Reissue, repackage, repackage…

If record labels don’t invest appropriately in the packages they proclaim to be extra special, then they run the risk of totally killing the concept of the physical release

I don’t know what’s more horrifying to me – that Primal Scream’s seminal Screamadelica album is 20 years old this year or that it’s being remastered, repackaged and re-issued by Sony Commercial Music Group (Sony CMG) in what looks to be a round biscuit tin of a ‘collectors’ edition’ that costs £100. There is, of course, a website dedicated to the anniversary of Screamadelica – or rather, dedicated to selling the re-issued version. Who buys this stuff?

I’ve got the album at home, and I don’t feel I need a remastered version of it. It was made in the 1990s, not the 1920s. I’d never listen to the live CD, I don’t need a DJ slip mat (and I do DJ), nor do I see the relevance of its inclusion. And I certainly don’t want to watch a DVD that will inevitably have the likes of that bloke from Kasabian or one of the Gallagher brothers banging on about how much they rate an album I already know is brilliant. So, it’s looking like £100 will get me some remixes that may or may not be music to my ears, plus a load of stuff in a box that I don’t give two shits about.

Maybe the box itself is special. Perhaps it’s made out of an interesting material or injection moulded using some beautifully tactile material. Maybe it’s round and indented to remind buyers of the ecstasy tablets they took when they were listening to it first time around. But how can I possibly know? There’s no indication on the website screamadelica20.com as to the reasoning behind the box’s unusual (and surely highly impractical) shape, or any indication as to what it is made from. Instead the site is full of words such as ‘deluxe’, ‘remastered’, ‘bonus’ and ‘exciting’. And it boasts an impressively unrealistic digital mock-up of how the box set and its contents might look.

I’m frustrated. I’m exactly who Sony are aiming this re-issued album at: I’m a big fan of the album from its original release, I’m in my 30s with more disposable income than I’ve ever had and I’m a bone fide collector and hoarder of music with a record collection that threatens the structural integrity of my flat. And yet I feel totally turned off by the proposition – very probably because of other recent reissued music packages that have failed to impress.

The Plus Minus box of recently re-issued Joy Division seven inch singles, released by Rhino Records to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of the band’s vocalist Ian Curtis, was nicely conceived. A clam-shell cardboard box housed artwork by Peter Saville and ten singles – each sporting a photograph of the original single on its cover. But the cover images have been printed too dark – a particular problem when you look at the sleeve of the Closer single. There’s also a bizarre textured varnish on the front of the box that sadly transforms the negative image of a star cluster into what could be a splatter of black paint. Oops.

Sony CMG created several different packages of re-issued Stone Roses music in 2009 (to celebrate the band’s eponymously titled debut album’s 20th anniversary) but a friend bought the Collectors’ Edition version and the box housing the various discs and books and art prints etc has fallen apart. Another friend bought the enormous (575 × 295 × 80mm) Minotaur box set of re-issued Pixies albums but was disappointed to find the book he thought would have a fur cover (on account of the digital mock-up he’d seen when ordering it online) was, in reality, clad in roofing felt.

Actually, the Pixies box set, produced by repackaging specialist Artist in Residence, is interesting. Its designer, Vaughan Oliver, considers it his best work to date. Minotaur comprises all of The Pixies’ studio albums in one set, but Oliver created brand new artwork for each one. As a collector I find this project far more interesting than what’s promised on the Screamadelica20 site. But where the heck would I store it? What would I do with it?

Music packages have to be practical and should, at the very least, stand up to being opened and closed a few times. So-called collectors’ editions should also really be of exceptional quality and be thoughtfully conceived to genuinely engage the intended audience. Otherwise they’re just landfill waiting to happen.

By making a pig’s ear of some of these editions, and by confusing potential buyers with half-baked marketing twaddle, the labels that produce them are committing a music packaging crime potentially more sinful and damaging to the concept of the physical music release than the introduction of the dreaded jewel case. There’s a huge risk that the term ‘special edition’ becomes synonymous with ill-conceived, cheaply made boxes of needless crap. Keep on like this and people will avoid reissued albums and, instead, do their shopping for 20 year-old classics on eBay.

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