To see how utterly meaningless the whole “anniversary reissue” business has become, look no further than Interpol. Five years after releasing a 10th-anniversary edition of debut Turn on the Bright Lights, the band is now touring behind the 15th anniversary of the same album, as well as hyping a 10th-anniversary re-release of Our Love to Admire, the third Interpol album that maybe three people cared about. Ten years is hardly enough time for any true legacy to materialize, but welcome to a dubious age when everything turns into some prescient, misunderstood masterwork.
This summer, however, four anniversary packages have landed with welcome gravitas and grace. Newly polished, complemented with extensive bonus material, they’re reminders that reissues aren’t mere cash-ins. They can take on the weight of historical documents.
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th Anniversary editions) Let’s get this monster out of the way. It comes in several versions (pick your format, from LP to CD and Blu-ray), the largest one containing just about every note ever recorded during the mythic Abbey Road sessions all those years ago. While that’s unnecessary for average Beatles lovers and redundant for fanatics (who’ve likely been here many times over), it’s hard to resist the sheer craft on display—a genuine landmark work getting a proper, tasteful restoration. It all sounds so good, you might even forget how bad “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” is.
Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain Deluxe (Expanded edition) This is one of those cases where the original album actually feels superfluous. Yeah, Purple Rain is phenomenal, and that new remaster (a first for Prince’s Warner Bros. catalog) does sound spiffy. But bring on all that legendary unreleased material! Naturally, it doesn’t disappoint: a 12-minute “Hallway Speech” version of “Computer Blue” that eclipses the original; “Velvet Kitty Kat,” irresistible rockabilly in the key of “Delirious”; the original cut of “We Can F*ck” (later retitled “We Can Funk”); plus psych-pop only Prince could get away with (“Katrina’s Paper Dolls,” “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden”). Pull together all the B-sides, remixes and incidental film music and you’ve got a portrait of a young genius becoming a superstar. There’s also a DVD of a full concert from 1985, which I’ll get to when my heart can take it.
U2, The Joshua Tree (Super Deluxe edition) This one’s complicated—a portrait of a great band lodging its head slowly up its ass. While I was surprised at how little of The Joshua Tree I still like, it’s impossible to deny Bono & Co.’s chops and stature throughout an included 1987 Madison Square Garden live set. But there’s also a disc of useless remixes and a slew of supplementary B-sides and leftovers that overstay their welcome. It’s never boring, but when it’s all finally over, you know exactly why U2 had to bash itself to bits in order to make Achtung Baby.
Radiohead, OK Computer (OKNOTOK 1997 2017) This is a rare instances where the bonus material doesn’t matter, because you’re still so in awe of the original album. If Sgt. Pepper, Purple Rain, The Joshua Tree will always emit a hefty whiff of nostalgia, OK Computer feels utterly devoid of historical context. Is Thom Yorke singing about today, or is he the main character in a novel written 30 years from now about the past? Either way, I’ll put the bonus disc next to that Purple Rain DVD. For now, I’ll keep rummaging through the mysteries of an album I only thought I knew.