The Curse of the Album ‘Reissue’
I can’t always be a happy chappie I’m afraid; just like everyone else, I get annoyed or frustrated by certain aspects of the music industry, both as a fan and a writer. I started this blog with the intention of sharing a few grumbles with you, but as I began writing, I realised that there is one issue above all others that frustrates the hell out of me. The chances are, some of you may even agree with it!
Regular readers of Powerplay Magazine will probably be able to guess what the grumble is, but for the avoidance of doubt, it is…*drumroll*…reissues.
I’m not dead against re-releases in their entirety but there’s no getting away from the fact that far too often, they can be a cynical ploy for a record label to make more money. For the record (excuse the pun), I am not writing this blog just to bash record labels. In metal circles, we are very lucky because a lot of the time, we are treated to some of the very best in terms of packaging, design and artwork. The bands care and for the most part, the labels care too. I also know that record labels are operating in a very difficult environment at the moment, both in terms of the economy at large and the vast technological revolution, led by the Internet, which is having a massive impact on the industry. However, that doesn’t justify ripping off fans.
If an album was only released on a tiny label at the beginning of time or for one reason or another, has been out of print for a while, that’s fine. In this instance, a reissue can certainly be justified. I have even been known to invest in a few of these myself. It was via reissues that I first got into Threshold, one of the UK’s finest progressive metal bands. Their early releases were getting harder and harder to find and sellers were charging a premium for those that were still available. Just after the millennium however, Inside Out Records (one of my personal favourites) decided to reissue the back catalogue. I decided that now was the time to invest. For my troubles, I got a slip case and bonus tracks. I even have a few reissues of classic Iron Maiden albums as well, but the benefit of these was the price, being significantly cheaper than before.
But this is far from the norm in my experience. Many reissues have no real purpose principally because the original is still widely available at reasonable cost and the reissue, often priced the same or more than the original, offers next to nothing in terms of added value.
New artwork, extra tracks, additional liner notes (that are interesting to read), previously unreleased material, superior packaging and decent re-mastering (sometimes you simply can’t polish a turd) are all well and good, but there has to be a reasonable amount of these ‘extras’ in order for the reissue to offer fans that all-important value for money. If there’s value for money, then the problem is lessened.
I have had to review some reissues where the only added extra is the expense. There have been no ‘extras’ of any kind, the mastering has not been tinkered with and there is no new artwork whatsoever. Yet, the disc is marketed and sold at the same cost. So, what on Earth is the point, other than a cynical attempt to bleed fans dry?
Many will argue that reissues are aimed at attracting new fans as well, so the need for extras is more limited. I can understand this argument up to a point, but nine times out of ten, the reissue is rarely designed for new fans; it is aimed squarely at existing fans, who love a band so much that they are willing to part with their cash for anything that bears their logo. To some degree then, are we, the fans, to blame for these cynical exercises in revenue reaping? There’s certainly an argument to say that we are. I’m hardly one to talk too, as I have just about everything Katatonia has ever committed to CD, in every format.
And then, is the reissue of an already reissued album. This might happen due to a label change or a spell in the wilderness, but whatever the reason, this really irks me. If I’m already a fan, why do I need three copies of the same album?
But the worst culprit of all though, has to be the blight that has become the ‘limited tour edition’. Those of you who have not come across this phenomenon thus far, count yourselves lucky. In essence, a band release a new album and then, just as they’re going on tour to promote it (sometimes only a few weeks or months later), the record company decide to release the ‘limited tour edition’. Usually, the album will feature a handful of live tracks, to get fans in the mood for the upcoming festivities. If that’s all they’re going to offer as extras, why not just release the live tracks as a cheaper EP separately, with alternative artwork? That way, fans are not being asked to shell out twice at full price for the album and then a few extras tacked on the end. Instead they get a new mini-album and they can put the money they’ve saved, towards the t-shirt at the gig.
On that note, I think I’ll step off my soapbox and listen to some metal to soothe me!