23 December, 2014

The Bonus Discs - New deluxe

On October 13th last year, I went to my nearest record store which, thanks to modern technology, is now a bit over an hour’s drive away. I had been reliably informed that the particular chain had a habit of placing stock in the racks as soon as they received it rather than keeping it embargoed until the official release date. I had nothing else to do that day and it was worth it to have the new Paul McCartney album as soon as it came out.

By coincidence, my dearest happened to be in the US at the time, so I asked her to bring my back the Target exclusive version with a bonus DVD. There were other editions exclusive to other big box stores in the US but she wasn’t near any of them. No doubt, there were fans who grabbed them all. Being a bit of an audio nerd, I also bought the high-resolution version from HD Tracks for the greater dynamic range. I didn’t bother with the standard edition – and seriously, who does this? Who thinks to themselves, “I’m going to buy the new album by one of my favourite artists, but I’ll save a couple of dollars by getting the version that has three less songs on it,”? Still, the beancounters at MPL and/or Starbucks clearly thought it was a good idea so what do I know?

So this deluxe edition is actually my fourth copy of New.
Hello, I’m Bill and I’m a hopeless fanboy.

It’s not that the album isn’t worth buying more than once – it’s excellent. There are four separate producers, including two second-generation Beatles producers; Ethan Johns, son of Glyn who worked on Let It Be, and Giles Martin (if you don’t know who his father is, then I’m very disappointed in you). As the DVD reveals, the original intention was to try out these producers – the others being Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson – and see who he actually wanted to make an album with, but having done a whole record’s worth of material, the album was compiled from all four sets of sessions. Despite the contrasting styles, the album flows extremely well. Somehow, it doesn’t suffer from the too-many-cooks problems that made Flowers in the Dirt, which was also promiscuous with producers, sound like less than the sum of its parts.

On the whole, the DVD is good value, with nearly two hours of material. The documentary on the making of the album is quite insightful and rather cleverly plays the complete album through the program. The middle of the disc compiles just about all the promotional junkets for the album, the most interesting of which is Bang & Olufsen interview. There are short pieces on the talk shows and pop-up gigs he did, but they don’t include any of the actual interviews or performances. Show Paul arriving, waving fans, gushing host, two seconds of performance, Paul shakes hands and leaves. Repeat seven times.

Johnny Depp sitting.
The DVD concludes with four official videos plus behind-the-scenes documentaries for three of them. The first compilation of McCartney promotional clips was called The McCartney Years. If there’s ever a second volume, they could almost call it Johnny Depp Sits On Things.

Johnny Depp Sitting. Again.

This deluxe edition also comes with a bonus audio disc that includes four live tracks recorded in Tokyo, and three unreleased studio tracks. The three new songs are decent, but wouldn’t have fitted the flow of the album proper.

Worth paying extra for?  If you don’t already own the album, it’s totally worth paying extra for, but who are we kidding? If you have the slightest interest in this deluxe edition, you already have the album so the question is if it’s worth buying a second time.

The way I usually look at deals like this is that most fans who are interested in the extra discs would gladly pay $25 for them as a standalone release, so why complain about getting a spare copy of the main album to play in the car or where-ever? The other side of that coin is, why bother including that redundant copy of the album when anyone who is interested is bound to have it already? I think the answer to that question is obvious: This way, it counts as sales of the New album rather than as a separate release.

Milking it? Well, yes and no. The 7 tracks on the additional audio disc are all perfectly decent B-sides. If New had been released 15 years ago, there would have been three or four singles released off it, each with two or three additional non-album tracks. Fans would have diligently bought them, spending about as much as the price of this deluxe edition, and getting a redundant, if not butchered copy of each A-side. Now that the market for physical singles is essentially dead, those extras are marketed differently.

There remains the issue of appearing to fiddle the sales figures but again, this isn’t really anything new. Back in the 90s, it wasn’t unusual for a single to be released on two different CDs, sometimes three, each with different bonus tracks. When the hardcore fans bought all versions, the title registered two or three sales for one buyer. A little detail that is rarely mentioned about the time Blur and Oasis went head-to-head releasing new singles on the same day is that while Blur may have beaten Oasis to Number 1, Country House was released on two CD singles, Roll With It was only released on one.

If you’re the kind of fan who is happy enough to have the regular album, you won’t miss anything that’s on the additional discs here. If you’re the kind of fan who has to have everything, this deluxe edition rewards your additional investment.