Sunday, November 13, 2011

Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash

At the end of the same week that Paul Weller, when asked if he would ever reform The Jam, said: "Hopefully I'll never be skint enough", there were two announcements which seem to be indicative of each other.

Firstly, it was revealed that the legendary but beleaguered record company EMI was to be split into two, with the theme parks-to-film studios entertainment giant Universal taking over one part, and Sony taking over another. Then it was announced that hoary old metalheads Black Sabbath were to get back together again, presumably while they could still remember their own names.

At various points in its 114-year history, EMI had the likes of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Radiohead on its books, with Frank Sinatra signed to its US subsidiary, Capitol. Its disappearance reflects the growing consolidation of an industry which appears to be collapsing in on itself like a dark star, largely the result of behaving like King Canute in ignoring the oncoming binary tide of digital downloads.

It's sad, of course, to see a famous name like EMI disappear, especially one synonymous with a golden age of music - an age which made Britain the epicentre of musical culture. We are to blame. Our reluctance to keep on buying overpriced CDs because downloads - legal and illegal - make much better sense, means that your average rock star is down to his or her last few millions.

In New York, still considered the capital city of the American music industry, it is significant that you have to travel far and wide to actually buy a CD. Tower Records has closed its nationwide chain, the Virgin Megastore on Times Square has disappeared, books, music and video retailer Borders shuttered its final two Manhattan outlets earlier this year, which means the electrical retailer J&R to be one of the few mainstream outlets in the city left to sell you a CD. And on the Saturday afternoon I visited it, the lack of clientele was telling. Contrast that with Paris, where the Virgin chain continues to do a roaring business in CDs and even vinyl LPs. The question is, for how long? Are the French really more attached to physical media for their entertainment?

Nostalgia may well be the only source of revenue the music industry can draw on. Pink Floyd, one of EMI's most lucrative acts, is currently re-releasing its back catalogue in various packages and box sets.

The 'Immersion' package of Dark Side Of The Moon will set you back $140 but will offer you a remastered CD of the original album, a CD of the entire album being performed live in 1974, a multichannel version of the album, a DVD containing various concert films, a Blu-ray Disc version of various concert films, a CD containing demos and rarities, and a load of merchandising paraphernalia.

The same approach is being applied to other albums in the band's history. If you don't fancy all that, you can buy the Discovery box set, priced at around $240 in the US, and which contains all 16 Pink Floyd CDs, remastered, of course. Presumably if you'd bought the previous two box sets - Shine On and Oh, By The Way, only the most cash-rich completist would consider another.

As good, sonically, as the remastering and repackaging of classic old albums might be, the cold hard truth is that the consumer appetite for buying them is on the wane. Whether we mourn for the gatefold album cover, with its Hipgnosis or Roger Dean artwork, or  the experience of removing that 12-inch circle of vinyl from its sleeve, those days of tactile enjoyment have disappeared. Although there has been a fashionable resurgence of vinyl sales - up by 40 per cent, year on year - it is not going to reverse the overall decline in sales of "physical media".

Perhaps, then, the old heads who mourn the loss of such experiences are keeping the rock heritage trail open. Black Sabbath's reformation - they will record a new album, their first as the original four-piece lineup in 33 years, and embark on a world tour next year - smacks of desperation. Ozzie Osbourne and his brood may have earned a new fanbase thanks to his reinvention as a self-parody ten years ago with MTV's fly-on-the-wall series, but one wonders whether watching four old headbangers with a combined age of almost 250 cranking out Paranoid and Iron Man in 2012 will be anything to moisten the eye.

It is, let's be honest, about one thing: asked recently what it would take to reform the 'classic' Genesis lineup, Peter Gabriel - who left the band in 1975 - quipped "A large brown envelope". Jokes aside, Gabriel admitted that reforming for a one-off was an interesting idea, citing Led Zeppelin's reunion show in 2007 as an example of how to do it right.

The trouble is, do it once, and the expectation is that you'll do it more, until eventually you satisfy the demand of a listening public clamoring to recapture its youth. Led Zeppelin, to their credit, have refused to embark upon a lucrative reunion tour. "[The show] was an amazing evening," Robert Plant told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "But I've gone so far somewhere else that I almost can't relate to it. I know people care, but think about it from my angle - soon, I'm going to need help crossing the street." Plant's reluctance - or indifference - has been suggested as the reason the three surviving members of the band, plus John Bonham's drummer son Jason, have not followed up the show at London's O2 arena with more performances. "Playing at the O2, that was our reunion," Jimmy Page has said, adding: "if you're going to do a reunion, you need four members."

Pink Floyd have taken a similar approach to reforming. The appearance of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright as the finale of Live8 in 2005 was widely hailed - and inevitably sent the rumour mill into a frenzy about a full reunion. Given the decades of acrimony, especially between Waters and Gilmour, getting the four of them on a stage together was a minor miracle in 2005. While their feuding has thawed - Gilmour appeared at Waters' London performance of The Wall earlier this year, sending the crowd wild by playing on Comfortably Numb - he has also suggested that things between the two of them are still not perfect. "I played on Roger's Wall show here (in London)," Gilmour said in an interview in September, "and I haven't heard a word from him since." That said, Gilmour hasn't exactly enthused over doing more work with his former bandmates. "I understand how other people want that sort of thing [a reunion] to happen, but I'm entirely selfish in thinking that I want to enjoy my declining years exactly the way that I want to... And that wouldn't be part of it."

The Eagles, once, were equally reluctant to reform, with Don Henley famously being quoted in 1980, when they broke up, that the ageing country rockers would get back together "when Hell freezes over." In 1994 they reformed for an MTV Unplugged show. The subsequent album and DVD was named Hell Freezes Over. Cute. But it's not just the venerable, however, who embark upon comebacks. Barely two years since Noel Gallagher walked out on Oasis, effectively breaking up the group, brother Liam has confidently predicted that they'll be back together in 2015 for a 20th anniversary tour of (What's The Story) Morning Glory.

In October, The Stone Roses broke new records for ticket sales by announcing that they would be reforming. Tickets for two outdoor shows next year in Manchester sold out in just 14 minutes, being snapped up by fans of one of the most iconic acts of the Ecstasy-enhanced 90s. For a band that fell apart like an IKEA wardrobe hell together by PostIt notes, their fervour to reform and possibly even record again smacks of money-making - with estimates that the band would earn £10 million from their shows at Manchester's Heaton Park next summer.

In recent years we've seen reunions by the likes of Take That, Pulp and, briefly, Blur, with the summer festival season proving to be particularly attractive opportunity to dust off the back catalogue.

"Money talks," Paul Weller said this week in his interview with, when asked about the Stone Roses getting back together again. "We live in that age, though, don’t we? It’s either bands reforming, bands playing their classic album or tribute bands."

"I find the whole nostalgia thing very strange, right across the board," Weller added. "I also think it doesn’t help new bands. Don’t get me wrong — there aren’t a lot of great new bands, and there’s a lot of shit about. But it hurts new bands coming up because nobody’s looking out for anything new. It’s just tried and tested old music, and it’s weird to me. I think it’s a phase."

No comments:

Post a Comment