Well, the holidays are officially upon us, and with Christmas less than a month off, the end of November and first week of December are crammed with a surprisingly diverse array of potential gifts for the music lover in your life. Even if that music lover happens to be you. (Also, a note: those devoted fans of the recently revamped Recent Release Recap series, fear not–it shall return later in the week, with all the negativity and bile you have come to rightly expect.)
AC/DC – Live at River Plate
Touted as the band’s first live album in twenty years (which, even if you don’t count the 2003 double-disc remaster of 1992’s Live, is still an oddly specific boast), AC/DC’s Live at River Plate knows what’s expected of it and sets about doing just that. Recorded at a 2009 concert in Buenos Aires, the 19-tracks-over-two-discs (or one DVD) set is heavy on the hits—“Back in Black,” “Thunderstruck,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” etc.—and still manages to sneak in a surprisingly sizable amount of newer songs (four from 2008’s Black Ice, including stab-at-glory-days “Rock N Roll Train”). Toss in some nice, albeit brief, surprises—a deep-ish Bon Scott-era cut “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” here, a prolonged rendition of “Let There Be Rock” there—and the result is a still solid (if by-the-numbers) release from a still solid (if by-the-numbers) band, trying desperately to age as little as they can with each passing year. Brian Jones may sound like more a bundle of splinters trying to scare crows away than an actual human singer these days, but in an odd way, it’s comforting to see him still up there with a fifty-seven-year-old in a schoolboy uniform, while Phil Rudd’s monochrome thump keeps the train on-track.
Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire
Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day
Lone Ninja – Rogue Agent
Rage Against the Machine – XX
Neatly coinciding with the 20-year anniversary of the release of Rage Against the Machine’s iconic eponymous debut, XX is but one of many such anniversary re-releases scheduled for this holiday season (see also: Smashing Pumpkins, below; Interpol and Eric Clapton, next time). The set comes in a myriad of editions, including a somewhat skeletal single-disc remaster (which adds three b-side alternate takes); a 2-CD/1-DVD version with a slew of demos and a smattering of music videos and live performances; and an immense 2-CD/2-DVD/1-LP set, which adds the album on vinyl, a documentary about its release (with still more live footage), and a lengthy book of new liner notes, including commentary by Chuck D. of Public Enemy. Clearly, de la Rocha, Morello, Commerford, and Wilk did not skimp on the ceremony of this commemoration. Although one could quibble over the seeming lack of any substantive amount of concert footage (it mostly seems to be piecemeal and interspersed), the level of care that obviously went into the project protects it from accusations of mere repacking (see: Chevelle, below). Add in the strangely/sadly perennial topicality of Rage’s political bent (which, in de la Rocha’s trademarked bark, is still somehow less grating than Morello’s Nightwatchman grasping blindly and smugly at Bob Dylan), and XX is still the snugly fitting soundtrack for discomforting social unrest.
Wu-Block – Wu-Block
Johnny Cash – The Complete Columbia Album Collection
Carrying a hefty pricetag, even from the typically cheapest of preorder enterprises, the 63(!)-disc set The Complete Columbia Album Collection is clearly not for the faint of heart. Not by chance does this exhaustive, exhausting compendium arrive just a few short weeks ahead of Christmas, since the set makes a mightily impressive gift for diehard fans of the Man in Black. That said, diehards (and those who somehow love them enough to drop over $250) are probably the only listeners who won’t be immediately intimidated by this set, and not only from a fiscal perspective. Although the collection includes such seminal, well-known and -regarded releases as Johnny Cash at San Quentin, …Folsom Prison, Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line, and the Highwayman series, those are nestled between nearly 60 other records, many of which will be entirely foreign to new-coming Cash acolytes; and, after all, such a large set is bound to feature a few repeats and, frankly, inessential moments. The intended audience for this release is clear, however, and the completists that it’s after (and who are, in turn, after it) will find nary a complaint to lobby. Everyone else is likely better off simply cherry-picking Cash’s discography.
Chevelle – Stray Arrows: A Collection of Favorites
Listeners would be forgiven for thinking Chevelle’s greatest hits alb—er, sorry, that is “Collection of Favorites” (with completely coincidental high radio play) a bit premature, but the band’s catalogue is actually fairly deep at this point, with six full-length studio albums to the Loeffler brothers’ (and one in-law’s) name. Still, Stray Arrows itself seems puzzling in what it fails to do. Such anthologies are, by definition, tailor-made for the casual listener, which on one hand excuses the superficiality of the selections at hand (which aren’t by any means bad, just obvious). But it’s also why the exclusion of popular songs like “Letter from a Thief,” “Closure,” and “Saferwaters” is so baffling—especially considering the collection’s modest twelve-track length. (Indeed, one can’t help but think that if Chevelle felt the need to put out an anthology, they have enough b-sides to easily justify that sort of set instead.) Perhaps to appease those ready to write off Arrows entirely, the band does include a new song, the awesomely-titled “Fizgig.” Even with that bit of sweetener, though, the ironically overarching lack of depth and breadth makes this bunch of Arrows a misfire.
Ke$ha – Warrior
Wiz Khalifa – O.N.I.F.C.
Memory Tapes – Grace/Confusion
Mogwai – A Wretched Virile Lore
Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Deluxe)
Tomahawk – Stone Letter