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"New" Albums Composed of Old Music: Good or Bad?

The 35th-anniversary edition of this album with unreleased tracks will be released this year.
The 35th-anniversary edition of this album with unreleased tracks will be released this year.

It's 2013, and we've all pretty much finished our end-of-the-year lists. Now we look to the future. What albums are we looking forward to this year? If I had to guess, at least some of the best releases of the year will consist of music out of a vault or reissues of old albums. But is that a good thing?

In our modern musical landscape, it's become an increasingly popular trend to sell antiquated music under the guise of a new release. It used to be that these kinds of "rarities" albums were simply stopgap measures stuck in between our favorite artists' new releases. Now these are the new releases from our favorite artists.

Perhaps it's because it's much cheaper and less time-consuming to compile a lot of rarities or unreleased demos and tracks that got left on the cutting-room floor rather than going into the studio to record new tracks. There's nothing wrong with that in theory. It's easier on the artists and gets them out on the road promoting new music faster.

But it seems like this is all we get from some artists. It makes sense in the case of old bands who have long since broken up or simply reunited to tour and need something to put out for their fans, because they have no intention of recording new music. But what of active artists who are lazily shilling this stuff to us in lieu of new recordings?

"New" Albums Composed of Old Music: Good or Bad?

Take Bjork, the queen of this sort of thing. In the past decade, Bjork has put out three studio albums. She's also released three box sets of previous albums, one of which compiled odds and sods recorded just two years earlier, and two remix albums, along with countless other single releases and assorted cash grabs.

I have the utmost respect for Bjork as an artist, but doesn't this endless reissuing and merchandising cheapen the artistic integrity of her work just a little bit? It turns it into a cheap, lazy way to make more money, for which frankly I can't imagine Bjork being hard up.

Then there's the ever-popular "vault." Prince probably started it, releasing an album or two a year consisting of material that had oftentimes been recorded years prior. He still has a legendary amount of unreleased material and we'll probably see albums being released decades after the man's death. But at least in the case of Prince, he records new albums as often as he releases vaulted ones.

 

"New" Albums Composed of Old Music: Good or Bad?

On the other hand, you have someone like Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta. His solo career consists of almost nothing but vaulted albums.

This January 1 and 2 of this year (or last Tuesday and Wednesday), Rodriguez-Lopez dropped three albums online at once. All three were sub-par assortments of random recordings from 2007-10. When will we hear what he's actually doing right now? Who knows? Is it fair to us as listeners to continually have albums of half-cooked tossed-off recordings from years ago given to us to spend our hard-earned money on?

Furthermore, it seems like more and more bands are taking the Beatles/"Free as a Bird" approach to recording new music. Rather than writing good new songs, older and recently reunited bands are trying to sell us old music in the guise of new music.

Van Halen
Van Halen
Photo by Groovehouse

See Van Halen's latest record, A Different Kind of Truth, made up of new recordings of old demos from before the band's first album. While sitting through the album, I could not help thinking that there was probably a reason the Van Halen of 1978 decided to scrap these songs. Megadeth pulled the same trick on their latest record, Thirteen, which featured three new recordings of previously released demo tracks. The demos were honestly better.

Pulp just decided to go this route too, with a new song called "After You," actually a new recording of a demo that has been around since the '90s. Wouldn't we all be happier with some Pulp tracks that are actually new? LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy produced the new recording, but even that doesn't entice me. Give me something new.

How do you as readers feel about this? Are you satisfied with the current mindset of the music industry, which seems to be based on any word with the prefix of "re-?"



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