Whole Lotta Flotsam?

Do you get sucked in by reissue news? Are you there with your money waiting when the double-disc version of some old favourite hits the shelf? Or are you first to find it online? Reissues saved the CD somewhat; that idea that you must have the extra, the bonus tracks, that tantalising tagline of the never before released...now we have bonus tracks on newly made LPs; single albums becoming doubles and triples, or the vinyl record comes with a download card adding the extras to your iPod.

Quite how the bonus disc phenomenon has never been laughed off as simply unwanted ephemera is something I wonder about more and more these days. I'm a sucker though for a good reissue - if it's an album I no longer have, or have only ever heard about/read about then I'm in. But buying something I already have, or had and no longer want to hear, simply because there's an alternate take with a guide vocal or an instrumental version or some cruddy live bootleg...nah. That's never really been for me.

I guess I thought about this most recently with the news that Jimmy Page was doing whatever he could to keep that Led Zeppelin money rolling in since his old band isn't going to do that victory lap some of its fans still - apparently - crave.

I've reviewed the reissues of Led Zeppelin's first, self-titled album as well as Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III - click those links for the individual reviews. These are the first three in a reissue series that will no doubt roll out over the next couple of years in much the same way that The Beatles mono/stereo-and-whatever-else-we-can-find campaign continues to find new ways to flog the dead horse and then there was that nasty Bob Dylan one where the original albums were all packaged up as a nearly-50 CD set and you got one double-disc of rarities/alternate versions if you bought the set - cruel. (Although it was also released as a standalone on vinyl, and I can't lie, I had to give it a hoon - but that's different, there's no way I'd fork for the full set of albums again just to hear the fillers and leftovers).

The Led Zeppelin albums were interesting to hear again, in that if they weren't reissued and put in front of me I might never have bothered. But it was diminishing returns. The first LZ album is, I reckon, quite underrated somehow. It's a huge debut and there are so many great songs on that album that were always a big part of the band's live set. It's a thrilling ride through the blues-as-almost-heavy-metal, baby steps that really thud and boom. It was the revelation of the three in terms of listening again. I've never not liked it, but I'm not sure it gets (all) the kudos it deserves.

Led Zeppelin II is the album I played to death and grew totally sick of - whatever I didn't murder on this record Classic Rock radio certainly did. Still, there was enough here, and considering it in order, as the follow-up and follow-on from that debut, it was at the least interesting. The album tracks that haven't been killed by some Bogan Smashie and/or Nicey of Hauraki and The Rock still stand up as pretty crucial in my world.

And then I just felt indifferent towards Led Zeppelin III. It's got some pretty great stuff on it, I understand why someone might want to consider this the band's best - it's the great leap forward from just aping the blues after all, but I couldn't hear anything here that I wanted to hear, that I needed to hear. I couldn't consider this vital.

In all three cases the bonus discs, the live tracks, unreleased studio outtakes and other fluff - well it just left me cold. It's a one-listen deal. That's it. Nothing more.

Oh, if you've never heard the Led Zep albums and want to get on board then you might as well get these versions, the sound is better than I remember from my Complete Studio Recordings box-set but I didn't get the joy that I sometimes get from my $2 LPs. Those are the things I've lived with - that crackle, the taped-up covers, the stories attached to them. That might not be how you view it, or rather how you listen, but that is a big part of what keeps me in any way attached to some of the music of the past; that it is then of my past, part of my life. These shiny new reissues might as well come with a bonus disc that makes the sound of a cash-register ringing.

So have you given the first three Led Zeppelin albums- these brand new versions - a go? Or will you? Did you hear any revelations among the cobbled together ephemera? Or were you buyingthem to replace your worn old copies of these warhorse albums? And what are your thoughts on those dastardly tantalising "bonus-disc" rarities? Do they suck you in ever or are you well hip to the fact that anything that was never previously released is almost always a dud? (Unless of course it's Prince).

Postscript: If you're in Wellington tonight Off The Tracks has Got It Covered - I'll be playing records down at the newly renovated/rebranded San Fran, free entry, some great beers and food on the menu...I'll start digging the weird and wonderful out from the crate around 8pm. Come on down. You could even step away from the troll-comments and come and say hi - or F**k You, Simon - in person...

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