These newly-released CD boxed sets and DVD's are sure to delight the
an there be a more joyous way to celebrate the holiday season than with a roaring fire, a room full of loved ones, and a badly recorded, 38-minute live rendition of the Velvet Underground's noise opus "Sister Ray" from their recently released three-CD live boxed set? We think not. But in case that's not your cup of mulled cider, we have 11 other groovy holiday gift suggestions for every budget, including overstuffed boxed sets, overdue greatest-hits compilations, new releases, and exhaustive movie DVD editions.
KISS - The Box Set (Mercury) $67.47 Kiss' career-spanning 96-track Box Set is a lavish retrospective package that, according to a recent Billboard poll, music fans would most like to find in their stocking this holiday season. Of 4,356 voters in the Billboard.com poll, 21% chose the Kiss set, leaving Creedence Clearwater Revival's The Creedence Box (below) in second place with 17%. And what a job Mercury Records has done. Billed as "the definitive Kiss collection, the set features 94 career spanning tracks drawn from the Kiss archives and selected by the band themselves. It boasts six hours of digitally remastered recordings on five discs, including 30 previously unreleased band and solo demos, outtakes and live recordings. Also included is a 120 page color booklet featuring rare photos and track-by-track commentary by Kiss band members Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. And for the discriminating Kiss Army soldier, available for a limited time is a special deluxe edition: a replica mini guitar case-styled box containing the discs and booklet. A-
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy) $69.98 Creedence was arguably the purest American rock & roll band of its era, delivering the eternal verities in rootsy, eminently satisfying three-minute hit singles. Almost three decades after the group's demise, their best-known tunes -- "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Fortunate Son" -- are bona fide standards. This six-CD set, which collects all their albums (as well as a disc's worth of tracks from the band's early incarnations, the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs), is a testament to CCR's populist powers. Majordomo John Fogerty was as hook-happy as a backwoods Beatle, and Creedence's album tracks were almost always equal to their airplay cuts (cock an ear to unheralded gems like the instrumental "Side O' the Road," or the hypnotic "Graveyard Train"). One caveat: Aside from the pre-Creedence stuff, there are few rarities. Actually, that may be a good thing -- it guarantees this box is as filler-free as CCR's music. B+ - Tom Sinclair
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Can You Dig It? The 70's Soul Experience (Rhino) $89.97 The '70s have long been derided as a period of political crises, the loss of idealism, and some of history's worst fashion errors. True, but the Me Decade was worth enduring of only four its soul music, a fantastic fusion of R&B, funk, and disco. The 136 songs on this six-CD collection are by turns political, lovelorn, and just plain fun, but always smoooth and usually sexy. Everyone you'd expect is here (Al Green, Kool & the Gang, Sly & the Family Stone), plus more obscure folks like the Winstons, Ann Peebles, Honey Cone, Timmy Thomas, Johnny Bristol, Paul Humphrey & His Cool Aid Chemists -- too many to mention. Fill your CD changer with these impeccable discs and put a smile on your face. A - Evan Serpick
GRATEFUL DEAD - The Golden Road (1965-1973) (Warner Bros./Rhino) $134.97 Don Henley once saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac, and those same upscale-auto consumers are surely the target market for this lavish set, which compiles every album the Dead recorded for Warner Bros., for a total of a dozen discs. Tempting Deadheads to repurchase CDs they already own is fundamentally obnoxious, but The Golden Road offers enough bonus goodies to compensate. Newly remixed in HDCD sound, the original LPs sparkle, and most are amended with extra material from the same period. While fans will find few unreleased songs (the loping "Manson's Children," a Workingman's Dead leftover included in a concert take, is an exception), tracks live a live, acoustic "Dire Wolf" and spacey studio jams from the Aoxomoxoa sessions are fine supplements. (Ending the set at their creative peak also avoids the artistic-slump aspect of most boxes). If that's not temptation enough, a double CD of rare early recordings documents the time when the Dead were the loosest, weirdest garage band in the country. Hearing them grow from green blues-folkies to masters of warped Americana on American Beauty and Europe '72 is a long, strange, and beautiful trip all its own. A - David Browne
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - The Velvet Underground Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (Polydor) $26.97 "This is gonna go on for a while," warns Lou Reed, introducing one of three versions of "Sister Ray" on this welcome compendium of vintage live Velvets. He's not kidding -- the longest runs 38 minutes. Recorded by guitarist Robert Quine (whose also played with Richard Hell & the Voidoids and Matthew Sweet) at several shows in 1969, these three CDs capture the band at a white-hot peak. Present and accounted for are their most notorious songs -- "Heroin," "Venus in Furs," "I'm Wating for the Man" -- as well as such arcana as a 17-minute "Follow the Leader." While The Quine Tapes are a fan's dream, they're something of an audiophile's nightmare -- the tape his actually takes on the quality of another instrument. Still, between Reed's droll stage banter and the shambolic glory of the band's playing, this is a potent shot of some kinda love. B+ - Tom Sinclair
