Of all the ridonk, useless “deluxe editions” to which we’ve been subjected of late, this relatively busy week brings one whose original album — a genuine modern classic — actually merits the upgrade. Read on:



Obviously emboldened by the brilliantly triumphant ’80s mix they assembled last spring, the folks at Now That’s What I Call Music! have trudged forth with a series of similarly themed compilations, and while subsequent editions (covering, among other genres, the best of country, classic rock, and Motown) have wholly failed to be as uniformly riveting as the ’80s set was, this week brings a fairly worthy successor, as Now That’s What I Call Power Ballads! lands in record stores. A sterling mix of evergreen chestnuts (Journey’s “Faithfully,” Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” Tesla’s “Love Song”) and forgotten favorites (Sheriff’s “When I’m With You” and Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity,” a pair of tunes that haven’t crossed my mind in, literally, decades!), the only flaw that bars Ballads from reaching the same level as its vaunted ancestor is the complete and shameful absence of REO Speedwagon and Foreigner, a pair of pioneers who absolutely helped create the power ballad movement, and who could have easily been swapped out for subpar tracks by The Scorpions and Slaughter, neither of which deserves the coveted real estate (sandwiched in between Survivor’s heart-rending “The Search is Over” and Extreme’s smash throwback “More Than Words”) they have been inexplicably handed on this album. Also out this week: installment number 30 in the original Now! series, which passes muster with terrific radio hits from Lady GaGa, Britney Spears, Jason Mraz, Nickelback, and All-American Rejects.

A and Sherry Ann both think I’ve flipped it, but I just adore that sly font of fabulousness known as Miley Cyrus, who this week marks the forthcoming release of Hannah Montana: The Movie by foisting upon us the film’s soundtrack. Yes, the album is led by Cyrus’ radio single “The Climb” and features a delish remix of Hannah‘s irresistible title theme “The Best of Both Worlds,” but don’t be scared: this record ain’t all-Miley-all-the time; Rascal Flatts, that annoying twitlet Taylor Swift, and daddy Billy Ray also show up.

Now on their own following a disastrous stint at Hollywood Records (who literally had no idea how to market and promote the band’s tough, cerebral music, which not even a lacerating cameo from white-hot Pink could drag into the true mainstream), folk-rock heroines Indigo Girls are back with a new double-sized effort, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, which features one disc of ten original tracks (recorded in studio with a full backing band), and another disc containing those same songs performed acoustically. You might be thinking that Amy and Emily aren’t nearly as relevant and dynamic as they once were, and you might well be right. But they remain true, necessary artists, and that means they’re welcome any time and in any capacity.

To be sure, no one was ever going to mistake them for the Backstreet Boys, but Justin Furstenfeld — who, at his best anyway, splits the difference between Peter Gabriel and Bono about as nimbly as could ever be expected — and the guys of Blue October take their bent intensity to a whole new plane on their fifth album, the ironically-titled Approaching Normal: lead single “Dirt Room” — the most profoundly disturbing modern rock tune since Jeremy spoke in class (more on that one directly) — is a lovely little ditty about kidnapping and torture in which the protagonist imagines slathering his victim with honey to make him more desirable to ants and bees and making him breathe through a straw. (I swear I’m not making that up!)

Coming as she was off of her strongest, most entertaining album in a decade — 2007’s Waking Up Laughing, her most consistent offering since 1996’s brilliant Wild Angels — one would hope and pray that modern country legend Martina McBride would carry at least some of that momentum into the follow-up record. But no dice: despite flashes of customary excellence — I fell hard for “Walk Away” and, especially, “Lies,” the disc’s wrenching closing track — I sadly found Shine, McBride’s ninth studio album, to be a weightless, cliche-riddled, hokum-filled mess. (If you’re wondering why the painfully dopey lead single “Ride” is fighting for its life right now at country radio, look no further than its ridiculously stuffy chorus: “shine while you have the chance to shine / laugh even when you want to cry / hold on tight and ride….” Such flat, uninspired schlock, from the woman who once breathed pulsing life into “Independence Day” and “Love’s the Only House,” two of the most powerful smash singles in the entire history of the genre?! As they might say in Gay Paree, “Vraiment?!”)

