We live in an obscenely media-saturated age. It seems as if every single record ever released since adorable little Nipper stuck his cocked head inside Edison Bell's cylinder phonograph has been reissued, repackaged and resold thrice over. Still, some years are definitely better than others when it comes to boxed sets, remasters, expanded editions, anthologies, greatest-hits collections and archival curiosities. I'd say 2011 was a most excellent one.
This year saw three major discographies overhauled: those of R.E.M., Queen and Pink Floyd. The one accompanied by the greatest ballyhoo was, of course, Floyd's. In addition to remastering each and every studio album, the band dropped expanded editions of two of their classic-rock landmarks: The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. And for the really obsessed fans, they put together Discovery, a massive boxed set containing just about everything.
The year 2011 also saw Aerosmith make their entire catalog available for digital streaming. For those Napster subscribers who've been waiting for a decade to listen to Rocks, Toys in the Attic, Draw the Line, et al., this event was huge. Granted, these aren't reissues in the strictest sense, but a couple of titles do make this year's list because Aerosmith is one hell of a legacy artist.
Having said all that, 2011 will ultimately go down as the year Capitol Records finally released an official version of the pop masterpiece that never was, The Beach Boys' Smile. It was long, long overdue. For decades the only collection available to fans was a mediocre-sounding bootleg, one that attempted to predict the track sequencing (had the record been actually finished back in 1967). Then there was the 2004 version, Brian Wilson's rather unfulfilling stab at completing the record. What makes The Smile Sessions so awesome, and really so enthralling, is how it downplays the simulation tactics of its predecessors, instead opting for a curatorial approach best described as "total coverage."
For those who want to experience a rough approximation of what Smile was suppose to sound like, there's Disc 1. It's mind-blowing -- of course. But the juiciest material is to be found on Discs 2 through 5: all the sessions themselves. Writer David Toop argues, in an essay that appeared in the November edition of The Wire, that Smile was far more about the musicians' collective journey, however doomed and troubled, than their destination. One can't help but agree when exploring these subsequent discs. The what if question quickly melts away, while the listener is treated to front-row seats to the band's creative process, in particular Brian Wilson's singular vision of a new American pop music.