Radiohead have just released new collector's editions of Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer. The band's most dedicated fans will be the first to acknowledge the release as a cash-in by their former label EMI and nothing to do with the band members. After all, just two months after the band decided to go their own way and sell In Rainbows themselves digitally in October 2007, EMI released a seven-disc box set. Another release from Radiohead will of course be a most welcome cash injection to the ailing label, but what's in it for the fans?
Radiohead themselves may make no comment on the releases, but their fans certainly do – scroll down the Amazon comments from those who bought the box sets and you'll read complaints by fans feeling they have been ripped off. Others, who didn't already own the albums, were happy.
For the newer generation of Radiohead fans who don't already have these three albums, the re-releases – including the album in full, and a second disc of B-sides, rarities, live tracks and videos – offer good value. Those who had bought the albums when they were released in 1993, 1995 and 1997 respectively, will feel short-changed. The three albums are not remastered – surprising when you think recording technology must have developed considerably in the 16 years that have passed since Pablo Honey's release. And as for the content, many of Radiohead's oldest fans will already have the extra songs provided from years of collecting singles and EPs: some of the material on the new version Ok Computer comes from the Airbag/ How's My Driving EP and some songs on The Bends from their EP My Iron Lung.
When it comes to convenience, having all the singles and B-sides in a double disc is unbeatable, but for the purists and the archivists, it will never equal the nostalgic appeal original EPs. It is also re-releases like these that signal the demise of independent record shops. Traditionally, fans would have to scour the dusty racks of the store to find a second hand EP from the band.
It's not the first time fans are being encouraged to buy an album they already have – lured by the addition of one or two new songs. EMI is not the only label to cash in with re-releases. You only have to look back to the run up to Christmas, when the charts were awash with deluxe re-released albums by pop stars. Leona Lewis's debut album Spirit was re-released as a deluxe version 11 months after its initial release in December 2007, taking her back to the top of the chart and making it the sixth biggest selling album of 2008 in the world. Great for Lewis and her label Sony, but not for the fans who already owned the album and were rewarded with just three additional new songs on the deluxe version – including her cover of "Run", which gave Snow Patrol their first number one, and a bonus disk of videos.
Amy Winehouse and her label Universal released a deluxe version of Back to Black prior to Christmas 2007; the onset of an increasing trend for acts releasing a more expensive version of their album. Take That did so in 2007 and bands from Girls Aloud to Keane have followed. The upgraded re-releases make good Christmas presents, but they are certainly not a good investment for the fans who already have the album. In these cash-strapped times, most are less inclined to buy on impulse and more likely to pause to weigh up value and necessity. Buyers should beware of being lured by the promise of new rarities, B-sides and live songs. While these three Radiohead albums are a must for any music collection, dedicated Radiohead fans best save the cash and wait for the band's next official release.