To an awful lot of people (many of us at DiS included), Radiohead are a pretty big deal. So it's with a degree of scepticism and trepidation, perhaps, that we should greet the news of their former label EMI reissuing the band's first three albums this week. I mean, we all know they didn't exactly part on the best of terms, and one of the main bones of contention was the band's concerns over the label exploiting their back catalogue.
"We couldn't move ahead with EMI because Guy Hands irrevocably refused to discuss the catalogue in any meaningful way. We sold 25 million records and we have the moral rights over those six albums. We wanted a say in how they are exploited in the future"
That's what Radiohead manager Bryce Edge told The Times in late 2007. So it's now the future. Has that catalogue been exploited? Yes and no. Last year's Best Of release riled Thom Yorke ("We haven’t really had any hits, so what exactly is the purpose?") and didn't really do much justice to the band's rich and varied body of work over the years, but if you look at these three packages (1993's Pablo Honey, 1995's The Bends and 1997's OK Computer), they're relatively comprehensive as documents of their respective periods, at least.
For your money - Amazon's currently quoting £13 per set - you get the original album, a CD of B sides (including material from the Drill and My Iron Lung EPs), session tracks and demos plus a DVD containing the relevant single videos and live footage. For the first two albums, that's the Live At The Astoria film (see below) cut up into the relevant tracks, plus Top Of The Pops and Later With Jools Holland spots. OK Computer's extras disc is less impressive, with only three promos on the DVD plus the same number of Jools... tracks. Failing to include Grant Gee's compelling Meeting People Is Easy documentary here seems like a missed opportunity, but presumably the band and/or director own the rights to the film.
Video: Radiohead Live at The Astoria
So while it's fair to say that this is still a lot of Radiohead for your money, it's also true that the majority of the material in these sets is available online - legally or otherwise - and has been for some years. Hardcore fans (let's face it, with this band that's a fair percentage) probably own, or will have at least heard, 2002's mammoth Towering Above The Rest collection, an unofficial compendium of the band's non-album tracks and live stuff. [For a full DiSsection of that material, look out for Alexander Tudor's piece later in the week.]
Of course, if you don't own the records in question then these sets are probably quite an attractive proposition. Pablo Honey, although not their best work, is still an essential part of any Radiohead fan's collection (that said, all their full-length releases are), while The Bends and OK Computer are both all-too-rare examples of genuine nine (or even ten) out of ten-warranting albums, and two landmark 90s releases. But you knew that already, didn't you?
And if not... well, here's the inherent flaw I've always found with reissues: I want to hear the album as the artist originally intended it, e.g. sans B sides and extras. At least, here, those albums are given a separate disc; it's always been a pet hate of mine when you purchase a reissue and hear a masterful collection of carefully sequenced tracks followed immediately by outtakes or sub-standard live performances. The CD reissue of Lou Reed's Transformer springs to mind here. But I digress.
Video: Radiohead 'Creep' (Live)
Cynical though these particular releases might appear to be, you can't really argue about the quality of what's on offer. It's Radiohead. What you can debate is whether they represent a worthwhile purchase. If you're more than just a casual fan, you'll presumably own the albums already, in which case the B sides, live clips and videos alone aren't a compelling enough to reason to shell out the pennies - particularly if you already have the Astoria DVD. And if you're a newcomer to the band, maybe 2008's Best Of collection would be a better starting point (find it on Spotify here ), as it'll allow you to get a feel for your favourite era of Radiohead before exploring further. Then again, you could always refer to DiS' Best Of mixtapes from last year or fire up Spotify and YouTube for some free 'Head action.
The decision is yours, of course, but where does it stop, exactly? Not here, that's for sure. EMI are also set to release a series of twelve 12" vinyls, featuring some of the singles next month - several featuring material that's included here. Whether Hands & Co. is deliberately biting the band who fed his label for years or not, if we keep snapping up these repackaged classics then the Radiohead archive is a cash cow that's not going to run out of milk any time soon.
DiScuss: Will you be purchasing any of these? Or do you already have all the records and extras? Is this just cynical commerce? What's your view on reissues in general? Does anybody else delete the extras when they download a reissue? Or is that just me?
Over the next couple of days we'll be running content relevant to this period in Radiohead's career, and hearing the experiences of musicians who've been lucky enough to tour with them.