David Browne
November 05, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Sometimes if feels as if all we do is repurchase music we already own. We replaced our LPs with CDs, our CDs with remastered discs, our remastered discs with legal downloads of the same songs or albums. Most of this occurred gradually over years. But nothing demonstrates how desperate the labels have become (and how fast pop culture moves) than their latest variation on this trend: inviting people to buy another copy of a new album mere months after its arrival.

Usher fans — a few hundred thousand of them, anyway —did just that a few weeks ago with the release of a ”special edition” of Confessions. It’s the same album they clamored for last March, but enlarged with four new cuts — including his single with Alicia Keys, ”My Boo,” one of the few male-female R & B matchups in which the female sounds tougher than the male. As its sticker breathlessly declares, buyers will also be rewarded with ”all-new photos and a bonus fold-out poster!” So many people bought this supersize Confessions that it world have been No. 1 on the pop album chart had a new George Strait collection not out-sold it by mere 7,000 units.

As we’ve learned from the conquest of the DVD, everybody, meaning consumers, wants more: unseen footage, bonus material, reasons to avoid pondering our increasingly worrisome world. First with movies on DVD and now with pop music, entertainment companies are here to serve. Relaunched CDs — called expanded, deluxe, or special editions — have been kicking around for a while but generally weren’t released until a year or two after the original version. The current batch (upgrades of the latest, by Usher, Gretchen Wilson, Norah Jones, Jessica Simpson and Los Lonely Boys) are coming faster on the heels of the originals, and?satisfying the market for ”extras” and the needs of the industry to hawk a new product — have even more stuff grafted on to convince you to buy, not copy or download.

Is the additional material worth the extra dollars? Rarely. Confessions‘ three other add-ons are throwaways, including another Lil Jon production, ”Red Light,” that sounds like an early take of the far superior ”Yeah!” (An extra Jam and Lewis collaboration, ”Seduction,” expands on the decaffeinated soul of the original disc.) The enlarged Los Lonely Boys sports extra tracks (like the hit ”Heaven”) sung in Spanish (no new revelations there), plus a DVD of acoustic performances by this amiable, but limited, band of brothers. The ”new expanded” version of Jessica Simpson’s In This Skin, an album that makes cotton candy feel hefty, tacks on airbrushed remakes of Berlin’s ”Take My Breath Away” and Robbie Williams’ ”Angels.” (If only for the rare U.S. royalty checks, Williams must appreciate the latter.) In the enhanced-CD category, Simpson’s album wins the Crass and Shameless Award for including a DVD with up-close-and-personal footage of her wedding to Nick Lachey and an entry form for a ”Win a Trip to Meet Jessica Simpson!” contest (since expired).

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