The CureFans of the Cure have something new to add to the top of their Christmas lists Rhino Records has begun a new re-issue campaign of the seminal goth-pop band's catalog this week, beginning with its first 1979 LP, Three Imaginary Boys, never released in the states in its original form (Boys Don't Cry), which included much of the material from this disc. It was issued in the United States a few months later.

Three Imaginary Boys shows the band at the earliest stage of its trademark dark pop sound, and its punk influences are far more upfront than they would be just a couple years later. The guitar work in a couple of songs actually sounds like early B-52s. The disc includes a track from the band's first single, "10:15 Saturday Night," and a manic cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," as well as the punchy "Fire in Cairo" and "Grinding Halt."

The revamped album ends with a previously unreleased instrumental, "The Weedy Burton," and includes a 20-song second disc filled with early home and studio demos. While many of the songs on the rarities disc are poorly recorded (muffled in the extreme), Robert Smith's early home recording of "10:15 Saturday Night" is a must-hear for fans (the song features only Smith and a keyboard, and is played extremely slowly), as is the original 1978 studio demo of "Boys Don't Cry" that also appears in its final 1979 single format.

Simon & GarfunkelSimon & Garfunkel toured together again for the first time in decades last year, and the resulting live concert recordings are documented on the new Old Friends: Live on Stage. A two-CD set, it includes "Old Friends," "A Hazy Shade of Winter," "I Am a Rock," "America," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Sound of Silence," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a recording of "Bye Bye Love," with the Everly Brothers.

The set ends with a new studio recording, "Citizen of the Planet," that recaptures the quiet harmony elegance that was Simon & Garfunkel in their prime.

Josh Groban has captured a new generation of fans for operatic music, and the reason is documented on Live at the Greek, a CD/DVD set from Reprise Records that includes eight live performances and a previously unreleased studio recording, as well as the complete concert on DVD, along with behind-the-scenes footage.

No Doubt may have gone into neutral as Gwen Stefani embarks on a solo career, but fans can pick up a collection of odds and ends from the band called Everything in Time (B-Sides, Rarities, Remixes) from Interscope. There are no missing "shoulda-been-hits" here. Many of the previously unreleased tracks are outtakes from the "Return of Saturn" CD and are decent, but not "great" No Doubt songs. The CD's title track, "Everything In Time" is one of the best lost moments. The CD also includes its Christmas recording of "Oi to The World" and a Rugrats movie collaboration with Elvis Costello on his "I Throw My Toys Around."


Gwen StefaniGwen Stefani

A party in a plastic box. That's the best description for Gwen Stefani's first full-length solo album produced outside of No Doubt, and it's exactly what she was going for. Reportedly, after No Doubt decided to take some time off, Stefani approached longtime musical partner Tony Kanal and suggested they create a disc even more influenced by the '80s dance-pop scene than No Doubt's Rock Steady disc a "Club Nouveau"-style CD.

Love.Angel.Music.Baby is a celebration of bubblegum pop, with a heavy nod at the music from the '80s Stefani grew up on, and produced with an incredibly inventive collage of studio effects and fun. It's both a fresh new disc and an homage to the best synth dance pop of days gone by.

The first track and single, "What You Waiting For?," co-written with Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes), voices Stefani's procrastination and self-doubt about attempting a solo project, and also serves as a universal anthem urging listeners to take their own shots in life ("what if they say that you're a climber?/naturally I'm worried if I do it alone/who really cares cause it's your life/you never know it could be great/take a chance cause you might grow").

"Rich Girl" pickpockets a melody from Fiddler on the Roof for its foot-stomping base (thanks to producer Dr. Dre) and the Neptunes, who help Stefani find a rappy urban groove that owes a little to Tony Basil cheerleader handclaps and Queen "Another One Bites the Dust" drums in "Holla Back Girl," which also features an appearance by Eve.

Stefani has named her music publishing arm Harajuku Lover Music (after a Tokyo shopping and entertainment district for the young and trendy), and the lyrics of the first two songs on the CD reference the hip style of "Harajuku Girls." Stefani later rolls out an infectious song of the same name, dedicated to Japan's teen queens and their "wicked style," produced with the pop genius help of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

If the quirky fun of "Harajuku Girls" doesn't convince you, there's no way to listen to "Bubble Pop Electric" without a smile, as Stefani puts on her best Betty Boop to tell the story of a horny teen girl waiting for her boytoy to pick her up and take her to the drive-in movie. She’ll repeat her connection of cars and amour later in “Crash,” produced and co-written with Kanal. There she echoes the punch of Salt N Pepa’s “Push It” as she sings “drive back baby to me fast in your car/I’m here waiting, crash into me real hard.”

And if all of those ‘80s touchstones aren’t enough, Stefani enlists both New Order and Wendy & Lisa to play on “The Real Thing,” which rests on a rhythm bed reminiscent of “Bizarre Love Triangle” while Stefani sings a chorus that owes a lot to early Madonna.
Stefani has truly pulled together a phenomenal debut album, and one that allows her to focus on a variety of styles and flavors that would probably never happen within the band context of No Doubt (only “Cool” sounds anything like what No Doubt has recorded in the past).

This is one of the best albums of 2004.