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|Written by Mike Cullen|
|Tuesday, 24 May 2011 00:00|
Seemingly there is this notion within the music industry that if you reissue an album by a popular artist or band, fans will snap it up. This notion has resulted in a micro-industry where we see multiple editions of albums initially released, followed by tour editions, budget releases, or special editions sometime later when the industry moguls realize that they can squeeze a few more cents out of the consumer. In a lot of cases, it doesn't work, but, in a few notable cases, it not only succeeds but manages to enrich the back catalogue of that artist or band.
Despite my scepticism towards this practice, I have to admit that I buy reissues of albums -- but only for the artists that I really love. Looking at my reissues collection -- comprised of Joy Division, Kylie Minogue, U2, the Pet Shop Boys, and one album by the Rolling Stones -- I'm not totally buying into the craze, but it's still kind of bad.
At its best, a reissue should give the fans something new. I don't mean something that wasn't originally available in that territory and now suddenly is. I mean something brand spanking new. Give us unheard demos, new remixes, or whatever, but it has to be something new. U2 in the last few years has done an exemplary job of this with their albums from the 1980s. Boy, October, War, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, all featured new tracks, new mixes, and in some cases stuff that has been previously available but extremely hard to find. Unfortunately, Under a Blood Red Sky bucked that trend, giving us only the live performance of that album on DVD for the first time (though in the band's defence, there wasn't anything new to give the fans on that one).
The Rolling Stones put out a great reissue of their album Exile on Main St. last year, and its release brought an album already acclaimed by the band's fan base to whole new levels. With ten new tracks spliced in and around the original listing, it in many ways felt like a brand new release. The care that went into this release is far more than your typical re-mastering or tacking extra tracks onto the end of an album.
I hold pretty much the same opinion of Greatest Hits. They serve as a great starting point for new fans or as collections of songs that you love, but they get used in many ways for the wrong reasons. They are issued too often (Barbra Streisand has released at least six Greatest Hits offerings), offer too many duplicated tracks (Elton John, I love your Greatest Hits 1970-2002, but Number One Hits is redundant as a result), or simply make no sense (Kylie Minogue, why release Ultimate Kylie when you clearly left off six hits; that's not a comprehensive hits collection at all). Yes, I understand the longer an artist is releasing material, the greater need for more Greatest Hits collections, but whatever happened to the days of Greatest Hits Volume 1, Volume 2, etc? I have three Greatest Hits from Kylie Minogue, and the overlap in tracks is absolutely infuriating.
For the most part, we can't blame the artists. Unless they have full creative control over their careers and back catalogues (like, say, Madonna), they are pretty much at the mercy of their record label, and all the labels think about is the bottom line. Instead, should they not be thinking of the fans when it comes to the reissues, the special editions, and the greatest hits? Should they not be putting together better packages with material that we may actually want to hear? Give us the brand new stuff, the unheard stuff, and stop giving us the same 'rare' b-side with each compilation (one Kylie Minogue b-side, "Tears" from the Impossible Princess album, is touted as 'rare,' yet it's on at least four different compilations). Record industry, you may be looking at the bottom line constantly, but remember who contributes to that bottom line: the fans.
Despite my pessimistic view towards reissues and, to a smaller extent, greatest hits packages, I do think there are times when the record labels manage to get it right, but it's not often. You have to offer the fan base something substantial or new or else they are simply not going to be enticed by the product. That doesn't mean you give us everything that's in the vaults, but at least throw us an extra bone or two when you release a reissue.
Tags: exile on main st., greatest hits, im looking at you, music, not quite rare, reissues, rolling stones, skeptical, throw us a frickin bone, u2