Reissues, special editions, deluxe editions, anniversary specials, are they a way for committed fans to show the extent of their appreciation for an artist or are they simply a way for record companies to bleed us dry? Do we dwell too much on past glories without looking forward for something to inspire us? It is not unfair to say that releasing reissues is much more prominent and popular now than it has ever been, but is it such a bad thing that on the 20th anniversary of an album’s release we can listen to a previously unheard demo version of the lead single from said album? There are essential points to be made on both sides of this argument, on the one hand, it apparently maximises our ability to savour beloved music and explore it further. On the other hand, I’m not sure if we really need to hear demo versions of songs we essentially know back to front at a pretty large cost.
Because of the way we consume music today, it’s not even necessary for it to be some sort of special occasion for an album to gain reissue status, especially if it is an album that was released when vinyl records were the preferred method of music consumption, the mere fact that the album will sell is enough of a reason. Although on the other side of the argument, the current rise in reissued vinyl sales, mainly due to them becoming more fashionable with the younger generation, permits people to listen to the music of a bygone era in a way that they seem to consider authentically superior (but that’s another issue), without paying potentially hundreds, even thousands of pounds for an original pressing on eBay.
In order to form an argument for record companies being occupied by avaricious bastards who are only ever looking to exploit their stars, you only really need to look at what happens when any big music star dies.The urgency with which reissues are put out after a star’s death is undeniably efficient, but is it to soothe the pain in the fan’s hearts or is it to force out as much unnecessary material as possible while the death is fresh in their minds? To quote Morrissey in the opening of The Smiths’ track “Paint a Vulgar Picture”: “At the record company meeting, on their hands – a dead star. And oh, the plans they weave. And oh, the sickening greed”. I know Morrissey isn’t known to be the most positive of people but I think he makes a substantive and relatable point on this track. After Prince’s untimely demise in April, the website “The Vinyl Factory” forecasted that his purchasable back catalogue was set to grow, with nine reissues fixed to be released before the end of this year. Nine. I know that there will have been plenty of people who were willing to purchase these reissues and I’m sure those people will have relished them a great deal but why was it necessary for them to be released? In short, it wasn’t. But on the other hand is there a more respectable way for record labels to re-release the music of a recently deceased person who holds a spot in the hearts of millions, and why wouldn’t they do it if they know it’ll pull in sales? Another big money spinner for record companies (and the artists themselves) are anniversary special releases.
An example which immediately comes to mind is the 45th-anniversary deluxe edition of The Velvet Underground and Nico which is available to purchase on a physical format and on to stream on Spotify. This edition of the seminal album comes with five discs and 65 tracks, the original album is a respectable 11 tracks in length. Despite all this, next year some sort of 50th-anniversary edition will almost certainly be released, with a marginal difference to the aforementioned album. It is essential for us to ask ourselves if this incessant reissuing actually brings anything new to us or if it is simply a way for record companies to exploit us for all we are worth. Reissuing music essentially allows larger labels to profit from nostalgia and the current general consensus that music isn’t what it used to be, which is why we must always ask ourselves if we actually believe this, as it permits the labels to make money without having to search for up and coming younger talents. They can continue to release music from acts such as Nirvana and Led Zepplin to name only two, even if it is only the original album with a few added live tracks, and people are seemingly always waiting and willing to buy it.
Fans and labels alike can stick to what is familiar so they don’t feel like they’re wasting their time and money as they can listen to something “new” from artists they know they enjoy or they know are profitable, even if the artist has been dead for decades. Despite this, people have always seemed to believe that music sounds best when it is breaking new ground, something that we haven’t heard before, and in the situation we all find ourselves in today as music fans we have access to more new music than ever before. So while it is essential that we acknowledge and appreciate what has happened in the past it is surely more important to look to this generation of musicians for something to appreciate without assuming they won’t be as good as what has come before. Taking a leap of faith is far more commendable than waiting until an artist is dead and buried to listen to their music.
Words by Liam Navey