Saturday 15 April 2023

Bonus Tracks, Bonus Discs, Live Versions, Demos, Postcards, Cuddly Toy ...

The first commercial CD was released in late 1982.  Since then, Record Companies have found ever more inventive ways to entice buyers into buying (again) what they already own.
I'm sure like most others I have re-bought much of my vinyl collection on CD, but if the price is right (or if the package is right) I will continue to fill gaps in the collection, or even start new collections that I never knew I needed.

But once the duo-ownership of vinyl and CD is satisfied, surely no-one is mug enough to buy the stuff again?

Guilty m'lud ...

I own 13 different versions of Sex Pistols 'Never Mind The Bollocks'.
There are other releases which fall into the multiple ownership category, but this one represents the peak.

My owning Carter USM's '30 Something' on vinyl, picture disc, cassette and CD has now been extended with the procurement of the 3 CD + 1 DVD 30th Anniversary Box Set.
It contains the album, a second disc of B-Sides and Live recording, a full live show from Kilburn in December 1991, and a DVD (In Bed With Carter) of a Brixton Academy show from June 1991.
A very nice package, and good to have all the pieces together in a single box.

How often will I revisit the extras and/or watch the DVD?

I also recently visited a record fair where I plugged gaps in the CD collection, took a punt on a couple of bands that I've heard good things about (The Rockingbirds, and Big Big Train), and found the 2nd and 3rd Beatles Anthology discs at a decent price.
I now own all 3 Anthology sets - again (like Carter USM above) nice to have on the shelf, but will I ever put aside 2 or 3 hours to listen through?

Many early CDs were straight copies of the vinyl masters pressed onto a 5" shiny disc, later came expansions with contemporary singles, maybe a couple of live tracks, and/or radio session versions.
And then came advances in recording technology where the Masters could be re-visited, cleaned-up and re-mastered to sound better on CD (OK, you do need good ears to hear some differences, but reading the phrase "Digitally Remastered" psychologically suggests you're getting something new (the bass higher in the mix, an unheard crash cymbal, clearer vocal tracks as "bleed" is removed, maybe even some background dialogue).
And then comes the 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th, or 50th Anniversary Editions - these milestones need marking somehow, so what is a record company to do with each subsequent release.  The album has been re-mastered, singles added, live shows compiled ... where next?
Time to plunder the archives for whatever is hiding in the dark corners, exhume it and press it onto extra discs.  Maybe even place it in a special box with added ephemera and tat.

So you "invest" in the new anniversary edition with bonus discs full of unheard tracks - a nice package to own but how often do the extras get an airing?
Where the expansion is simple (ie singles and B-Sides tacked on the end of the album) then these will probably get an outing as much as the album itself.
Live Discs may get a re-visit, but demos and alternate takes probably only one listen to say "I've heard it" then back in the case.  This is the same for DVDs - probably only once, and then I can't be bothered with the faff of extracting from the CD shelf in one room and playing it on the DVD player in another room (plus the fact that it will soon be on Youtube anyway ...).

But ... there may be an exception.  Jim Bob (back to Carter USM again ... see I do think these passages through) is about to release a new album in June.  If I pre-order now (which I have done) it comes shipped as a 2 CD set with a second disc of cover versions.
CArter USMs take on cover versions threw up some interesting choices and arrangements, and I'm expecting Jim Bob's take to be no different, and I'm sure this extra disc will get more than a cursory listen and a return to it's packaging.

In mid-1987, The Smiths announced they were to split after 5 years of relative success with their final album 'Strangeways Here We Come' to follow in September of that year.
The mood of 'Strangeways ...' probably sums up where the band members were wit the breakdown of personal relationships, the old chestnut "musical differences", Johnny Marr wanted to change the sound of the band to the point of having no guitar on "A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours".
It's not a complete shift from the jingle-jangle of old, and does come complete with Morrissey's pseudo-intellectual, 6th Form, literary references peppering the lyrics.

The debate continues whether 'Strangeways ...' is their best album - I believe that it is.  Despite the breakdown in relationships, I think the songs are amongst the strongest and most representative (if not pulling from a broader palette) of the bands career, and the production is fuller than before - almost like it has some production work rather than sounding muffled or like bits were recorded in a tin can
(a harsh criticism, but I hope you see what I'm getting at ...)

Mid-way through side 2, there is a song where Morrissey imagines the conversation of record company execs following the death of their income stream (sorry, recording artiste).
With a cry of "Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!", it is a scathing and idealistic commentary on the likely exploitation and cash-in that will come when a star is no longer recording but the return on investment must be protected.
And here's the irony - The Smiths had already released 2 compilations in their short life (3 if you count the (originally intended) US compilation that got a UK release, plus a live album.
And then there have been 7 more compilations since 1992 - 10 compilations vs 5 studio albums, a ratio of 2:1 in the re-packaging stakes.  Morrissey solo has a ratio of 1:1 with 14 compilations vs 14 studio albums.

"But you could have said no
If you'd wanted to
You could have said no
If you'd wanted to"

Did Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce (and Gannon) say "no"?  There is one compilation - 'The Very Best Of The Smiths' - that the band have distanced themselves from.  Though there is at least one - 'The Sound Of The Smiths' - that both Morrissey and Marr were involved in the assembly.
In Morrissey's defence, many of his compilations have come as a result of constantly changing record company and the need to meet contractual obligations.
But is his next album to be a Best Of The Best Ofs?

The Smiths - Paint a Vulgar Picture