Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reissue Madness: The music industry might be on to something here.

Here is a piece that I wrote a few years ago that I never published. A few things have changed since then so I added notes to the bottom of the page. Oddly enough, my music industry rant from 2008 is still relevant as the reissues march on!

 Reissue Madness:
The music industry might be on to something here.

Over the past eight years, their have been almost as many albums reissued as their have been newly issued. Consumers are deluged with reissue campaigns designed to re-sell titles which are not only currently in print but those which show no signs of being discontinued any time soon. Too often, these campaigns seem like nothing more than slick marketing ploys aimed at making fans shell out money for albums that they may have had in their collections for years or for some of us, decades. We all know that the music industry is in the doldrums but do we really need these reissues of classic recordings? 

In most cases, I’m all for high-quality reissues since many discs feature digitally remastered audio which can be an improvement over the original CD masters issued in the mid 1980’s. With the emergence of CD’s, record label scrambled to get as many classic (i.e. those guaranteed to sell) and hot, new titles (i.e. those that are really guaranteed to sell) into the market place on this new format. Unfortunately, mastering a CD is different from mastering an LP (imagine that?) and the labels, in their haste to make the CD the dominant new format, failed to deliver on the audio quality that the compact disc was capable of. Technology has changed many times since then and now mastering is a matter of how to make albums ‘pop’ when listened to on computer speakers or with headphones. By solving one problem, you introduce ten new ones!    

The David Lee Roth-era Van Halen catalogue got a sonic reupholstering in 2000 and the sound quality easily trumped the original discs thin, wimpy sound. Another bonus to the VH discs was the inclusion of the original album artwork in the CD booklets. A small detail for sure but consider that the original discs looked like they were copied at Kinko’s with the inside containing nothing more than the album credits in plain black text over a white background! Now at least we get an attractive booklet that matches the artwork from the original LP. One would think a simple task like that would have been done correctly from the start. Kind of silly that we had to wait twenty years to see the inside photos from Women and Children First on CD! 

The eyebrows get raised when certain artists or titles get the reissue treatment every few years or more precisely, when their existing contract gets renewed. That means you, Mr. David Bowie. Sure, his EMI reissued catalogue probably sounds fantastic but in this era of listening to music from a computer with $50 speakers, would I really hear the difference anyway? In exchange for EMI’s “aural superiority”, they deemed it necessary to raise the price on the entire catalogue and remove the included “bonus tracks” from the previous issues on the Ryko Disc label. When all is said and done, we are left with Ziggy Stardust being re-released no less than seven times!

Thanks to Mike Harvey’s penultimate Ziggy site (http://www.5years.com/start.htm), we find that we have been dealt the 1984 disc from RCA Records, the Ryko Disc issue from 1990, a deluxe boxed set from Ryko in 1990, Ryko’s 24k Gold Au20 Audiophile edition from 1994, the 1999 EMI release, the deluxe, two-disc, 30th Anniversary Edition by EMI and just for kicks, a surround sound SACD. Is your head ready to explode yet? Oh, and the second disc of the 30th Anniversary edition is mostly filled with the b-sides that were originally included with the Ryko reissues! And you thought corporations were heartless.        
  
Bowie, I love you, truly I do but I can not think of another artist to beat on at the moment. If it’s any conciliation, I wish I could write a tune that is 1/10th as awesome as one of the weaker tracks on Station to Station. Actually, there is not a single weak track on Station to Station, so I guess the ‘Thin White Duke’ gets the last laugh after all!  
   
After my dark assessment, you may be asking; “Are reissued recordings really the products of corporate devilry?” Of course they are, but along the way there are always positives. Every so often a classic gets reissued because it is just that: a classic album that has stood the test of time. Sometimes a title deserves another chance to find a new listener or to gain a new appreciation. Depeche Mode wisely reissued their entire catalogue over the part two years with each title being remastered as a two-disc deluxe edition while keeping the less-expensive, standard edition (which is not remastered) in print. The Cure did a similar thing with their catalogue but also remastered the single-disc, standard editions. If you catch it on sale, an incredible-sounding, new edition of The Head On The Door can be had for about $8! 

U2 has long resisted the temptation to cash in but with last year’s 20th Anniversary Edition of The Joshua Tree, hopefully, that will change. Under a Blood Red Sky has sounded a bit anemic for years! This is one band that actually could pull off a major reissue campaign with some sense of dignity; even if each release comes in three different versions! I’ll still be running to the store on the first day of release to purchase them.  Again.  But that’s the way the game works isn’t it?

**Editor’s note #1 – Under a Blood Red Sky has since been reissued on CD along with the video on DVD. It sounds fantastic!

Editor’s note #2 – EMI reissued Ziggy Stardust again. For the 40th Anniversary!