June 22, 2007

Bonus tracks are for dicks

I remember a time when bonus tracks were a wonderful thing, a way of saying, "Hey, you know how you're pissed off about having to buy that album a second time now that you don't play your LPs and cassettes anymore and you're repopulating your collection with CDs? Well, here are some extra tracks for you to make up for it." Then the second wave of Elvis Costello reissues came along, and I started getting irritated. "Hey," I thought, "I already bought these twice. Now you want me to buy them a third time?" But the packaging was better (all the bonus tracks on a second CD), and I did want the even-more-expanded versions, so I ponied up.

Then bands started releasing special editions of CDs mere months after the original release. I am familiar with Whateverth Anniversary Editions, where a classic album gets treated all fancy-like with bonus material and new liner notes and all manner of fanboy fripperies, but does every frickin' band need a 2-CD-plus-DVD expansion of their debut album? I'd like to see a massive wave of people returning CDs to the manufacturer the next time that happens. "Yes, this CD is defective -- for some reason it has HALF AS MANY SONGS ON IT as the CD you're selling now that costs the same amount."

The new Paul McCartney album (which I don't own, but I've heard, and like very much) released its special edition right out of the gate, which is an approach I generally approve of, since it lets you decide which version you want. My frustration with the McCartney CD is that although I want want want the extra tracks, I absolutely hate the packaging of the special edition: a DVD-size box (so it won't fit properly on a CD shelf) with a shmillion enormous fold-out flaps (so you need three hands to hold it or more available flat surface than ever exists in our apartment) and CDs that sit on top of each other (so you can't get the bottom one out without taking the top one out first -- fourth hand needed now), and a "commentary track" that follows the last song on the bonus CD (which ensures that I would never listen to the actual CD itself anyway, so I might as well just buy the regular CD and rip the bonus CD from Lorinne).

So, vexations all. And yet we have perhaps come to the pinnacle of annoying bonus track behavior, and that is: multiple simultaneous versions of a CD with different, but only slightly different track listings. Sort of like when a band releases an album with one bonus track in the UK, and a different one in Japan (or entirely different bonus discs, gaaaaah) -- except how irritated can you get for spending $10 on an album and then finding out you could've had it with an extra track if you'd spent, oh, an extra $20 to buy the import version? Most people would probably just buy the domestic version anyway. But how annoying is it to buy The Crane Wife and then find out the Starbucks version had more songs on it? And then how annoyed would you be if you then bought the Starbucks version and found out there was one more frickin' song on the Tower Record version? It's enough to make people just, oh, I don't know, download the songs from the Internet.

And, as Pitchfork points out vis-a-vis the Smashing Pumpkins doing the same damn thing, these extra tracks are just one more incentive for music buyers to ignore small retailers. Awesome.

Now I am only going to say this once (what a lie): Dear Bands. Stop It.

Posted by Francis at 02:25 PM

Ken Andrews did something similar on his recent solo album... there's two tracks that only appear on physical copies, and one that's only on the iTunes version, or something like that.

The thing I don't understand (other than how talented musicians can be so lame) is that on the Ken Andrews and Pumpkins albums, the bonus tracks appear in the middle of the album. Isn't there supposed to be a flow in the order of songs on an album? Shouldn't it make a huge difference whether or not you wedge a song in as track six?

Thanks for the heads-up about the Decemberists tracks. I didn't even know they existed until now.

Posted by: The Dan at June 22, 2007 02:10 PM

One of the comforting things about being an old, lame loser who stopped listening to new music in 1993 is that I don't have to worry about crap like that. Yes, I have to worry when Elvis Costello does another dick release, or when somebody finds Yet Another Benny Goodman Concert Recording, but once I got out of the habit of buying new music, it became surprisingly easy to just ignore that. Sometime around the time somebody sent me a Elvis/Chieftans track I officially stopped being a completist.

I have 12,000 songs on a hard drive. I suspect that if you graphed the original date of acquisition (in whatever media) against time, it'd be a big old bell curve centering around my college years, with a lump for having got into Jazz only late in college. I've acquired less and less music over the last ten years, and I'm now at the bottom of the curve, getting maybe fifty new sides a year. And I expect it to progress, to the point where (if, please the Lord, I live) I will spend the last twenty years of my life just listening to the same thousand sides over and over again.


Posted by: Vardibidian at June 22, 2007 03:31 PM

*sigh* the music industry....
if you ask me, the words "music" and "industry" don't even go together...

Posted by: Tracy at June 22, 2007 11:14 PM

First, holy crap songs I didn't know existed thank you thank you.

Second, my personal "okay, this is now truly ridiculous" moment was when They Might Be Giants put out different versions of freakin' Here Come the ABCs (scroll to the bottom, at least at the moment). And it might be Disney and not TMBG that thought it was a good idea, but it's still been enough to continue to keep me from really wanting to buy an album for 3-year-olds.

Posted by: Robert Hutchinson at June 23, 2007 10:27 PM

Francis - thanks for the Decemberists tracks!

Posted by: CB at June 27, 2007 01:10 PM
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