'New' old albums from Black Sabbath, The Monks, Pearl Jam...

A fair clutch of reissues, special editions and the like has dropped into Clash’s lap of late. So, here, we’re taking a look at some oldies getting a new suit and being told to stand up straight all over again.

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The Monks – ‘Black Monk Time’

Label: Light In The Attic

Released: April 13

Where on earth to begin with this modern classic recorded back in 1965? (Modern classic because its impact has only really been fully felt via endorsements from some of today’s most-revered musicians, including members of Radiohead and The Beastie Boys, and Jack White who called their melodies “pop destructive”.) At the beginning, I guess.

The five members of The Monks were stationed together as GIs in Germany in the early 1960s. They soon began playing music together as the 5 Torquays, covering Chuck Berry songs and basically doing what they could to elevate their souls out of the dull day-to-day existence of their base. Lead singer, Gary Burger, has said of their earliest efforts that many a song was a “total failure”, but there’s no doubt the five found their sound over time.

Upon their discharge, the five became The Monks and began to work on their first, and only of the era, long-play release – ‘Black Monk Time’ was released in March of 1966, and sounded like little else around. It still sounds like little else, although its influence on a raft of subsequent raucous punk-rockers is clear to hear. Burger’s vocals are shrieked, the woozy organ tones offer a contrasting warmth to the occasionally visceral lyricism, which can also border on the absolutely absurd, and the band’s aesthetic – they adopted a uniform to match their moniker – was particularly striking.

Ultimately, The Monks’ songs eschewed convention like few before them, taking their lead not from the following of a melody but percussive, rhythmical elements; in this sense you can draw a line straight from their work of over 40 years ago right up to today’s purveyors of highly refined noise such as HEALTH and Liars, Deerhoof and Gang Gang Dance – acts that muddle up the playing pieces to great effect. Legend has it The Monks even influenced one Jimi Hendrix, who when catching the group live in London took a distinct interest in Burger’s use of guitar pedals and deployment of feedback. One can even listen closer, to a track like ‘Blast Off!’ for instance, and note parallels between the band’s repetition-based arrangements and the later Krautrock movement.

This re-issue includes earlier recordings from ’64 and ’65 in addition to the twelve tracks that comprise the original ‘Black Monk Time’. They flesh out what was always a pretty brief but fiery blast of a record, adding value for first-timers and familiar fans alike. Also included is their distinctly softer-sounding non-album single, ‘Cuckoo’ – essentially the recording that split the band until they reformed in 1999 for a series of live shows.

Surprisingly fresh despite its wide influence and, of course, the significant passing of time, ‘Black Monk Time’ is a classic of its kind, and as such warrants pretty damn immediate investigation by those with the slightest appreciation of the history of rock and roll in its myriad forms. The extras can be taken or left – it’s the original album that shines.

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The Bluetones – ‘Expecting To Fly’

Label: Mercury

Released: out now

Unlike ‘Black Monk Time’, which has seen its stock rise gradually over time, ‘Expecting To Fly’ scored big time upon its original release in 1996 but has since slipped into relative obscurity. Knock ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ from its number one perch it may have done, but honestly: which album have you heard more times over the last decade or so?

London foursome The Bluetones’ debut album also contained a number two single, ‘Slight Return’, which ensured the group made their commercial mark upon its 1996 re-release (having initially emerged as a double-A-side with ‘The Fountainhead’ a year earlier). But although the Mark Morriss-led outfit enjoyed attention aplenty in the mid-90s, during what can be seen now as a definite indie boom (listen to any Shine-style compilation for examples of the shit that found an audience at the time), come the release of album five in 2006 – a self-titled affair – they could only reach number 100 on the albums chart. Glory days, indeed, were over.

So it makes sense that they’re returning to their successful roots. Recent live shows have seen The Bluetones play ‘Expecting To Fly’ in full, so a re-issue is timely. Listening with fresh ears it’s strange to hear so much bitterness in Morriss’ lyrics – in 1996 the band seemed a breezy, less-serious cousin to the likes of Oasis and The Verve, but despite the joviality of some arrangements here, there’s true bite to the words. The singles – ‘Bluetonic’, ‘Slight Return’ and particularly ‘Cut Some Rug’ – sound strong, and could slip easily enough onto certain radio stations if released today, possessing as they do a sunshine-blessed warmth of tone whatever the lyrical themes; elsewhere, though, the years have been less kind, as makeweight offerings sound exclusively of their era.

But that’s to be expected – every record is a product of its environment, of its time and place, so it’s pretty rare to listen to something recorded ten or more years ago that sounds absolutely vital today. Fans, of course, will have the original album so will feel no need to re-purchase, unless of course they’re swayed by the bonus disc, which collects a number of BBC session tracks not included on the band’s ‘BBC Radio Sessions’ album of two years ago. The qualities vary, but since all songs are previously unreleased, any collectors are sure to lap them up.

Necessary, then? No, of course not. But as a trip down memory lane, you can experience far worse listens.

