The song remains the same: why do bands re-record their own music?

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Three killer artists have re-recorded old albums and released them this month.

It might be too early to call it a 2018 trend just yet, but it's certainly a weird coincidence when, only a few weeks into the year, not one but three artists have released re-recorded versions of their own albums.

Have we reached peak songwriting, or are we just beginning peak regurgitation?


Car Seat Headrest, playing Sydney City Limits festival on Saturday, have this week unveiled Twin Fantasy (Face To Face) - a song-for-song re-recording of an album that frontman Will Toledo first self-released via Bandcamp in 2011, when he was an unsigned 19 year-old.

His revisiting this record has its merits and reasons. He's admitted he always felt the original was "unfinished", and it seems like an important turning-point for him as an artist. It features his coming-out song ‘Beach Life-In-Death’.

This also isn't the first time Will's done this - his first record for current label Matador was 2015's Teens Of Style, featuring full band re-recordings of songs he'd previously crafted at home alone.


Meantime LA bass badass Thundercat, also here for Sydney City Limits, has concocted a "chopped and screwed" version of 2017's Drunk album and called it Drank. The slowed-down, woozy makeover sees each of its 24 songs remixed by OG Ron C and DJ Candlestick of The Chopstars, and is a total trip.


Not to be outdone, recent Australian visitors The Shins have just served up The Worm's Heart, which reimagines last year's Heartworms album by flipping the tempos on every track - the fast songs are now slow, and vice versa (and the running order is reversed).

But why do artists re-record their own songs? Like the reasons for making an album in the first place, it seems the strategies behind re-making them are just as varied.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest, and perhaps most enduring, motive has been money. Bands that signed dodgy record company contracts in the ‘50s and ‘60s frequently re-recorded their hits in an effort to see any money come back into their own pockets. Particularly as it dawned on them how lucrative licensing their songs to TV, film and advertising would become.

And when big-ticket artists like Chuck Berry and Frank Sinatra jumped ship to different labels, they'd create new versions of their classics under contracts that were much more favourable to them.


It's a practice that hasn't gone away – Blondie celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2014 by releasing re-recordings package, Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux, to prop up a new studio album.

Some artists have had fun with the transparency of it all. Lite-metal behemoths Def Leppard knowingly called their 2012 reworkings Forgeries, and admitted it was to "spite" their old label Universal.


Meanwhile, ‘80s UK pop icons Squeeze cheekily titled 2010's re-recordings album Spot The Difference, arranging the songs as close to possible as the originals and inviting fans to see if they could pick the replicants, again all in the name of owning their copyrights.

There have been loftier reasons at play for re-recording songs, too. Brian Wilson did it to fulfil a then-notoriously-unreleased album's promise. In 2004, Brian Wilson Presents Smile gave to the world the first officially-finished version of The Beach Boys' abandoned 1966 masterpiece SMiLE.


And Kate Bush claimed that 2011's slyly-named Director's Cut album gave her the chance to re-record and remix songs from The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes (1993) and "breathe new life" into the material (and perhaps erase some of the dated production choices from the original era).

Excursions into a different musical genre (or style) have been a constant factor, too - you could argue that the MTV Unplugged phenomenon in the ‘90s was an exercise in "serious artist" re-purposing for a lot of musicians' careers (Alice In Chains, Bob Dylan, Nirvana).

Its bid-for-authenticity flow-on was seen in projects like Bonnie "Prince" Billy's 2004 album Sings Greatest Palace Music, where he re-recorded his early songs with crack Nashville session muso's, and Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Revisited (2007) which not only returned to the music but even the site where they made their breakthrough 1988 album The Trinity Session, at Toronto's Church Of The Holy Trinity.


And depending on your point of view, it feels either poignant or somewhat sad that Dolores O'Riordan's final recordings with The Cranberries were last year's Something Else album, a set of acoustic and orchestral rehashes of their heyday hits.

Ultimately, it feels like it's nothing new, and the trend of re-making albums is set to continue as long as new albums are made.

Car Seat Headrest wasn't even the first bedroom-signed artist to re-record and polish up his primitive early material. UK one-man-band Baby Bird, still best known to the world for 1996's inescapable hit single ‘You're Gorgeous’, self-released five lo-fi albums before signing to a label and hitting paydirt by re-purposing his earliest nuggets with a full backing band, in a proper studio.

As it's still his only hit, it might now be ripe for a 2018 reworking?


Me? I'm off to re-write this article right now, in a comic sans font to showcase my more frivolous side.