“Pink Flag” (2 CDs), “Chairs Missing” (3 CDs) and “154” (3 CDs) (pinkflag)
Art movements — Minimalism, Primitivism, Dadaism, Pop — are embedded in punk rock’s basic DNA. In 1977, the artiest punk band in Britain — or maybe the punkiest art band — was Wire, whose magnificently cantankerous, lastingly influential, pointedly brief first three albums have been reissued as multiple-CD sets including demos, singles, alternate versions, unreleased songs and extensive annotations.
Wire’s 1977 “Pink Flag” crammed 21 songs into 36 minutes of bare-bones punk: songs full of bluntly repeated guitar chords, sudden endings, vocals that were often scornful and arch, and bleak or bitterly sardonic lyrics like the telegraphic “Reuters”: “This is your correspondent running out of tape/Gunfire’s increasing, looting, burning, rape.” The demos reveal Wire’s deliberate cooling down of vocal delivery and guitar tones in the final versions — a push away from the Ramones and Sex Pistols (though things still get pretty noisy).
“Chairs Missing,” from 1978, was already moving toward post-punk. It doubled down on Minimalism by building many songs on obstinate, incessant repetition; it also daringly expanded Wire’s studio palette with effects, multitracking and synthesizers. Multiple demos of a few songs show them getting completely transmogrified along the way.
With “154” in 1979 — its last studio album before a breakup that devolved into a hiatus — Wire allowed itself more pop luxuries. There were approachable melodies, warmer sounds, spatial depth and distinct vocals. But the songs remained cryptic, dark and flinty: “I’ve found something no one else is looking for,” Colin Newman sang in “Single K.O.” All the additional material completely overrides Wire’s original mandate of ruthless self-editing, but so what? Now we know some of the choices behind the rigorous originals. JON PARELES
“Are You One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions, 1990-1994” (2 CDs) (Manifesto)
Blues power and freak-show theatrics converged in the career of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1929-2000), who would arrive onstage in a coffin to deliver his indelible 1956 hit, “I Put a Spell on You.” Wearing a bone in his nose and carrying a skull on his cane, he portrayed ghouls and madmen while unleashing shouts, rasps, growls, shrieks and bursts of scat-singing. In the 1990s he made three albums for Bizarre Records that added up to a compendium of record-company strategies applied to a raw talent with a long past: remakes (including “I Put a Spell on You” with a rapper), covers and outlandish, often raunchy songs of his own with titles like “Strange,” “Stone Crazy,” “Swamp Gas” and “Sherilynn Fenn.” His version of “Ol’ Man River” punctuates a homage to Paul Robeson with anarchic howls; he tears into Clarence Carter’s hit “Strokin’” and struts through Tom Waits’s “Whistling Past the Graveyard.” Luckily, Bizarre gave him a studio band (with Mike Keneally from Frank Zappa’s band on lead guitar) that both knew its 1950s rock and was in on the joke. J.P.
“Jazzmatazz Vol. 1” (3 LPs) (Chrysalis/UME)
By the early 1990s, hip-hop was well-established enough and argued-over enough to spawn its own wave of organic intellectuals, many of whom tasked themselves with arguing loudly for the genre’s place in the African-American musical canon. “Jazzmatazz Vol. 1” was the first solo endeavor of Guru, of the steely duo Gang Starr. Released in 1993 — in between the two essential Gang Starr albums, “Daily Operation” and “Hard to Earn” — it was at that time the most overt of the handful of biggish-ticket hip-hop efforts to reach back into the past and propose that it should be on equal footing with jazz. (It had already gobbled soul alive, via sampling.)
Rather than merely sample jazz, as had been done for years, Guru worked with a strong band of nondogmatic jazz-funk players: Donald Byrd, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers, and younger contemporaries like Ronny Jordan and Branford Marsalis. Together, they made a soothing, sober album that sounds not like the work of radicals, but of strategists careful not to move too far, too fast. It suggested that jazz-rap was a given, but delivered it in its least challenging form — no pyrotechnics, all cool. This three-LP 25th-anniversary deluxe edition includes the original album, the smoky instrumentals, and various remixes and B-sides. N’Dea Davenport’s vocal contributions are an essential document of the moment, as are Guru’s spoken interludes, which aspire to sound unhurried, but betray little glimmers of enthusiasm throughout. JON CARAMANICA
“The Complete Collection: 1986-1992” (8 LPs and 2CDs) (Island/UME)
It’s undeniable that hip-hop in the 1980s changed radically after the arrival of Rakim. His stoicism, his dexterity, his unerring calm, his gift for narrative storytelling — they were all pathbreaking. But he was fundamentally sui generis; those who arrived in his wake rarely improved on him during the years captured in this boxed set, which is as unfussy as he was, and includes double-LP reprints of each of the duo’s four albums and two CDs of remixes.
