I’ve long bemoaned the decline of the physical album in favour of digital formats, because I am a fan of things. For the most part, it feels like the distinction is insignificant, as a majority of my music listening is spent either on my computer or my phone, where the source could be digital or CD without any real discernible difference. But I really like lookin’ at ’em all collected there on my shelf. Flipping through the liner notes or art inside. Organizing them meticulously. Gazing into them as they do me.
It is for this reason that I’m happy to see the tidal wave of ‘archival’ style releases of classic albums that is approaching us. Being 50 years on from the 60s, it’s about to hit big time and it ain’t gonna let up. Led Zeppelin, impatient to reach the big 5-0 has released its first three LPs in a deluxe format to celebrate their 45th anniversary of being recorded. Accompanied with each are the juicy extras – live concerts from the time (eagerly anticipating getting my hands on the ’69 concert from Zep I), demos and songs that never made it onto the albums originally. Extra Zep! Don’t have a 50th anniversary coming up? That’s okay, you probably have a 25th!
A couple years ago, I picked up the rerelease of R.E.M.’s Document on its 25th anniversary, replete with photos, a gigantic poster and a concert from the album’s tour. And that’s the stuff I’m really into. The digital format is no doubt here to stay and has usurped any physical format as the way to check out albums instantaneously now, but these rereleases offer up the context and experience of the album at the time it was releases. Hearing what a band sounded like and what they did with the album they were promoting at the time at live shows is fascinating, not to mention seeing both the publicity from the era and the rare b-sides that were cut that didn’t make it on. That not only allows you to hear new stuff from your favourite band, but new stuff from that specific time period that you love so dearly.
Having things attached to an album other than the music flowing through your ears gives you more to associate it with and spaces everything out so that the material that you already love so much gets a little bit more attention and a different perspective from you. That’s not to say that you don’t appreciate King Crimson if you don’t buy their 13-CD boxed set of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, but having the experience of that extra material might help it from bumping against Madonna, Conway Twitty and Stevie Wonder in your brain as you listen. Physical formats are becoming a collector’s game, so it’s at least nice to see that collectors are being offered something more interesting to collect as the physical-album-buying public becomes ever narrower (I still treasure the copy of Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick that I found packaged with a newspaper replicated the original LP cover!).