I guess this would be a good title for a thread on how file-sharing is destroying the old business of being a collector... but actually, it's not about that. I have a tricky question for all the PSB collecting experts out there: namely, how can you obtain the B-side track 'We're All Criminals Now' in a lossless format, without, er, buying Format (the album)?
To explain the background: I religiously collected pretty much everything the Pet Shop Boys released commercially on Parlophone between 1985 and 1994 (or thereabouts). When Alternative (the album) was released, I didn't need to buy it, as I had all of the B-sides on it already (as the original single B-sides).
I *wasn't* so religious about collecting PSB stuff between 1994 and 2009. So when Format (the album) was released, I had a *lot* of the B-sides, but not all of them. Seeing as I loves me a good PSB single (yeah, even some of the weird remixes can be pretty good), I thought I'd try to put my collection for the 1994-2009 singles into the same state that my 1985-1994 collection was, and... retrospectively buy all the singles I didn't have. My guide for this was 'make buying Format unnecessary, in the same way that I didn't need to buy Alternative, because I had everything already on the singles that originally offered those tracks.'
Well, you know what's coming next: it was a lot harder than I thought. I had most of the tracks on Format already, but there were some I just couldn't seem to track down. In the end, I got it down to three missing: Nightlife (the track, not the album), the cover of We're The Pet Shop Boys, and We're All Criminals Now. The first two weren't so bad: I just wasn't sure where the hell they were originally released. Fortunately, Google was my friend in this respect. Turns out I hadn't got the one of the Miracles discs with We're The Pet Shop Boys on it, and I had utterly failed to clock that there was another otherwise unreleased B-side only available on the Home & Dry DVD single (that is, the track Nightlife — I got both H&D CD singles when they came out, but wasn't even aware a DVD single had been released as well). Both tracks were fairly easily missed, but potentially easy to acquire via Amazon, Eil.com or Discogs.
But We're All Criminals Now... where the hell was that released? As I'm sure everyone here knows, it turned out it was a bonus track with the digital bundle that accompanied the Love etc on-line release. Again, I had both CDs, but not the digital tracks.
And here's the thing. I hate file-only releases. Call me old-fashioned (there's an idea for a song...), but I hate collecting music as MP3s only. I'm with Chris on that (remember his comment about owning MP3s being 'like having a one megapixel digital camera'?). I hate the thought that the best quality version of the song I own is already slightly degraded. I'm not a Luddite; I use an iPod when I'm out and about and in the car because it's just so convenient, but almost everything on it is ripped from a real CD that I own. And I play the original CDs a lot on a nice sound system at home. It's not an anti-piracy crusade on my part or anything, although generally I do think artists should be paid by us for making the music we enjoy — it's more a listening quality issue, and also a data backup issue. So many people I know ripped their CDs to iTunes or something similar in the 2000s and threw away the CDs... and then their library crashed. If that happens to me, I just pull down the CD from the shelf and make another copy.
If there simply *isn't* a lossless option for a particular release, that's when I do sometimes use lossy on-line retail. I thought I might have to do that to get the Andrew Dawson remixes of Winner, for example, which it seems were only ever on-line releases. After a bit of research, though, I realised that Qobuz.com offered lossless versions of those mixes. And given that they were NEVER out on CD, I figured a lossless copy from Qobuz was better than an MP3 from iTunes, and I went that route. But Qobuz didn't offer We're All Criminals Now at all. The only place I could find it was as a lossy MP3 from that original digital bundle.
Of course, the obvious place to get the track in a lossless format was on CD... in fact, on Format. But I was trying to avoid buying that. So the question is: was it ever released in lossless format anywhere else?
A bit of Discogs research turned up just ONE possible source: an Italian promo CD dobbed out by Parlophone in 2009 with *all* of the Love etc-era tracks, b-sides and remixes on it. But there weren't any copies for sale. I expect it was always as rare as hen's teeth, even in 2009, and is virtually impossible to acquire now. And of course in the late 2000s, many promo CD-Rs were just lossy MP3 rips anyway, so maybe that CD was never lossless to start with.
Does anyone know of any other lossless source I could have got the track from? I say this in the past tense, because in the end I crumbled and bought Format cheap secondhand for four quid on Discogs! It was worth it, because for four quid I netted the other two tracks I was still missing, as well as the completely untrackdownable We're All Criminals Now...!
But the experience left me curious. Was that song *ever* really easily attainable in a lossless format, other than by buying Format? And could that have been, in some really bizarre way, some kind of statement in itself by the Boys? Almost certainly not, of course, but the thought made me smile...!