From his confident dismantling of other rappers on “My Melody,” from “Paid in Full” (1987) to the geopolitically-grounded PTSD of “Casualties of War,” from “Don’t Sweat the Technique” (1992), Rakim was an icily certain rapper. He rapped in stern clusters that expanded the genre’s poetic range and its formal ambitions. Crucially, just as G-funk in Los Angeles and the lush pop-soul remakes of Bad Boy Records in New York were emerging, setting the table for hip-hop’s full ascent into mainstream pop, Eric B. & Rakim split up, leaving a legacy untouched by decline. J.C.
Guns N’ Roses
“Appetite for Destruction: Locked N’ Loaded Edition” (4 CDs, 1 Blu-ray, 7 12-inch LPs, 7 7-inch LPs, hardcover book, assorted ephemera) (Geffen/UMe)
In a 1986 demo session at Sound City studios in Los Angeles, Guns N’ Roses was still sorting out how to be Guns N’ Roses. The end of “Welcome to the Jungle” was punctuated with a dubious “ha” rather than a gut-punch “huh!” “November Rain” came in two versions: a folky, fingerpicked acoustic-guitar number clocking in at a relatively restrained 5:01 minutes and an Elton John-ish piano rendition that stretched to 10:18. Somebody was shaking a superfluous tambourine on “Nightrain” and nobody knew what to do after the guitar solo.
It was the year before “Appetite for Destruction,” the quintet’s debut LP, would arrive, and two years before it would reach No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. You know what happened next: three studio albums between 1988 and 1991, a covers record in 1993 and then the punch-line-long wait for “Chinese Democracy,” which finally arrived in 2008 featuring none of the “Appetite” lineup aside from the frontman and songwriter Axl Rose.
In the past two years, some of the band has reunited to tour — the guitarist Slash and the bassist Duff McKagan, but not the drummer Steven Adler and the guitarist Izzy Stradlin — creating the kind of nostalgic good vibes that set the table for “Appetite for Destruction: Locked N’ Loaded Edition,” a hilariously, gloriously over-the-top boxed set overstuffed with demos and goodies that costs $999. (Less extravagant versions, minus the life-size tattoos and the bandanna, are also available.)
There are Elvis Presley and AC/DC covers, music videos, near-final sketches of all the songs that would appear on the 1988 album “G N’ R Lies” (minus “One in a Million,” a track with an addictive melody but hateful lyrics), glances at how this troupe of nimble players and clever arrangers would grow from Sunset Strip bad boys into international megastars. It’s a lot of tchotchkes, sure, but for GN’R, a little would never do. CARYN GANZ
“Home Boy, Sister Out” (1 CD or 2 LPs) (Wewantsounds)
As an improviser, Don Cherry could make his chintzy pocket trumpet into a stealth vehicle of the sublime. With a heaving single note or a short, skittering line, he showed a virtuoso naïveté, and a blissfully generous spirit. But the onetime Ornette Coleman collaborator also embraced other channels, often playing percussion and keyboards, and eventually leading large ensembles in spiritual excursions.
Then in 1985, during a career lull, he joined up with the young Parisian artist Ramuntcho Matta, and swerved again. The pair recorded “Home Boy, Sister Out,” a fluxus mash-up of ’80s radio that should have become an essential installment in Cherry’s discography. But until this past June, it had never been released outside of France.
Funk and hip-hop and rock don’t usually play too nicely with an emotional delivery as unfettered as Cherry’s. You’re supposed to keep something for yourself. But on “Home Boy” he converts blithe charm into a knowing, almost meditative brand of humor. He gently sends up entire pop conventions, even as he proves his love for them. There are love ballads (“Butterfly Friend”) and nonsense rap (“Alphabet City” and “Rappin’ Recipe,” boasting about his record collection, and mispronouncing Janis Joplin’s name) and razor-sharp funk (“Treat Your Lady Right”). Cherry is reminding us that music doesn’t have to sound any particular way to be serious, and it doesn’t have to be serious to matter. This is proud black Dada, minus the nihilismus. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO