Monday, October 20, 2014

Balls to Bonus Tracks

I appreciate that selling an album nowadays is nigh-on impossible. Streaming sites like Spotify (as well as good old-fashioned piracy) have made purchasing the physical version less essential than ever, and so it's easy to see why artists and record labels might think that bonus tracks are a good idea. They're an incentive, a little extra something for the people who actually bothered to visit a record shop and fork over some cash - who could object to that?

Well, me, as you probably guessed from this blog's title. Bonus tracks get on my nerves, and frankly, I wish bands would cut that shit out. I don't want any extra tracks on my CDs, and here are several reasons why:

They ruin the finality of the closing track
Imagine your favourite closing track. Better yet, use one of mine: Still Life from Suede's Dog Man Star.

Now, there are a lot of closing tracks that would work equally well in any other slot, but Still Life is absolutely not one of them - that spectacular final chorus, those majestic strings, and the flickering guitar figure at the very end should only EVER be followed by awed, open-mouthed silence (see also: São Paulo by the Guillemots).

You know what would make Still Life a lot less perfect? Some other track barging in afterwards and closing the album with all the grace of a duck falling over. When an album is over, I like to have a moment of quiet - if not to reflect on the brilliance of what I've just been hearing, then at least to register that the album is over. What I don't want is a bonus track to muddy the waters and leave me unclear as to what the closing track even was.

This brings me to point #2...

They make the structure of the actual album irritatingly ambiguous
An album, as far as I'm concerned, is more than just a bunch of songs. It's a whole, a single, cohesive work that's made up of smaller parts. Tacking unrelated bonus tracks on the end is like putting a couple of extra bricks on top of a brick wall - you might well argue that it's better value for money, but at the end of the day, you're leaving me with a funny-shaped wall that looks kinda weird and doesn't do anything that it wouldn't have done without those extra bricks.

I've already explained the way in which bonus tracks can ruin the end of an album, but their evil extends further back, right into the middle of things - for example, the record's sprawling centrepiece ends up in the middle of the first act, and the dramatic, dangerous song that every album ought to have as its penultimate (or possibly antepenultimate) track gets lost in the jumble, its intentions becoming annoyingly unclear.

'But Joel,' I hear you cry. 'Bonus tracks are usually marked as such, making it clear which songs are actually on the album and which songs are needless add-ons that nobody asked for. Why are you complaining?'

They ugly up my iTunes/WMP library
Most of the bonus tracks on my computer have square brackets and an asterisk after the title, like this:
11. Edgy second single
12. Climactic closing track
13. Free Bonus Track [*]
This convention was presumably conceived in the hope that it would appease such crotchety geeks as myself. 'Can't tell the difference between the bonus tracks and the actual album tracks? Here's a little symbol that will erase all doubt!'

But now the bonus tracks look unsightly, messing up my otherwise-immaculate song list with a clutter of punctuation that has absolutely no bearing on the meaning of the song itself.

There's no pleasing some people, is there? Perhaps I should just refrain from ripping the bonus tracks in the first place; after all...

They're never any good, anyway
I can't remember a single 'bonus track' that was anywhere near as good as the album whose coattails it rode. If anybody can think of one, please leave a comment to that effect and perhaps I'll reconsider. Until then, my feelings will remain unchanged.

N.B. None of these complaints apply to hidden tracks, which can be very cool and - in the case of Mansun's Attack of the Grey Lantern and others - genuinely add something to the album as a whole. Also I don't mind bonus tracks *too* much if they're on a separate CD, as this solves the first couple of problems on my list if not the others.

1 comment:

  1. One of my very favourite hidden tracks is a track that is so out of context from the Album
    The Album in question is the Man Who, melancholic, almost wimpy loves songs closes with the Blue flashing light. Such power, such venom. Such brilliance