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Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’

Label: Universal

Release date: April 6

Honestly, if ‘Paranoid’ isn’t somewhere in your record collection, you need to take a serious look at yourself. Few albums are as iconic, as important, as the 1970 sophomore LP from Birmingham’s Black Sabbath.

A combination of studied meticulousness and inspired in-the-moment spontaneity, the record’s tonal shifts and lyrical depth took heavy metal to a new level of critical recognition in some quarters… and it didn’t fare badly commercially either, going platinum several times over. ‘Paranoid’ is the only Black Sabbath album to have hit number one on the domestic albums chart.

While frontman Ozzy Osbourne is a figure of comedy today, a reality star whose name’s been dragged through the dirt too many times to care about any more, here he’s in his element, his forceful vocals a perfect foil against Tommy Iommi’s frantic, fidgety guitar work – chugga-chugga may go the riffs, but delicate nuances shine through the wall of sound to lend certain tracks a real depth.

While regarded as a pivotal release in heavy metal history – and domestic rock history, come to think of it – ‘Paranoid’ did have its share of critics at the time of release – while feted in corners enough for it to have an immediate impact, opinion could be described as split if measured across the board. Hindsight, though, allows for a careful reconsideration of the record, as the millions of musicians it has inspired follow their own paths with this as one of a handful of guiding lights.

Bonus features here are plentiful, this deluxe expanded edition extending to three discs. The original album fills disc one; disc two is a special quadraphonic recording, which dates from 1974; and disc three features instrumental and alternative takes of album tracks. It’s enough to warrant buying again, especially if you’ve only had ‘Paranoid’ on LP until now.

So, a classic then, even if the start of ‘Iron Man’ has always sounded faintly ridiculous.

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Pearl Jam – ‘Ten’

Label: Sony

Released: March 23

Right! Listen up… Pearl Jam, much like Smashing Pumpkins, were not a grunge band. ‘Ten’ might’ve emerged during the Seattle silly season of 1991, when every band featuring a plaid-shirted guitarist could crack a major label deal, but this debut album is classic rock to its core.

Mother Love Bone and Green River, I’ll give you those, and both of course play their part in the Pearl Jam sound, but comparing ‘Ten’ to the landmark same-year release of ‘Nevermind’ is foolish – they sound not the slightest bit alike. The album’s gestation also differs greatly from the Kurt Cobain-led Nirvana method – many of these eleven songs (the re-issue features six bonus tracks, too) began as instrumentals, with vocalist Eddie Vedder adding his contributions at a later date. But while the frontman might seem to sit to one side of the rest of his band here, there’s no doubting he provided the punch necessary to elevate ‘Ten’ to multi-platinum status.

Appealing to disaffected youths the world over, Vedder’s singular view on the world was wrapped up in stirring lyrics that, ultimately, saw the good in all situations, however bleak. ‘Alive’ and ‘Jeremy’ are fist-aloft anthems that have weathered the passing years well, as close to works by Led Zeppelin as they are anything by Soundgarden. The fret-mangling OTT wailing of ‘Why Go’ sounds dated in the extreme, but there’s enough meat on these bones to make ‘Ten’ an enjoyable listen in 2009.

And there are extras, of course, all of which are previously unreleased. The most interesting of these is ‘Brother’, written in 1991 (and not performed live since) and allegedly splitting opinion in the band to such a degree that bassist Jeff Ament threatened to leave the band. But, here it is, with lyrics missing on the version that surfaced on the 2003 rarities compilation ‘Lost Dogs’. Its success on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart earlier this year – it peaked at one – proves that Pearl Jam’s fanbase is still rabid for new music, whenever it was originally penned.

An early take on one of the band’s additions to the Singles soundtrack, ‘Breath’ (here titled ‘Breath And A Scream’), is a novelty sure to appeal to longstanding fans since its been accepted back into the band’s live sets after initially not making the ‘Ten’ cut; ‘State Of Love And Trust’, also featured on the 1992 movie’s soundtrack, makes an appearance too, again in early demo form.

These earliest songs really do expose Pearl Jam’s classic tendencies – really, they lacked the spark of mischief that informed so many ‘true’ grunge acts, and as such should now be considered separate to the movement. That’s not to say ‘Ten’ isn’t a good record, great in places… But, please, enough. Ol’ wassisface can quit spinning in his grave, finally.

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And really, we’ve only scratched the surface here. Also out and in stores soon (if not already) are re-issues of The Only Ones (‘The Only Ones’, ‘Even Serpents Shine’, ‘Baby’s Got A Gun’, each with bonus tracks), The Sword (‘Gods of The Earth’ and ‘Age Of Winters’ combined in a set to mark the group’s support slot on the Metallica tour), Siouxsie And The Banshees (‘Nocturne’, ‘Tinderbox’, ‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ and ‘Hyaena’), and… erm… Sinead O’ Connor (the one with ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ on it).

Not to mention the ‘new’ U2 album. What? That’s all new material? Getouttahere…


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