The Search for the Perfect Shape, Ego, Money: Re-Recording
Recently, two cases of so-called re-recording, i.e. recording of previously recorded and released pieces, have stirred up the music waters. And, as always, it has caused, if not outright controversy, at least raised eyebrows and some questions. And these cases are far from unique in music history.
There are all sorts of reasons to take your old piece and re-record it, to do a cover of yourself. And then, the context in which the new versions were created determines the listeners' reaction. So when Roger Waters announces that he has recorded a new version of his masterpiece Dark Side of The Moon, there are outraged reactions from all sides. Since the alleged reason is that supposedly the album was not fully understood at its time.
Whether it's because Waters' political views are, euphemistically speaking, controversial or whether Dark Side is such an untouchable gem, the reaction has been rather negative. And yet, if we take last year's re-recording of “Comfortably Numb” as a direction in which the 2023 DSOTM version could go, it might not turn out badly at all. Or it might. Either way, it does raise curiosity.
Another recent case is U2 and their upcoming album Songs of Surrender. Again, old songs in a new coat – a new life experience should supposedly be embraced differently. But the response is rather uneasy, and it is difficult to resist thoughts of helplessness and a kind of defeatism suggested by the album title. And comparing the already-released singles with the originals, the original versions are simply better. The new ones are somewhat sparkless, bloodless and, in fact, completely vain. This can happen even to that famous band.
And then there's Taylor Swift, a case quite old. The singer, after a long legal wrangle over her rights to her older albums' masters, decided to take the radical step of re-recording the albums in question. That way, the profits would go into her pocket, plus she has gained control over how they would be handled. A step widely discussed and generally well received. Among other things, it was a gesture of taking her artistic life firmly into her own hands. Swift even managed a world first: her album Fearless was the first re-recorded album to reach the Billboard 200.
What do these three artists have in common? I don't think they did it purely for selfish reasons, although that undoubtedly plays a role; it's certainly not going to be a box office flop and the promotional value is not negligible either. In all three cases, I think ego was more important. With Waters and, more recently, with Bono Vox, often bordering on egomania and a belief in one's uniqueness. It may have been the case with Taylor Swift, too. Or perhaps a way to see your work through new eyes.
But the question is whether this is actually desirable. A work of art, especially in music, is rather a preserved moment in which it was created. It reflects the mood of the moment, the mind frame, the technique, and fashion trends of the time, and as such, should be considered definitive. Or should it not? Waters, U2 and Taylor Swift (and certainly a few others) undermine this definitiveness and suggest the openness of the work instead.
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