Big news on the international front: I know this came out already last month, and I know I have a hell of a lot of nerve asking you to buy it again, but it has recently been brought to my attention that the so-called “super deluxe” edition of
The Annie Lennox Collection (which contains three additional videos and eight bonus songs — among them, her socko 1995 cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon” and her stunning, little-heard take on Cole Porter’s standard “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” from 1992’s landmark Red Hot + Blue benefit project, not to mention a live duet with Alicia Keys on R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”; and which, in an entirely maddening development, is only available in this country as an iTunes download) can be acquired in physical form from our good friends in Germany, who evidently harbor no qualms whatsoevah about rewarding those die-hard fans who detest downloading whole albums and who relish the idea of holding an actual product in their hands. (Wonder no longer about why the American recording industry is going to hell in a fucking handcart.) I deplore purchasing albums online almost as much as I hate downloading them, but when I got wind of the existence of this several weeks back, I immediately whipped out my credit card and preordered my very own copy. (The lengths I’ll go to for you, Annie!) You good, smart folks reading this would be wise to do the same.

One of the biggest-selling and most celebrated albums in the history of American rock music — which, not coincidentally, was recorded eighteen years ago this month — has been granted a spiffy new makeover this week, as the opening salvo in a planned full-scale reissue of its band’s entire discography as they gear up to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their formation. Looking back on 1991, a year in which Michael Jackson was still a viable pop star, the only rapper selling a substantial number of records was a goofily-coiffed white guy who called himself “Vanilla,” and the charts were ruled by the non-threatening likes of Vanessa Williams, Marc Cohn, and Michael Bolton (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those people!), there was little indication of the massive revolution which was slowly coming to a boil in the northwest corner of the country, where bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam were peddling their wares nightly in the clubs of Seattle and waiting to be found.

In fearlessly taking difficult topics — a mother sexually abusing her confused son in “Alive”; a student-engineered school massacre in the still-iconic “Jeremy”; a homeless man fighting desperately against impending madness in “Even Flow” — and dulling their sharp edges with blisteringly intense vocal work from lead singer Eddie Vedder and the kinds of irresistibly anthemic guitar and drum riffs you just can’t buy, Pearl Jam quickly found its ticket to the big time with their debut album Ten, and the fact that, of the contemporaries — the aforementioned bands, as well as Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Blind Melon, and two dozen other one-and-done grunge groups — with whom they so dramatically came of age, they are the only ones who have survived to tell the whole tale speaks as much to the integrity of the artists as it does to the quality of the art they created.

Ten is newly available in three distinct editions: a standard two-disc version, which contains the original album as well as a fully de- and reconstructed remixed rendition — replete with six bonus tracks — spearheaded by the band’s longtime producer Brendan O’Brien; a deluxe three-disc version, which contains the aforementioned audio discs as well as a DVD containing the band’s storied 1992 appearance on “MTV Unplugged”; and an all-stops-yanked-out collector’s edition boxed set with all of the above, plus four vinyl albums (two for the original album, specifically remastered for the format, and two for a 1992 concert from Seattle’s Magnuson Park) and a replica of the demo cassette which won Vedder the job as Pearl Jam’s leader.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • A matter of time and tide, indeed: the unquestioned pride of Poland, Barbara Trzetrzelewska — known much better ’round these parts as simply Basia — returns this week from a self-imposed fifteen-year-long hiatus with fourth studio album, It’s That Girl Again.

  • Rising country star Eric Church looks to build on the momentum of his fabulous 2006 breakthrough, Sinners Like Me, with his sophomore effort, Carolina.

  • The Decemberists follow up their 2006 indie smash The Crane Wife with their latest concept record, The Hazards of Love.

  • The record has bounced on and off the release schedule for most of the past year, but In a Perfect World…, the debut effort from Keri Hilson (who helped Timbaland score a multiplatinum megasmash a pair of years ago with their sensational duet “The Way I Are”), finally sees the light of day this week.

  • John Rich of Big and Rich fame trucks out on his own for a spell with his solo debut, Son of a Preacher Man.

  • A pair of Oscar wins for the electrifying score of Slumdog Millionaire — easily that overhyped hot mess of a film’s finest virtue — has put the name of its composer on more than one pair of lips lately; hence, a new compilation from Sony Legacy entitled The Best of A.R. Rahman:
    Music and Magic from the Composer of Slumdog Millionaire
    , which pulls together the ostensible best of his extensive career.

  • Pioneering British rockers Radiohead reissue their first three albums — 1993’s Pablo Honey, 1995’s The Bends, and their breakneck 1997 masterpiece OK Computer — in deluxe double-disc collector’s editions, which contain remixes, b-sides, and live versions of their most enduring tracks.


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