I regularly get irritated about music reviews that detract from an otherwise wonderful re-release or reissue because it doesn’t include previously unreleased material, outtakes and whatever else can be thrown at the unsuspecting populace. It’s the standard whine in most forums I frequent. The issue is a bit more convoluted than that, but here’s Joe Jackson’s take on the problem, which I mostly agree with:
“[…] I have one pet peeve about the music industry in general that never goes away, and that is their insatiable, and indiscriminate, demand for ‘extra’ material. Alternate takes, out-takes, bonus tracks, edits, remixes, special tracks for special editions or special occasions or special territories or special people . . . no matter how much you give them, or how good it is, it’s never enough. OK, I know some artists are more prolific than me, or have a better hit-to-miss ratio. But for the love of God, what is so hard to understand about the following?:
‘I’ve given you the absolute best I’ve got. I’ve worked my arse off and this is what I feel confident about presenting to the world. There isn’t anything else, or if there is, it’s in the trash where it belongs. Who says so? I say so. Why? Because I’m the bloody artist, that’s why. That’s what artists do: we experiment and re-write and edit and fine-tune until we get it as good as we can. And that is what we want people to hear’.
I think the rot probably set in with the advent of the CD. One of the many great things about vinyl was that it forced artists to focus, and to put out 40 or so minutes of their absolute best. Then suddenly we had much more space, and everyone wanted to fill it up. But more often than not, less is more, and more and more becomes less and less. Too many albums still have too many tracks. On top of which, record companies shower us with stuff that the artists and producers rejected, hoping we’re dumb enough to perceive it as some kind of exciting ‘bonus’. Well, I’m a big fan of Charlie Parker, but I want to hear him blazing and soaring at his best, not strung out on heroin while some creep kept the tape rolling and smuggled it out of the studio. I’m a big fan of Duke Ellington, but I want to see him in his sharp suit, not in his underpants. […]
Whatever, say the record company marketeers: single-artist boxed sets don’t sell unless they have forty percent Previously Unreleased Content. The reasoning (which is not completely mad) is that hard-core fans have all the original recordings anyway. The problem is, there’s a complete disconnect between marketing theory and artistic reality. And this disconnect continues to flood the market with third-rate, or tenth-rate, material. And while this may not be the main reason for the decline of the industry, it surely doesn’t help.”