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Achtung Baby turns twenty

November 7, 2011

Any time that an artist, or more likely a record label, re-releases an album as a “Special Anniversary Edition” with “Re-mastered Tracks”and “Never Before Heard Outtakes”, etc” (think: Pink Floyd) I see it as nothing more than a money grab, a business decision which lacks artistic integrity, picking the bones of  a dinosaur artist.

Same as magic trick loses its allure once you know how its executed, the original sentiment once held for a songs gets diluted and eroded with multiple versions of early demos and rough mixes presented as “never released material”.   Most artists spends months in the studio recording each album resulting in hundreds of hours of discarded takes, just because the label saved the tapes does not mean they have to use them or that anyone outside of extreme fans will care about them …on top of that if the artist truly wanted the material released I think they would have done so when they were still relevant.  Personally I would not want my rough drafts made public, would you?

I’m too stubbornly (often annoyingly) principled to partake in these special editions, however if you can excuse the fact that its a corporate, not an artistic exercise , you begin to appreciate the process.  It’s always been the youth who drive music sales – if you are over 30 just take a look at the Top 40 and you’ll see what I mean -factor in that everyone under 30 knows how to download any song or album for free it makes perfect business sense to re-package a proven familiar product and market it to those who can actually afford to buy it and/or don’t know how to steal it.

So, U2… easily the biggest, most successful and most inflated music machine the world has known re-released their 1991 classic Achtung Baby in typical bloated special edition multi-disc fashion.  This is common practice for artists who stopped releasing vital music – But what was the motivation here?  U2 doesn’t need money…. out of curiosity I downloaded it (free of course) and was prepared to hate it.  For some reason (actually for no good reason) my default initial reaction towards U2 (and Dave Matthews) is cynical and negative – this despite enjoying their albums and their live shows NOT TO MENTION that I’ve actually met these guys, our company has been working on U2 tours for years….. none of this changed the fact that I started listening with a sense of obligation as if I’d been assigned the task of writing an article painting them as greedy corporate megamonsters (should be noted that I am not writing this as an assignment, nor does anyone hire me, request, pay for or care about my music reviews….)

Admittedly I skipped around a bit (its five discs and I saw a squirrel) but for the most part I think I understand why U2 would have re-released this collection – its brilliant!  I remembered that I loved these songs, almost all of them,  two in particular would easily be included in my all-time personal Top 20 (again, if anyone requested or cared about my personal Top 20).  There is one disc called “Baby” which is the entire album performed in its natural guitar/bass/drums/vocals format – free of the heavy distortion effects which ultimately led to this albums success.  I found myself appreciating the album as well as the band on an entirely new level.

I’ve read that if you actually purchase this boxed set (not sure of the price or where you can music) stickers, sunglasses and some other crap are included – which would re-reinforce my initial theory on these re-released projects – however in this instance I am going to allow for three things…  1) ignorance to be bliss  2) U2 to be the exception of my “detest and/or ignore everything popular stance”   3) The idea that sometimes the beauty can be better appreciated if you get a glimpse behind the curtain 

It’s no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest
It’s no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief

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