Pop: For completists only

Christmas comes but once a year, for which we should be thankful. Not least because the festive season heralds a flood of sumptuously packaged, must-have box-sets. Doh! Andy Gill tackles the best in pop...

The biggest album release of the year, quite literally, has to be Sinatra: The Capitol Years (Capitol). Collecting together all of Frankie's 21 albums for the label - from 1954's ground-breaking Songs For Young Lovers (arguably the first-ever concept album) to 1962's Sinatra Sings ... Of Love And Things - it captures the singer at his most definitive, riding the swell of his second wave of success that accompanied his Oscar for From Here To Eternity.

With the innovative string arrangements of Nelson Riddle and Billy May encouraging Sinatra to his finest interpretations, this is the sound of the American Dream in full expansion, bursting with post-war confidence, but not yet curdled into the arrogant swagger of rock'n'roll. Suave and slightly salty, there's a laconic confidence to his readings of even slightly dubious material, with Sinatra's reservations signalled by the occasional sly verbal equivalent of a raised eyebrow. Few other singers have taken such huge risks, and made it all seem so effortless.

By comparison, most of the other boxes on offer seem slightly small- minded. All The Young Dudes: The Anthology (Columbia), for instance, takes three CDs to cover the career of Mott The Hoople, yet still manages to get it not quite right. Sandwiching one disc of hits between two featuring out-takes and "rarities" of questionable value, it rather neglects the band's Dylanesque origins, depicting them instead as just a proto-heavy- rock outfit who somehow made the timely leap to glam.

From the same era, The Vaudeville Years of Fleetwood Mac 1968 to 1970 (Receiver) offers two CDs of out-takes, live cuts and jams from the dog days of the first, great incarnation of the Mac: the period bounded by their first chart successes and the eventual departure of the guitar genius, Peter Green. They were, by a country-blues mile, the finest progressive blues band of their era, and this set captures them at their most innovative, as they put together the landmark Then Play On album that included Green's extraordinary "Oh Well" and "Green Manalishi".

In their blend of blues and prog-rock, The Black Crowes are probably the closest Nineties equivalent to Fleetwood Mac. Great psychedelic swamp- blues-rockers, they were at their best when most closely following the Exile On Main Street blueprint with 1992's The Southern Harmony And Bible Companion, and their poorest when straying into psychedelic excess. The five-CD box Sho' Nuff (American) simply brings together their four studio albums, each bolstered by the obligatory couple of bonus tracks, plus a live EP from 1995, in a box apparently designed to facilitate spillage.

The roots of the blues are handily dealt with in Beg, Borrow Or Steal (Catfish), a three-CD set purporting to cover "the origins, music and influence of Robert Johnson". It's a tidy idea, with a disc of 29 Johnson recordings book-ended by one disc each featuring his precursors (Son House, Charley Patton and Skip James) and those he influenced, such as Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Peter Green and Canned Heat.

More focused - though just as diverse - is In Progress & In Motion 1965- 1998 (Columbia), a three-CD set covering the career of Taj Mahal, who has almost single-handedly kept alive the notion of the country-blues as a living artform. Not just a bluesman, Taj has a broader range of reference than most of his peers, bringing into play such long-lost modes as the cakewalk, along with the musical styles of Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the wider African diaspora. Given his intelligence and his breadth, however, this set is slightly disappointing, neglecting as it does the rockier, more rhythmic end of his R&B.

The Transatlantic Story (Castle) is a four-CD retrospective of one of Britain's pre-eminent folk labels, though too much of it is wasted covering the label's early years, a mish-mash of opportunistic independence whose releases covered sex talk, comedy, poetry, satire, politics and the Portsmouth Sinfonia, who were all of the above. The set only gets going with the second CD, dedicated to the likes of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Ralph McTell.

Finally, XTC's Transistor Blast (Cooking Vinyl) collates together on four discs their in-concert and studio sessions recorded for the BBC through the late Seventies and Eighties. It's all high-quality work, presenting the Swindon combo as the clever-dick pop precursors of such as Mansun. "We didn't know what we were doing," explains Andy Partridge in the sleevenote, "but we did it loud."

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat