We’ve already spoken at length about the future of formats and the decline of the album, today we’d like to discuss the more recent record industry invention of the special edition or deluxe version of the album. This is when an album has two releases; one being the standard album, the other being the same album with 2 to 6 tracks added on to the end. The extra tracks are often the tracks from the album recording session that weren’t good enough or didn’t fit in with the rest of the album. Sometime the bands fills the deluxe editions with cover songs, live tracks, acoustic versions, or demo recordings. In cinema the same trend is happening with special editions and bonus features in DVDs, in literature the same thing is happening with new editions including frivolous extras, such as letters, poems by the author, essays, forwards, prefaces, etc.
Adding a bunch of garbage to the end of the album, in an age of musical abundance and information overload is ridiculous. It breaks the flow of the album; instead of ending with an awesome album closer, we get a trail off of increasing mediocrity. What we are seeing is the decline of the album as a form, and the incline of the album versioning and packaging as a marketing and sales tactic. It all distorts the message. In 2006 when Wire remastered their classic album Pink Flag, they removed previously added bonus tracks, noting that they didn’t honor the “conceptual clarity of the original statements”. A tip of the hat to Wire.
All of this is obviously a desperate move by an industry in it’s death throws looking to find a way to get the band’s super fans to spend more money and possibly buy the same album twice. It’s the same reason that most greatest hits albums now have one or two new songs, to justify the purchase to record nerds.
Artistically this is problematic. When we look over the band’s discography and try to place the album in context with the others, we are left to decide which version of the album we should be considering.
Take Weezer’s Red album as an example. The deluxe version had 4 extra tracks, the iTunes version had 2 bonus tracks (one was pre-order only), the UK and Japan deluxe editions each had a cover song included. I would rate the american deluxe edition 2.5/5 where as I would probably rate the standard edition at 1.5/5. The deluxe versions of the album includes 3 quiet sombre songs that stand in direct contrast to the over-confident posturing of the album’s singles “Troublemaker”, “Pork and Beans”, and “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”. It also included a corny hick radio sounding song called “King”, sung and written by bassist Scott Shriner. Decades from now when kids interested in music are trying to understand this album it’s likely that they will listen to the standard edition and miss the strongest point of the album.
Sensitive Weezer (“Pig”, from the Deluxe Version)
Party Weezer (“Toublemaker”, from the Standard Version)
Imagine if high art like Mozart, Shakespeare, or Rilke had bizarre versioning of their works like modern music now does. We would have narratives as confusing as the Zelda timeline, concerts as broken up and baffling as comic book stories. The artist needs to pick what’s in and what’s out, not the audience in their arbitrary consumer choices. Their artistic judgement is what makes them the artist. You should be as proud of what you omit, as what you include. We, the Bare Minimum will never do this to you, stay tuned for some more concise and direct to the point releases.