|The Elvis Costello
Releasing Rock Albums Again and Again
New York Times 11/25/02
Releasing Rock Albums Again and Again
By CHRIS NELSON
Critics have called the rock singer and songwriter Elvis Costello many things over the years: clever, angry, moody, humorous. Sean Murdock, a 34-year-old fan from Bergenfield, N.J., would like to add one more adjective: addictive.
"When you're really a fan, it's like crack," he said. "You want everything that artist has."
That must be music to the ears of executives at Rhino Records, who last week released three new editions of vintage Costello CD's, each with a second disc of bonus material. Mr. Murdock said he would pay for the updated version of 1982's "Imperial Bedroom," the third time he will have bought the same album. He had already replaced his vinyl version when Rykodisc rereleased the album with 9 extra tracks in 1994. Now, he will get an additional 14 songs from the vault on the new set from Rhino, part of the Warner Music Group.
Record companies are increasingly and repeatedly releasing similar "deluxe editions" of albums ‹ usually sporting improved sound, extensive liner notes, and bonus songs. The third CD incarnations of both David Bowie's "The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" (1972) and the Who's "Live at Leeds" (1970) recently hit stores. And Marvin Gaye, the Cars, John Coltrane, Bob Marley and the Velvet Underground are among many musicians getting a second CD go-round with expanded albums.
But with the proliferation of deluxe reissues comes a pressing question: How many times can record labels seeking to bolster their bottom line entice consumers to buy the same album ‹ even with bonus songs ‹ before generating resentment?"It's infuriating to me," said Tod Hensley, a 33-year-old from New York who has bought Mr. Costello's "My Aim Is True'`' (1977) and "This Year's Model" (1978) three times each. But Mr. Hensley directs none of his anger at Mr. Costello.
"I just can't see him saying, `Okay, I'm going to screw these guys over by redoing this all over again,' " he said. "If he did do that I would be very disappointed. But I like to chalk it up to corporate greed."
Mr. Costello does not have much sympathy for Mr. Hensley's views. "If people still have interest in the records, even if they have bought them before, I'm offering them the opportunity to hear them in perhaps the most complete way," Mr. Costello said. "It really comes down to their bank book and how they feel about it. I'm sorry if they feel that they're being coerced, but they really aren't. I mean they have free will."
Rebuying comes with the avid fan territory, said Luke Pacholski, who is such a devoted follower of the Who that he has paid three times for "Live at Leeds." After buying the CD version of the original six-song album, he bought the expanded edition in 1995, and then the two-disc set with a live rendition of the rock opera "Tommy" issued last year.
He fumes a bit, though, when new greatest-hits packages offer only slightly different features. Though the Who have released 11 studio albums, the band has put out eight American best-of compilations.
Label executives do not have a formula to calculate how many fans they can upset and still turn a profit. "But those questions always get asked," said Alex Miller, senior vice president of BMG Heritage. This year, Mr. Miller has overseen reissues of Lovin' Spoonful albums and Lou Reed's "Transformer" (1972).
Still, the financial risk is relatively small. The cost for creating reissues is a fraction of making a new album, because the recordings were paid for long ago and ad campaigns are typically modest.
Music labels often have to sell 50,000 to 100,000 copies of a new major-label album by a new artist, or a half-million for an established hitmaker. To start making money on the latest version of "Transformer," BMG Heritage will have to sell between just 5,000 and 10,000 copies, Mr. Miller said.
The Who will have to sell more than 10,000 copies of next year's third CD edition of "Who's Next" (1971) to recoup its costs, said Andy McKaie, Universal Music Enterprises' senior vice president for artists and repertoire. Still, the number is less than needed for a new album.
"If I were a consumer it would rankle me a little bit" to see yet another version of the album in stores, Mr. McKaie said. Nonetheless, Universal executives will not set the list price on deluxe editions below $29.98.
The case of the reappearing Costello discs is a matter of the singer periodically regaining control of his catalog. As he took his work from Columbia to Ryko to Rhino, each label changed the packaging and content of the albums.
The fans appear to have followed. The double-disc "My Aim Is True," Mr. Costello's first album and one of his most popular, has sold 44,000 copies since its rerelease in August 2001, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The less well known "Blood & Chocolate," released originally in 1986, has sold 12,000 copies since its release in February.
More deluxe editions are inevitable, and not just for classic rockers. Indie favorites Pavement recently put out a double-CD version of their 1992 album, "Slanted & Enchanted."
And who knows what will happen when new remastering technology is available or more vintage tapes are uncovered in company vaults or under drummers' beds. BMG added just two of a possible 15 extra songs onto the rerelease of Mr. Reed's "Transformer."
Can fans look forward to yet another edition of the album? Don't rule it out, Mr. Miller said.
"What's going to happen in 5 or 10 years I couldn't tell you."