glasses and elastic bands.)
The “Wish You Were Here” set sounds better, adding an unusual recording of the title track with violinist Stephane Grappelli, who takes the song in an unfamiliar jazz direction. Rating: ***** for the two-CD sets, *** for the bigger boxes.
“Young Man With the Big Beat” has just about everything Elvis Presley recorded in 1956, probably his greatest year.
The finest material is on the first two discs: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Rip It Up,” “Love Me Tender.” The rockabilly hick grows into rock’s biggest star. Rating: *****.
The full five-CD set has ragged outtakes, a powerful live “Heartbreak Hotel” and rediscovered interviews. The 21-year-old politely fields nasty questions suggesting he has no talent, and admits he gets lonesome some nights (“yes sir”).
“My pelvis had nothin’ to do with what I do,” he adds. Rating: ***½.
Nirvana’s grunge “Nevermind” turns 20 with more remastering. The blistering “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with Kurt Cobain’s tortured vocal, starts the attack and there is also a stripped-down rehearsal version. Rating: *****. The bigger box is only for the most fervent devotees.
Jimi Hendrix also joins the fray with “Winterland,” a 1968 San Francisco show. The shorter CD is quite enough (rating ****), with the five-disc set adding indulgent guitar freakouts and a spaced-out Hendrix holding forth about “advancing history” (rating: ***.)
There’s more: Today we also get a Sting set called “25 Years.” This month we had five Queen reissues and some vintage Bob Seger. Rating: *** for all.
We have more giant boxes on the way before Christmas, with Nov. 1 featuring the first release of the complete “Smile” by the Beach Boys up against U2’s “Achtung Baby” 20th anniversary set. For both, the double-disc versions sound like the best buy and the rest extravagant.
The most extreme is U2’s $600 “Uber Deluxe” limited edition with 10 discs, 16 art prints and a pair of Bono’s trademark “The Fly” sunglasses.
The 14 Pink Floyd “Discovery” CDs are on EMI/ Capitol, priced from $13 each or $179 for the set, with “Dark Side of the Moon” also available in a two-CD “Experience” version for about $22 or a six-disc “Immersion” set at $110. On Nov. 7 come two- and five-disc versions of “Wish You Were Here” and a new greatest hits, “A Foot in the Door.” “The Wall” follows on Feb. 27, 2012, including a seven-disc set. There are also vinyl, iPhone and download versions. Information: http://www.pinkfloyd.com
Presley’s 1956 set is on RCA/Legacy, priced at $91, with his “Elvis Presley/Elvis” at $15. Information: http://www.elvis1956.com
Nirvana is on Geffen, priced $12 or $22 with an extra disc. A five-disc version is about $120. Hendrix, on Legacy, is $11 for the single disc or $35 for the box. Information: http://interscope.com and http://www.legacyrecordings.com/
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)