The Issue with Reissues

By on Thursday, 8th March 2012 at 11:00 am
 

Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra track, and a tacky badge

“Best of!” “Most of!”
Satiate the need
Slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and feel deceived…

(excerpts from the Smiths – ‘Paint a Vulgar Picture’, 1987)

Rather conveniently, the day after Blur performed on the 2012 BRIT Awards last week, we heard the news from the Guardian that producer Stephen Street is in the midst of remastering the Britpop giants’ entire back catalogue for the band’s intention to reissue all of the albums sometime in the future. Of course, reissuing and remastering is not a new idea at all in rock. Let’s take for example two of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll of all time. Jimmy Page famously went to task on overseeing the remastering Led Zeppelin’s master tapes in order to provide higher fidelity sound quality in the early years of the CD for the ‘Remasters’ release in 1990. The Beatles Anthology released in 1995-1996 were three CD sets that culled supposedly rare early recordings, outtakes and live versions of songs from the Fabs’ musical history. So what’s the issue with reissues?

As you’ve read in perfect clarity at the very top of this article two excerpts from Morrissey’s lyrics in the Smiths’ ‘Paint a Vulgar Picture’, most times the purpose of reissues is crass commercialism. For myself, I know I’ve bought doubles of and/or different versions of albums or unusual and rare singles simply because being a fan, I wanted to have them in my collection. (This explains how I have UK, Australian, Japanese, and Taiwanese versions of albums I already own in US formats and why I am rapidly running out of storage space. Yeah…)

Surely, the only limit to your music shopping habits is your own wallet. I’ve drooled in private at Talking Heads’ ‘Brick’, all eight of the band’s studio albums remastered in Dual-Disc format and available at a price out of my budget, just like I’ve balked at the price for a leather bound, signed copy of George Harrison’s I Me Mine. Luckily, I have some willpower…and definitely some prudence.

But I’m not a completist by any means. So when reissues or remasters are announced, I rarely jump out of my seat, unless there’s something new and really great on the new versions. Do record companies really expect long-time fans of a band to fork over change on an album that already own and know by heart? And they think old skool types who still favours physical releases will buy these in droves? Are they anticipating young people to suddenly think to themselves, “ah yes. Blur. That band in the ‘90s that the bloke who fronts Gorillaz used to be in. I should buy these!”

While I concede that record companies are trying every way possible to combat illegal file-sharing by trying to put out releases like reissues that they think are going to move by the thousands, they appear to be barking up the wrong tree in most of these cases. There is no easy solution to this problem; illegal file-sharing will continue as long as there’s an Internet. But surely there has got to be other creative ways to promote an artist’s work than simply rereleasing something that’s already been out before.

Interestingly enough, Stephen Street also has a hand in the reissue of Morrissey’s first solo album, ‘Viva Hate’, which will be reissued on the 26 of March. Moz has chosen to delete ‘The Ordinary Boys’ and replace it with an outtake from that era, ‘Treat Me Like a Human Being’. Which has already been released as a B-side to ‘Glamorous Glue’ when that single was reissued by EMI last year. Follow all that? Street is not happy about the tracklisting change, but I’m not paying attention to that. I‘m a Morrissey fan and I own ‘Viva Hate’ on CD and vinyl. Will I be buying the reissued version of ‘Viva Hate’? Not likely.

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Header photo of Blur’s performance at the 2012 BRITs from Who’s Jack

Tags: blur, essay, LedZeppelin, Morrissey, reissue, reissues, remasters, stephenstreet, stream, thebeatles, thesmiths

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