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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Reissue Treatment

Today I'm expanding on a topic I posted on the Sound Opinions message board: the recent trend of reissuing albums that have been out only for a year or less. I don't know how you feel about this, but I think this is abuse of a niche market.

I come from the school of reissuing that Rhino Records has taught over the years: reissue records/songs that have aged well, give them a better sounding treatment on CD and add bonus tracks to sweeten the deal. Elvis Costello's reissued back catalog with bonus discs of b-sides and rarities was probably one of the best in recent memory. Not only did you get the original album with optimal sound quality but you got a second CD filled with non-album tracks for completists/curious folks at no extra cost.

The original CD versions of albums by the likes of Elvis Costello, Television, the Ramones and the Stooges sounded tinny, flat and weak. After digitally remastering the tracks, you could now hear little parts (like the basslines) so much better on CD than before. Many other classic albums have been given this treatment and it's rather hard to find a back catalog that hasn't been remastered and reissued (the exceptions include the Beatles, U2, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen).

So what happens when an album that has been out for a year gets the deluxe reissue/remastering treatment? I cry wolf. Here's why:

When I think of albums worthy of a reissue, I think of records that have aged well (like the above listed), not mediocre records that will not hold up over time. Some of the worst offenders of this are with the reissues of Usher's Confessions and Hawthorne Heights' The Silence in Black and White. Puffing up these run-of-the-mill records with even more less-than-desirable stuff isn't the way to go.

Plus, if you were a big fan of the record, chances are you already own the original album. Seeing the record you bought only months before be reissued with supposedly worthwhile bonus material (and zero difference in the CD sound quality) makes you wonder: "Why bother?"

Usually bonus tracks speed up the album buying process for me. However, the turnaround from original release date to reissue is too fast this way. There's not enough time for non-LP tracks to come out, thus not amassing a large amount of material to choose from. Bonus material is usually second-tier material, so what do you rate the bonus material from a second (and in some cases, third or fourth) tier artist?

I'm not alone here on my stances (read some of the customer comments on the special editions of Confessions and The Silence in Black and White here and here), but I think I understand the method to this madness. Labels are desperately trying to milk the most they can out of one record, but as I've brought up before, a dud record is a dud record, no matter how many bonus tracks you put on it.

If Bloc Party's Silent Alarm (one of my favorite albums of the year) was reissued today with a bonus DVD and or bonus tracks, I doubt I would buy the reissue. If iTunes had the bonus tracks, I would spend the $4 on them if I really liked the songs. While a remixed version of Silent Alarm was recently released with a bonus disc, I don't think of this as a rip-off. Silent Alarm Remixed is a completely different, alternate version of the album. It's not the original with some extra tracks tacked on. I don't fancy remixes, so I'm going to pass on Silent Alarm Remixed and just enjoy the hell out of Silent Alarm.

Wilco's last two albums (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born) came with bonus tracks that were obtainable through their website if you bought the original CD. All you had to do was put the CD in your CD-rom drive, enter a special password and bammo! you had four or five bonus tracks. (Oh yeah, they were really good tracks too.)

Reissuing new records is getting out of hand. It would be out of line for me to say not every record should be reissued, but as an old school fuddy-duddy at 26, I lean more towards the traditional, ancient ways of 1999.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Actually the Silent Alarm Remix album is pretty fucking good. While not as good as the original, it's not far off, and suprisingly cohesive.