Every day until New Year’s Eve we’ll be looking back at the best music and pop culture of 2011. Since new music doesn’t sell like it used to, labels are repackaging and remastering just about every classic album ever made. Our panel of music writers nominated 73 different reissues, best-of collections and box sets, which we narrowed down to 10 absolute must-haves.
5. R.E.M. Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage: 1982-2015
The title would be a great joke about typical anthology bullshit, if it was actually a joke. The problem is R.E.M.’s career contains more than two discs worth of truth and heart—know many bands with more than ten good albums?—and a lot fewer lies and garbage. And the three new songs are modest and lovely. A long way from “Gardening at Night”’s inscrutable beginnings, the loud and clear words share a theme: retirement. “Is this what you really want?” begs the penultimate “We All Go Back to Where We Belong.” Then you think back to the almost flawless 38 songs you just heard. And the answer is no. Box set, please.—Dan Weiss
4. U2 – Achtung Baby
Two decades after its original release, the deluxe edition features never-before-seen footage and rare recordings. “I’m blown away listening to some of the rough mixes and the outtakes,” The Edge told Rolling Stone. “There’s some very interesting alternative versions that we discovered of songs that wouldn’t have seen the light of day, alternative lyrics, different arrangement styles—it’s like Achtung Baby out of focus.”
3. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On: 40th Anniversary Edition
Quite simply the best soul album ever released. The 40th anniversary boxset includes 14 unreleased tracks on its two CDs and vinyl LP, along with a pair of essays on the seminal album’s impact and rare photos of Marvin Gaye.
2. The Beach Boys – The SMiLE Sessions
Genius. It’s a word that’s been attributed to Brian Wilson, his Beach Boys and his beloved, incomplete masterpiece, SMiLE, for years. As the follow-up to the not-immediately loved, but now-cherished Pet Sounds, Wilson had a bit of leeway after the success of the single “Good Vibrations,” which would eventually become SMiLE’s closing track. At the end of the day, it’s refreshing to listen to a near-completed version of SMiLE from the ’60s, and hearing Wilson work on one of the most infamous albums of the last century is an important part of rock history. The Sessions are a great listen when you have time to sift through it all, and the package gives hardcore fans more than enough material to immerse themselves in.—Tyler Kane
1. Nirvana – Nevermind
We know Kurt Cobain felt somewhat ashamed of the production on the record. Still, when I listen to it these days, aside from maybe a hair too much chorus effect on the guitars (but is there such a thing really?), all i hear is very loud guitars, even louder drums and some of the most oddly musical bass lines put to tape in the ’90s. I think what he was really embarrassed about was how perfect the record sounded. I love Dinosaur Jr.‘s You’re Living All Over Me with near equal passion but those drums are flat and its overall mix is not as happening as Nevermind’s. I mean, listen to the first few seconds of “On A Plain” to hear that instant before the wall of guitars enter. It’s huge. Loveless huge. It didn’t sound like an SST or Sub Pop record. On Nevermind, Nirvana fought fire with fire. To spare a generation of kids from cock rock and power ballads, they slicked up their sound, doubled the vocals, tuned the drums and even used the vocal melody of “Teen Spirit” for the guitar solo. Nothing to be ashamed of.—Carter Tanton from 20 Musicians Discuss Nirvana’s Nevermind