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05.11.11

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Phaedra
MONEY: Subtle artwork in this 2003 reissue reveals record labels' priorities.

Lapse of Reason

Why does the industry keep looking back?

By Gabe Meline


"Pink Floyd Redefine Their EMI Legacy," reads this morning's music industry press release, touting a rerelease series "encompassing CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, SACD, an array of digital formats, viral marketing, iPhone Apps and a brand-new single-album 'best of' collection."

Ironically, the "release campaign" is titled "Why Pink Floyd?"—as in, why continue to repackage a band who's seen their music reissued in every format dozens of times already?

Well, sales, for one. But more than Arnold Schwarzenegger adores his former gang-banging, bodybuilding self, more than the Republicans adore their tax cuts and torture, more than the oil industry adores its old-fashioned conception of bottomless resources, the music industry adores its own cultural impact, its revolutionary anthems, its pioneering artists—all, universally, from at least 20 years ago.

Can you imagine Wall Street acting this way? "Man, remember the Savings and Loan crisis? Thrill to every junk bond transaction all over again with this nostalgic portfolio package!"

This is not to trot out the old maxim involving the sun and the lack of newness beneath it. Everyone knows that all great musicians steal from other great musicians—thus, we get the '70s harmonies of Fleet Foxes, the '80s dance pulse of Cut Copy and the '90s dirge of whatever band is ballsy enough to kick-start the grunge revival.

This is, rather, to point out the very odd practice that the music industry has of patting itself on the back, whether in awards shows (the Grammys, the VMAs, whatever new made-up awards get founded this year), overblown charity events (Live Aid, Farm Aid, Wyclef Jean pretending to help Haiti) or mummification of its stars (the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).

But no profit-making, self-congratulatory maneuver is as backward-looking as the deluxe reissue, the "classic album" (Elton John's Reg Strikes Back, say) rereleased with bonus tracks, alternate artwork, extra liner notes, a DVD documentary, the smell of the bassist's hair gel embedded into the booklet and scans of ticket stubs from concerts that cost $1.50 instead of the present price of a reliable used vehicle.

As anyone under the age of 30 will point out, modern life has rendered these bonus features useless, because like check deposits, travel plans and sexual encounters, the album's bonus tracks and the bassist's hair gel scent can be transmitted via mobile device for free, likely from the "Fuck Yeah, Reg Strikes Back" tumblr.

As that same person will also point out, Dark Side of the Moon can be found in the dollar bin on vinyl, and more importantly, there's the world's best new band playing down the street. And you can only pat yourself on your back so many times before your palm gets too sore to high-five anything new.


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