CAT STEVENS - Cat Stevens (A&M) $71.97 Even if his reasons were spiritual -- he converted to Islam in 1977 -- Stevens was one of the few pop stars wise enough to quit before his expiration date. As a result, we were spared a long, sad decline. But as this box reminds us, decay had, in fact, already begun. Stevens doesn't shed any new light on the trajectory of his career: His early singles still sound twee; his best moments (almost all from Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman) have grown in stately beauty and clarity; and almost everything after is overproduced at fatuous. Diehards will want these four discs for the Harold and Maude cuts and some obscurities (a fine early demo, "Back to the Good Old Times," and "God Is the Light," a postretirement recording). And one can't help but applaud anything that reinforces the idea of Islam as a serene, thoughtful faith. But non-converts should still stick with last year's comprehensive, single-disc The Very Best Of. B- - David Browne
PINK FLOYD - Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (Capitol) $17.48 Hits-poor, catalog-rich EMI could use another mega-seller like 1999's Beatles 1 to shed some sunshine on the dark side of their balance sheet, so they've released the Pink Floyd greatest hits collection Echoes, a smartly nonchronological, cross-fading song sequence. Flitting between the nutty-Syd Barrett, ranting-Roger Waters, and spacey Dave Gilmour eras, Echoes is the perfect gift for the audiophile who has a 5.1 Surround Sound home theater but still secretly longs for quadrophonic. B+ - Chris Willman
PAUL McCARTNEY - Driving Rain (Capitol) $13.28 On the plus side, Driving Rain feels fine because Macca is employing an actual band, and the combo's spontaneous working method allows for plenty of rough edges, in contrast to the airless Beatleisms of his last album of new material, 1997's Flaming Pie. But then, Pie had some real songs to recommend it, while too many of these 16 tunes sound like they were scribbled down right before the band plugged in. Faithful fans will get a kick out of hearing Paul at his loosest, even as Rain's underdeveloped charms are lost on those less devoted. B - Chris Willman
MICK JAGGER - Goddess in the Doorway (Virgin) $11.38 Jagger calls the songs on his latest solo album "very personal." And one is struck when this inscrutable rock legend confesses to wanting to flee his life or mentions hanging with a "girlfriend way down in Argentina" while pining for another. But the music, concocted with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Rob Thomas, is precision-tooled modern rock that aims for radio, not revelation. Add the majestic "Too Far Gone" to the list of prophetic songs songs about a changed world, and the album to the line of unessential Stones offshoot projects. C+ - David Browne
THE GODFATHER DVD COLLECTION (Paramount) $79.99 The most dramatic moment of The Godfather DVD Collection may not be the scene where Michael pops Sollozzo and McCluskey, or the part where Fredo gets it, or the helicopter attack on the mobsters' meeting. No, it just may be the director's commentary for The Godfather Part III, in which Francis Ford Coppola defends the wobbly third leg of his trilogy with equal parts defiance, regret, and fascinating self-aggrandizement. Of the critical roasting of Sofia Coppola's performance in III, for instance, her pop says, "There is no worse way to pay for your sins than to have your children be included in the punishment." Well, you were the one who cast her, Francis. The boxed set also includes a bonus disc of remarkable extras, including a 1991 documentary that offers that offers audition footage of not only Brando, Pacino, Caan, and Keaton, but of a very young Robert De Niro and Martin Sheen testing for the roles of Sonny and Michael. There are thirty-four additional scences, some seen before in Coppola's endless iterations for TV, others completely new. Featurettes on the films' visuals and script allow cinematographer Gordon Willis and the late Mario Puzo to be heard from. The bonus disc even coughs up a few Oscar acceptance speeches -- no Sacheen Littlefeather, sadly -- and if you look carefully, a hilariously apropos scene from The Sopranos. A- - Ty Burr
ALMOST FAMOUS / UNTITLED: THE BOOTLEG CUT (DreamWorks) $24.49 Given that it's a roman á clef about director Cameron Crowe's teenage initiation into the world of rock criticism, it's no wonder that Almost Famous' fully loaded rerelease gleefully meshes reality and fiction with its slew of additional goodies. Untitled, the director's cut (almost 40 minutes longer than the theatrical version), includes commentary tracks from both Crowe and his mom, Alice, the inspiration for Frances McDormand's hand-wringing fusspot. Crowe also perpetuates the legacy of Stillwater with a 24-minute CD, rehearsal footage from their San Diego show, and six songs from the Cleveland gig excerpted in the film. It's enough to get even the most stuffy cineast ready to rock. A - Mike Flaherty
APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX (Paramount) $23.99 Francis Ford Coppola's recut of his 1979 directorial apotheosis ventures deep into Vietnam's heart of darkness, but it runs almost as long as the war -- which makes the ability to watch it at your own pace even more of a luxury. The DVD also allows viewers overly familiar with the original film to skip directly to the 14 (out of 36) new chapters, the best of which flesh out Robert Duvall's napalm-loving Colonel Kilgore. In the end, Redux smells like... victory. A - Bruce Fretts
- Entertainment Weekly, 12/01.
