Tuesday, February 25

B-sides: Album reissues revive glory, fans and revenue

The album reissue: an album you’ve already heard but more of it. It’s an interesting phenomenon. It is also confusing at times, especially when one attempts to discern the ultimate motivations behind remastering and reissuing an album. At times, it’s hard to tell if they are efforts by the band to reward and reinvigorate their fan bases by producing a cleaner and higher-quality product, or if they are attempts to see how much more money can be squeezed out of listeners.

I think they are a bit of both. But regardless of the potential greed behind reissues of great albums, I think they are outstanding opportunities for longtime fans to rediscover their love for an album or set of albums.

The first large-scale remaster that I was interested in was The Beatles’ reissue of its entire catalog in 2009. The band has since returned to the remaster well and reissued all three of its “Anthology” recordings in a boxed set on iTunes this summer. But The Beatles are far from being the only band to take advantage of this growing trend.

The iconic rock band U2 recently released an ambitious remaster of its 1991 album “Achtung Baby,” which includes the original album plus B-sides and rarities. At first glance, that may sound like a simple reissue…but that’s just the deluxe edition (one step above the standard edition, which is just the remastered original album). There is also a vinyl box set edition and a super deluxe edition (containing six CDs, four DVDs, a 92-page hardback book and 16 art prints).

And then there’s the big daddy, the deluxe edition of all deluxe editions ““ the installment of this reissue which has to use binoculars to see the line it crossed into the musical realm of excess.

The limited-supply “uber-deluxe edition” contains a magnetic, puzzle-tiled box, six CDs, “Zooropa,” B-sides and remixes as well as previously unheard music. But wait, there’s more. It also contains four DVDs, vinyls, an 84-page book, 16 art prints, a copy of “Propaganda Magazine” and finally, the cherry on top: a pair of Bono-style “The Fly” sunglasses. The uber-deluxe edition verges on the ridiculous and possibly greedy. Only the hardiest of die-hard fans will purchase this set, which costs a whopping $469.95.

Also released recently was a reissue of “Nevermind,” Nirvana’s most popular album and the quintessential ’90s album. Like U2’s “Achtung Baby,” this remaster also has a limited deluxe edition (10,000 in North America and 30,000 for the rest of the world) ““ in this case, the super deluxe edition.

But perhaps the most ambitious and expansive reissue project currently underway is that of Pink Floyd, which seems to expand on the model of The Beatles’ remaster project. The band is releasing all 14 of its albums one by one, and they will include treats, such as live recordings and unreleased music along with the remastered original album. Also available is “The Discovery Box Set” which contains the band’s full catalog.

For longtime fans of the band, this process will no doubt be rewarding, since the recording quality on quite a bit of Pink Floyd’s work could be improved even more. I believe that remaster projects are an exciting prospect in music today and one that still has yet to be fully explored. The possibilities are plentiful.

For instance, I’m sure that there will eventually be a reissue of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ catalog. The same goes for composers such as Hans Zimmer. And in 20 years, I hope to be purchasing a remaster of Sigur Rós’ catalog (who, for readers aware of my dreams of a new album by the Icelandic band as outlined in my column on band reunions, has announced a new album).

Until those reissues come along, however, music fans everywhere can sample the ever-increasing wealth of old and new music as they wait for the next brilliant remaster project to renew their love for a band.

Would you spend $469.95 for a deluxe set of a remastered album? Email Bain at [email protected] “B-sides” runs every Monday.

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