Like a lot of people, I’m buying fewer CDs these days. If I want to sample something, I’ll just fire up Spotify, Apple Music or Google Play. If I need music for my radio shows, I’ll buy them on iTunes. But there are occasions when physical product is important to me: (1) When I really want to support an artist, I’ll seek out the CD or the vinyl; and (2) reissues and box sets.
With their unreleased demos, live tracks and alternate takes, reissues–be they come in big boxes or as expanded CDs–are kinda like crack for me. Sure, they can be expensive (don’t tell my wife how much those shelves of box sets in the basement cost), but for bands I love, they offer the sort of material that only used to be available as poor-sounding illegal bootlegs.
Artists and labels love box sets and reissues, too. Although they sell fewer units, the margins are often fantastic. Take it from me: a huge chunk of that $150 you just spend on that Beatles box is pure profit.
But here’s the thing. How long can this penchant for mining the catalogue and the vaults go on? Great question. The Guardian would like to know, too.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about whether musical progress is still possible in a world where the past is always there, available. Have we come to some cul-de-sac of history, where genres and albums blend into a big George’s Marvellous Medicine of brown, gloopy nothingness?
If there were ever proof of our culture’s increasing issues with going forward, it’s the forthcoming reissue of Interpol’s Our Love to Admire. Not that Interpol don’t deserve memorialising – they reshaped early 2000s indie with Turn on the Bright Lights. The thing is, 2007’s Our Love to Admire was the moment their wave broke and rolled back. Even NME only gave it a 6. It’s not an artifact our culture needs to commemorate on its big anniversaries, like a post-Strokes Somme.
Yet these commemorations are increasingly the norm. Every week, music journalists’ inboxes fill with press releases telling of a “legendary” first album’s revisit. On disc three sit nine versions of the big hit that everyone remembers. What is it? It’s Marion. It’s Kula Shaker’s K. It’s Moseley Shoals. It’s Sam Fox’s forthcoming entire-career box set reissue.