There were some great archival releases this year (see SDE’s Favourite Reissues of 2022), but in truth, 2022 won’t go down as a classic. Perhaps labels and rights holders were still nursing the COVID hangover of 2020/21 and supply chain problems and persistent issues with lead time on vinyl production led to projects being cancelled, put on hold or worse, rushed through with compromises. Or maybe not? Paul McCartney managed to deliver an 80-disc box set didn’t he, although even that came at a cost, as we shall see below. Requiring 240,000 vinyl records to be pressed, perhaps his box was a problem for others (“Bloody Macca and his singles box is stopping me getting my job through” I can imagine a frustrated product manager saying). As 2022 approaches its end, we can all reflect on the achievements and missed opportunities of 2022. Naturally, we will all have items without lines through them on our personal and professional ‘to do’ lists but the New Year is a great time reset and think about the next 12 months. I know it’s good to accentuate the positive, so this isn’t a long list, but below you’ll find SDE’s biggest disappointments of 2022. What are yours? Leave a comment.
Prince studio album reissues… Or lack of them
Money Don’t Matter 2 Night, because there’s nothing to spend it on. After decades of zero reissue activity, it finally felt as if things were changing and there was some momentum in the Prince camp with the superb reissues of 1999 and Sign ‘O’ The Times in 2019 and 2020, respectively. We can give the estate and the record label the benefit of the doubt with regards to the lack of action in 2021, due to the ongoing issues around COVID with related supply-chain issues – and the already problematic lead time for vinyl production – but this year also came and went without any sign of the much-rumoured Diamonds and Pearls / ‘Symbol’ album reissue. It’s now been well over two years since we enjoyed that spectacular Sign ‘O’ The Times reissue and the only aspect which has eased the pain a little bit is Sony’s activity with the material that they have the rights to. The ‘lost’ Welcome 2 America album put out in 2021 was much better than anyone could have expected, even if the box set was somewhat overblown and ludicrously overpriced in the UK. Likewise, the Prince and the Revolution Live release from this year was also decent, even if the audio was more impressive than the visuals.
Older: The terrible box set George would have wanted
There’s so much inherent goodwill from George Michael diehard fans (the self-styled ‘lovelies’) that record label Sony don’t seem to have to try too hard to please them. It took the best part of five years to follow-up the troubled Listen Without Prejudice reissue and with Older, the ace up their sleeve was that while the album was easily available at a charity-shop-near-you on CD, it was nigh on impossible to get hold of on vinyl via the used market – unless you were willing to spend absurd amounts. So with the ‘vinyl revival’ in full swing, the record label knew the pent-up demand was there and duly satisfied it with a multitude of different coloured limited editions, which is, somewhat depressingly, becoming the norm these days. At least they correctly made the album a double LP, which is how it should have been formatted in 1997, with its running time of an hour. The reason the Older reissue gets listed under ‘disappointments’ is nothing to do with the vinyl but rather the box set. The fact is, under George Michael’s control, both Faith and Listen Without Prejudice were awful box sets and it seems that Michael’s estate is pleased to carry on this good work. Their iron-clad control of the archive ensured that the super deluxe edition offered nothing any reasonable person could describe as ‘rare’ and therefore it failed at the first hurdle. It was nothing more than a collection of previously released CD single bonus tracks (remixes, largely) spread over four extra CDs and one bonus LP (Upper). Add to that the album proper (duplicated across 2LPs and one CD) and the content was stretched like a wafer thin mint – what you might call an After Eight-disc box set. Incredibly, this £140 presentation was the only way to buy the reissue of Older on CD (except in Japan). Granted, It was well-presented and felt ‘premium’ but where was the stuff people actually want: video content (TV appearances, documentaries, promo video) and unreleased audio (such as demos and alternate versions)? To add insult to injury, the one really interesting NEW element – a Dolby Atmos Mix of Older – wasn’t included in the expensive box and indeed hasn’t been made available physically at all. You have to laugh. Taking into account the very high price, the lack of rarities, the ‘forcing’ of three vinyl records onto CD buyers and the failure to include the Atmos Mix on a blu-ray within the package, Older, in SDE’s estimation, is one of the worst box sets of 2022 which is rather sad considering what a great album it is.
No ‘space’ for spatial audio in box sets
While it has always been the case that surround sound mixes (generally now referred to as ‘spatial audio’) may or may not make an appearance in physical music box sets, at least in the past they weren’t included mostly because they didn’t exist, normally due to either budgetary constraints or lack of interest – or understanding – from the artist (or label). The difference in 2022 is that labels are going to the time and trouble of creating the spatial audio mixes (mostly Atmos Mixes at the behest of Apple) but then are still not including them as content within a physical box set. In other words, they are wasting great ‘content’. There are many unfortunate examples this year, including the Seal deluxe set, the aforementioned George Michael Older reissue and The Beatles’ Revolver 5CD super deluxe. The audiophile fans that enjoy spatial audio simply prefer physical product, so to assume people are happy to ‘make do’ with lower quality, compressed Atmos Mixes on streaming services is to completely misunderstand the audience. That’s like trying to force a £200 box set on an income-stretched millennial. The feedback from SDE readers has been crystal clear on this and the success of the SDE Surround Series in 2022 tells its own story.
Will Paul McCartney’s Archive Collection make itself known to a member of staff?
Paul McCartney’s “multi-year” Archive Collection reissue programme started in 2010 and delivered nine albums in its first five years (Band on the Run, McCartney, McCartney II, Ram, Wings Over America, Wings at the Speed of Sound, Venus and Mars, Tug of War and Pipes of Peace). That’s 1.8 albums per year. By comparison, in the last five years (December 2017 to December 2022) we’ve had just three albums (Wings Wild Life, Red Rose Speedway and Flaming Pie), a ration of 0.6 albums per year. So in terms of Archive Reissues the output has reduced by two thirds. You could forgive the 80-year old if he was slowing down and trying to take things easy, but he hasn’t and he’s not! This year has included the time-wasting whim of fancy that was the ‘McCartney’ box (featuring McCartney, McCartney II and McCartney III) and we’ve had to endure that slightly annoying situation where albums that have already had the Archive Collection treatment are being reissued AGAIN as 50th anniversary half-speed vinyl pressings, taking up production time in pressing plants and news-cycle time in the media. It’s only three years since Wings Wild Life was reissued, so did we really need a half-speed just three years later, while we are still waiting or first-time reissues of London Town and Back to the Egg?! The same thing is likely to happen next year since Red Rose Speedway is 50 in April and who would bet against a 50th anniversary Band on the Run bumping the two remaining Wings albums to the back of the queue? Great though the 7″ Singles box was, it was a something of a distraction, like butterflies buzzing round Paul’s head. Clearly something HE wanted to do instead of being fan-driven. It must have taken a Herculean effort from team PM to deliver this 80-disc box, denying them any time to get on with the job in hand which is surely to get the album reissues out! Let’s have London Town and Back to the Egg in 2023 please. That Would Be Something.