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It Was 50 Years Ago Today…

As The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band is reissued again in various formats, predictably shooting to the top of the album charts in the process, the only thing certain about nostalgia is that it isn’t what it used to be.

Do such reissues count for much in the digital age? Yes and no. This version of Sgt Peppers really is that rare beast of (no) burden- a reissue for which you don’t need to be an audiophile in order to tell the difference. It is unquestionably a superior mix, whether listening through a decent pair of headphones or a tinny laptop speaker.

In an era in which major pop stars such as Kanye West keep tweaking major albums after release, few can argue that seminal albums should be preserved under the best possible conditions and represent the artist’s original vision, upgraded by technology if needed. If that makes them sound like museum exhibits, that is before they more or less are.

At the beginning of this year, The Gen pondered if albums of the near future would be more visual experiences with the introduction of VR and other tech. So, is the ‘ultimate’ re-issue strategy the last gasp of physical media before giving way to the kids who were largely derided for not knowing who Paul McCartney was when he appeared in a YouTube video of a song he had recorded with Kanye?

The film industry has a similar strategy, with its seemingly endless directors cuts, ultimate blu rays and alternate endings. The Gen found it interesting to read recently that the most highly regarded version of Ridley Scott’sPrometheus’ among many fans is a ‘fan edit’. This is essentially, a professionally produced and highly unofficial remix in which scenes are reordered, chronology is changed and deleted scenes dropped in to make a different cut. This shows an irreverence that cuts against the culture of preserving the creator’s vision and is a good example of using technology to take it into your own hands.

Morrissey once sang in The Smiths songs ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’ in 1987: “At the record company meeting. On their hands – a dead star. Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package! Re-evaluate the songs Double pack with a photograph. Extra Track (and a tacky badge)”.

There might not be much budget for the record company party these days and the ‘new’ Sgt Peppers packs more punch than a tacky badge but it seems that little else has changed. Perhaps the culture of nostalgia is somewhat fittingly on borrowed time.

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