The Compilation Conundrum

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Necessary evil of the music industry?

This past weekend I was moving into a new place and as I was organizing things on my book shelf I started to sort through my CD collection. While my entire collection of CDs isn’t with me, I do have a few CDs that I’ve gotten within the last few months. Amongst these albums was Nuclear Blast’s 2018 Music Sampler which I had received at Decibel Metal Beer Fest while picking up a Letters From the Colony CD from the Nuclear Blast table.

While scanning through the CD’s track listing I started to think about the place of compilations for music fans. While free samplers like my Nuclear Blast CD or Relapse’s yearly Bandcamp samplers are a neat way for labels to showcase what artists have released new material over the course of the year, not every compilation is so great. Particularly the compilation albums that band’s release as contractual obligations to their record labels.

While not every compilation album is bad, too many are simply write-offs that are often ignored, except by diehard collectors. Recently Six Feet Under released Unburied, a forgettable collection of songs leftover from the recordings of their last four albums. This album sums what is wrong with compilation albums, limp-wristed songs amassed onto a CD that adds nothing to a band’s discography.

I believe it’s fundamentally wrong for an artist to put out sub-par material even if it is just to fulfill a contract obligation. A band should always be aiming to put its best foot forward when it comes to releasing music. Especially when listeners are consuming vast amounts of audio, everything a band does musically needs to be worthy of the listener’s attention.

For a compilation album to be worthwhile in my opinion, its needs to add something to an artist discography or make a band’s rare tracks more accessible. Take for instance, Power Trip’s recent compilation album Opening Fire: 2008-2014, while not adding anything new to Power Trip’s discography it did consolidate an assortment of early Power Trip songs that had been on hard to find demos, splits, EPs, and hardcore compilations onto one album.

On the other hand, if a band did want to release a compilation album of previously unheard material, they should follow in the lead of Napalm Death. Recently Napalm Death released a massive two-disc compilation album called Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs. This album contains a collection of songs and covers recorded for albums in Napalm Death discography between 2004 and 2014. Unlike many compilation albums, this album doesn’t feel like an assortment of sub-par sounding scraps that were never fully fleshed out. Why some these songs didn’t make it on each album’s respective release, I don’t know. What I do know is that this album doesn’t just merely fill a contractual obligation, but also gives fans of the band something enjoyable to listen to.

While good compilation cannot supplant regular studio albums, compilation albums have the ability to be more than just filler between studio albums. Compilation albums are potential opportunities for band’s to excite their fans. What do you think? Is there potential for them to be more? Or are they just a necessary evil?

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