Is it sad commentary when some of the best music being commercially released is either a recasting of tried and true stylings or an actual reissue of an oldie-but-goodie? A little. But we'll take what we can get these days as we wait for the record-industry stone to turn.
Rock music, more than any other popular form, lends itself rather generously to revisiting, reinterpreting or plain old thievery. It's all about the passing on of tradition, in the hopes that each subsequent generation will add something new to the conversation. Often, that's exactly what happens. Other times, imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery. Once in a while, that can be enough.
Which leads us to the Hives, that Swedish exporter of hyperbolic self-confidence and well-worn garage rock.
No one with even the slightest familiarity with rock history would accuse the Hives of breaking new ground. Everything the band does has been done before, often better. But we live in ironic times. The public imagination is founded upon an assumed lack of long-term memory. So we see a preponderance of decade-specific collections and television shows like VH-1's "I Love the '80s." These things only succeed because there is a generation ready to appreciate them with the bravery of being out of range and the distance afforded by irony.
Let's face it, if you were musically cognizant in the '80s, for example, you're probably well aware that much of pop-based music being released was completely awful. But a decade-plus hence, its kitch value means that folks who hold a general conception of themselves as being cool and with-it are quite comfortable dancing in public to recycled music that was an embarrassment the first time around.
So the Hives get to play short-sharp blasts of punk-laced garage rock, dress like dandies and appropriate Mick Jagger's moves for the purpose of lampooning them. The band's full-length debut, last year's "Veni Vidi Viscous," sold some 400,000 copies, many of them to youngsters who don't remember the Stooges or even the Kinks, for that matter.
Now, the band is back, with the nattily attired and hilariously christened "Tyrannosaurus Hives" (Interscope). The record boogies, shimmies, spurts and sputters like New Wave done Detroit style. Distorted vocals, clocklike rhythms, hooks that never outstay their welcome, lots of in-jokes and stroking of one's own legacy. It's fun. And it proves that old-school garage-pop/punk cleans up pretty well.
Sadly, Jeff Buckley is another artist whose only new releases will be dressed-up versions of old recordings -- in this case, the few brilliant sessions he completed during his brief life. Still, the 10th anniversary of Buckley's flawless "Grace" album finds Columbia Legacy, in cooperation with Buckley's mother, Mary Guibert, preparing to drop a deluxe edition of the album, with some 60 minutes of mostly previously unavailable outtakes from the sessions included.
This isn't scraping the bottom of the Buckley barrel, however. These are fully mixed recordings, either alternate versions or tunes Buckley chose, for various reasons, to keep off of "Grace." "Forget Her" is a pure gem and would have fit neatly on the original album. Versions of Bob Dylan's "Mama, You Been on My Mind" and Bukka White's "Parchman Farm" reveal the reverence Buckley held for his forebears. Both are nothing short of brilliant.
Look for "Grace -- The Legacy Edition" before summer's end.
Speaking of Dylan, "Is It Rolling, Bob? -- A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan" (Sanctuary) hits the bins Aug. 10 and finds Dylan restyled in Jamaican garb. He wears it well.
Dylan worked with reggae performance/production team Sly and Robbie on his "Infidels" record and has never made a secret of his admiration for reggae artists, particularly Bob Marley. Here, in addition to performances from Apple Gabriel ("The Times They Are A-Changin' "), Toots Hibbert ("Maggie's Farm"), Gregory Isaacs ("Mr. Tambourine Man") and Sizzla ("Subterranean Homesick Blues"), we're served a hip remix of the man himself -- the "Infidels" track "I and I" gets the makeover from Sly and Robbie, to wonderful effect.
Here's an oddity that we're happy to see be granted the light of day. In 1997, Soul Asylum was asked to play a high school prom for flood-ravaged Grand Forks, N.D. Circumstances required the prom to be moved to an airplane hangar. The gig, naturally, has entered the ether of legend.
Listening to this crisp rendering of it today, in the form of "After the Flood: Live From the Grand Forks Prom" (Columbia/Legacy) it's easy to see why. It sounds like a boozy bacchanal. One is comfortable presuming that that's exactly what it was.
Opening with a spot-on cover of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" and proceeding through a set that includes "Misery," "Black Gold," "Without a Trace," "Somebody to Shove" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy, Karl Mueller, Joey Huffman and Sterling Campbell prove their mettle. This is clearly an undervalued rock band.
Sure, rock fans have an insatiable lust for the new. But sometimes, looking back is a good idea.