In 2002, Alanis Morissette released Feast on Scraps, a collection of unused songs recorded for her fifth album, Under Rug Swept, released 10 months earlier. Its (ironic, don’t you think?) title seemed to sum up the will-this-do status of the leftovers album, typically released to fulfil record contracts, posthumously, or as niche collectables for diehard fans. As the CD single has dwindled, taking with it the idea of the “B-side”, you’d assume there’d be no need for them in 2020. And yet, offcut albums have dominated the charts this year.
Last August, for example, Drake released the Care Package album, a hotchpotch of older songs that for various reasons had previously only existed on SoundCloud, YouTube and people’s iTunes libraries as illegal downloads. Last month, he followed it up with another one, Dark Lane Demo Tapes. That same month, fellow Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen released Dedicated Side B, a collection of songs that hadn’t made it on to 2019’s Dedicated (she did the same with 2016’s Emotion: Side B, released a year after its parent album). Puerto Rican reggaeton sensation Bad Bunny, meanwhile, chucked out Las Que No Iban a Salir in May, a compilation of songs that didn’t quite make his two albums proper.
So why now? In the streaming age, where quantity is often valued over quality, it’s a neat way for an artist of Drake’s calibre to keep his playlist dominance ticking over, while also showcasing his more experimental material without fear of alienating anyone. For Jepsen, whose commercial peak seemed to start and end with Call Me Maybe, the occasionally superior offcut albums feel less like a flex and more like a genuine thank you gift to her increasingly cult-like fanbase. The timing of Bad Bunny’s album aligned with his escalating public image after spending most of isolation posting sun-drenched and semi-naked Instagram shots.
With old-school, drawn-out album eras now a thing of the past, a constant stream of music makes sense not just for fans but for commercial reasons, too. In March, rapper Lil Uzi Vert released Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2, offering fans 45 minutes’ worth of songs that didn’t make it on to his much-delayed Eternal Atake, an album released the previous week. Cleverly, the newer album was packaged for streaming purposes as the deluxe version of the former, meaning a whole slew of extra streams, keeping it at No 1 in the United States.
Maybe Alanis Morissette was right: maybe these are just throwaway scraps for fans to snack on. The difference now is that with streaming it’s not costing anything other than time for fans to enjoy them. Surely it’s better to hunt for that diamond in the rough than have it sat on a hard drive somewhere.