Don't Deluxe Your Album!
I remember a simpler time when an artist’s desired length for an album was the actual length of the album sold by their distributor. When the first track was where the album began and more importantly, the last track heard signified the end of the album. A time when, if you wanted to hear tracks from an album’s recording sessions that didn’t make the final cut, you had to buy the singles from said album to find those ‘B-side’ gems. It used to all make sense. Then came the emergence of the digital download as opposed to the physical purchase. Purchasing a digital ‘single’ with a simple click of a button became very literal in meaning as, for that purchase you got a single track. This is opposed to when, with an exchange of money for music with a real person behind a counter, we bought mini-EP singles loaded with those wonderful ‘B-sides’. So what’s my point? Money - the loss of from ‘single’ sales and then the new way to cover those loses by the record companies.
Most ‘singles’ today cost $1.99, whereas back in the day we were willing to splurge up to $6 or more on a ‘single’ because of the bonus, ‘B-sides’. (They used to actually release box sets of singles by artists that we would spend $100 or more on!) With the digital age and a new generation of music consumers growing up with the idea of one click meaning access to a singular track, the record companies were suddenly saddled with a theorized though not actualized loss of profit when it came to selling a ‘single’ (obviously, now singles are on sale to millions more people from the comfort of their own home so the audience for an artist and potential consumers of an artist’s music has grown in an infinite manner). Theoretically the ‘B-sides’ that were attracting extra sales from avid fans were now going to waste. They didn’t add up to sales anymore and wisely the record companies had to come up with a way to convert these ‘extra tracks’ back into money. Here, with a scalpel to the throat of the sacredness of an album as envisioned by an artist, came the ‘Deluxe Version’.
Often we hear about the death of the once mighty album for many differing reasons (that’s a whole other blog piece). I am here to say that one of the main crucifers of the album as an entity of importance beyond the sum of its parts, is the ‘Deluxe Version’. Where did those extra, once profitable ‘B-sides’ go? They have been thrown on at the end of the album, without care: without thought for the artist’s vision of the album: greedily done so, so the record companies can charge you an extra $4 per album and finally turn those studio floor cuts into profit once again.
So what’s the problem with getting the gift of ‘bonus tracks’ from those generous record companies you ask? When you listen to an album, in particular a new album, do you constantly check the track list to see when the actual album has ended and ‘bonus tracks’ begun? That would surely ruin the joy of fully immerging yourself in the album. It would ruin the surprise of the journey of an album as you would know, through having to constantly check the track list, which track is supposed to be the final or penultimate one, therefore raising your expectations of those tracks. Would you think that the simple idea of having to check the track list for any reason at all while enjoying the first listen of a new album, unnecessary or damaging to the experience of a first listen? Well, with the ‘Deluxe Version’, if you’re not counting tracks or checking the track list, you have no idea when the actual album has ended and ‘bonus tracks’ have begun. Those ‘bonus tracks’ thrown in at the end of the album ruin the experience of the intended album. When an album ends, it should end. ‘Journey no more with me’, says the artist. When you see a painting, a final product, at a museum, do you alongside it see all the attempts the artist made in order to get to that final product? No, you don’t. Sure, we WANT to see those attempts to make the final perfect piece, but in a separate gallery or exhibition. Let us first enjoy, on its own, what the artist considered to be their final product without knowing how they got there. The ‘Deluxe Version’ ruins the album as a whole by giving us the spare parts of it before we even get to grips with the album as art in its entirety (minus the ‘bonus tracks’). The ‘Deluxe Version’ ruins the experience of listening to an album because the end of the artist’s vision is always in question. Is it this the end? Or this track?
‘Well, don’t buy the ‘Deluxe Version’ then’, you say. I agree, this makes sense but this then robs me of those ‘bonus tracks’ that I DO want to hear. I’ll be damned if I spend $9.99 on an album on its own to then have to spend another $13.99 to get the ‘Deluxe Version’ so to get the ‘bonus tracks’ (as those ‘bonus tracks’ are never sold on their own – always to be marked, ‘album only’). Yes, I could make a playlist where upon I take away the ‘bonus tracks’ and leave myself with just the real tracks of the album. But honestly, is that an acceptable solution in the long run? Your iTunes library would simply be hundreds of playlists which I find ridiculous and again, the convoluted process of having to do this would ruin the beauty in the simplicity of buying an album and with no other move, listen to it. I’m here to say, down with the ‘Deluxe Version’! Death to it as it imposes death on albums as artists wish them to be – void of the ‘bonus tracks’ we once so enjoyed and hungered after.