With 'Old Gods Almost Dead', biographer Stephen Davis
by Brian M. Raftery in Entertainment Weekly
It was a cheeky in-joke at the time, intended to poke fun at the Stones frontman's increasingly swelled ego and ascent into the social elite. Nowadays, of course, it's hard to imagine anyone not knowing the answer: Only a handful of bands have had their bad-boy mythology so completely documented (and ultimately celebrated) as the Rolling Stones have. For rock fans, the band's legendary excesses -- both behavioral and financial -- come to mind with the same auto-recall as the buzz-saw guitar riff that propels "Satisfaction."
With so few mysteries left to unearth, Stephen Davis faces a near-impossible task of digging up new dirt in Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones (Broadway Books, $19.25), his lengthy, career-spanning group history that follows Mick and Co. from angry young men to coldly calculating money machines. With his bawdy, best-selling exposés on Led Zeppelin (Hammer of the Gods) and Aerosmith (Walk This Way), Davis has established himself as an unflinching explorer of sleazy indulgence and backstage drama. But while there's no shortage of either in Old Gods (after all, this is a group whose best-behaved member merely dabbled in heroin), even the most extreme moments of extravagance are, by now, too familiar. When it comes to the Stones, nothing's shocking.
Still, Davis's latest warts-and-all rock & roll tome is, at the very least, a thoroughly researched primer on the band's early years and glory days. Beginning in World War II Britain, he introduces the oft-feuding ruffians who would eventually make up the first fully realized incarnation of the Stones: campy attention arbiter Mick Jagger; choirboy-turned-blues freak Keith Richards; mild-mannered Charlie Watts; perennially charmed Bill Wyman; and brutish Brian Jones, who serves as the focal point for the first half of Gods.
Though he's now overshadowed by Jagger's tabloid escapades and Richards' seemingly lifelong near-death status, Jones was the band's true wild child, and Davis is fascinated by his deuling personalities. At times, Jones was a sensitive genius who could learn almost any instrument within minutes. But he was also a lout, with a crippling drug addiction and a horrific attitude toward women (when he wasn't knocking them up, he was knocking them down). His cruel treatment of trailblazing groupie Anita Pallenberg -- who would later hook up with Richards -- is captured in heartbreaking detail.
But even before Jones' departure from the band and subsequent death in 1969, the Stones were becoming the Jagger/Richards show, and after the nightmare of Altamont, the group was retreating -- both from the authorities and one another. The reckless decade that followed makes for pure rock & roll soap opera, and is Gods' highlight: As the tax-exiled group moves from country to country, leaving a trail of drug binges and brilliant records (this was the era that spawned Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers) in their wake, Davis' breakneck writing deftly captures the band's tenous grasp with its troubled existence.
It's a bit of a letdown, then, when Davis begins to shift from fact finder to fervent fan. An obvious Stones aficionado, he's at times too forgiving of their indulgences, musical and otherwise. For all his legitimate tsk-tsking of Jones' behavior, Davis seems to merely shrug off Richards' wicked ways -- this was a man whose on-again, off-again substance abuse constantly threatened to break up the band. It seems far easier to pick on the dead, to lazily reason that if Richards can look back and laugh, why call him on it?
Davis also fawns over the Stones' spiral into a '90s corporate-sponsored nostalgia act, during which they cashed in with instantly forgettable albums and overpriced tchotchkes (does anyone look back fondly on that Voodoo Lounge CD-ROM?); they even licensed "Brown Sugar" for a Pepsi ad. Old Gods is inevitably undermined by Davis' belief that the Rolling Stones' uproarious past makes their sadly self-parodying modern-day transgressions forgivable; in the end, he simply has too much sympathy for these devils.
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