The reissue craze has sent researchers sifting through the vaults, hunting down rare tracks by important musicians. One result has been the British Peel Sessions series (Strange Fruit/Dutch East India Trading; CD, tape), a vast, live-in-the-studio archive recorded on London disc jockey John Peel's long- running radio show. With the series now starting to be released in the U.S., a selection of four titles from this mother lode indicates the scope of what's to come. They contain few revelations, but they can be entertaining, occasionally fascinating, and sometimes wonderful:
Between his departure from Pink Floyd and his descent into burned-out seclusion, the deeply troubled Syd Barrett made two 1970 solo albums that cemented his status as a psychedelic icon. Between them he recorded a cogent and, in its own unsettlingly weird way, delightful session for Peel. Any addition to Barrett's slim catalog is welcome, but a catchy, otherwise unreleased song called ''Two of a Kind'' makes this a must-have for aficionados.
Long before they were postmodern superstars delivering brooding pop epics to packed stadiums, the Cure were a modest punky trio, playing terse, tense tunes in small clubs. The group's energetic four-song set a 1978 preview of its debut album is just above amateurish, but singer-guitarist Robert Smith already displays the enigmatic personality that would shape the group's winsomely moody character.
As the finest pop band to blow out of 1977's punk hurricane, the Buzzcocks matched electric excitement with striking melodies and anxiously romantic lyrics. This collection of 14 numbers covers many of the quartet's most memorable songs, demonstrates their power as a tight and tuneful live act, and includes several then unrecorded numbers still in creative flux.
Taking the punk-won license to rewrite musical rules, the Smiths became one of the biggest British bands of the '80s, creating an inimitable mix of down-to-earth playing and Morrissey's melody-trouncing vocals. This prestardom session from 1983 has a giddy zeal not heard in later live recordings. Three of the tracks, though, are already available on the band's album Hatful of Hollow, showing that the Peel sessions can occasionally duplicate material already released elsewhere. But overall the series delivers what it promises: an extraordinary glimpse into rock history.