PHOTO SUPPLIED BY GARETH SHUTE
Compact Discs are sometimes regarded with disdain these days, whereas the once-redundant vinyl record is back in a big way. Recent news confirmed that the trend had flipped - vinyl outsold CDs in February for the first time since 1987. But are CDs really such a bad format? They might not have the impressive covers of vinyl records, but CD booklets can hold a lot more information, whether it’s lyrics, artwork, or information about who played what.
Nick Kreisler from The Pet Rocks admits that his band’s decision to release their lost-album on CD had a practical side too. Vinyl pressing plants are booked up months in advance, now that the big artists like Taylor Swift and Adele have gotten on the bandwagon. Kreisler has kept his own vinyl from his childhood, but finds it’s a mixed blessing:
“I've moved three times between New Zealand and Australia. With a thousand records that’s pretty difficult.”
Marbecks in Auckland probably sells the most CDs of any store in Aotearoa, partly due to its large classical range, as staff member Gin Halligan explains:
"I would say we carry in the vicinity of 10,000 CDs at any time, whereas we’d only have around 2500 records. For classical music, the predominant form is still CD. The classical purests want a high quality sound, which they wouldn’t get via streaming, despite Neil Young’s attempts to create an alternative platform! Acts like The Beths, Reb Fountain, and Princess Chelsea also sell well on CD and one of our highest CD sellers this year has been 'My Boy' by Marlon Williams ... In fact, our main problem with CDs isn’t a lack of sales, it’s the difficulty of getting enough albums from overseas through the standard channels."
Or course, the decline of CDs isn’t the only thing that has changed since The Pet Rocks were in their heyday. They played bars like Squid, Kurtz Lounge, and the Gluepot which have now been wiped off the map. One of their biggest shows was at the Big Day Out, though it didn’t go well, as Kreisler recalls:
"We played there as a three piece. I mainly remember our guitarist Simon [Sampson] tried to do a jump and ended up splitting his pants, so he kicked them off mid-song. And he was wearing fire engine underpants. We never stopped playing despite that…”
The late 90s weren’t a great time to be a guitar band. DJ culture was taking over the clubs and the new exciting thing was hip hop. In the years before The Datsuns, it seemed like rock really might be dead, as Kreisler recalls:
“I wasn't listening to a whole lot of guitar music myself. I’d been listening to hip hop for a long time. It was like, what do we do now? Do we become a reggae band? … It had been ten years and one night after a gig at Bodega in Wellington, I was hanging out with our bass player Steven down on Cuba Street. It was cold and I had no money. I just said - I’ve had enough, I’m done. I’m going to go to Australia. And that’s what I did.”
THE PET ROCKS: SIMON SAMPSON, STEVEN SHAW, KIM MARTINENGO, AND NICK KREISLER / PHOTO SUPPLIED
Kreisler formed a new version of Pet Rocks and recorded two more albums (one at Neil Finn’s studio Roundhead), even while the band’s first album lay forgotten. During the Covid years, he moved back to New Plymouth and was visited by the band’s keyboardist Dominic Blaazer who kept playing one of their old songs - ‘Fade In/Fade Out’ - every time they jammed and insisted that their lost album needed to see the light of day.
Funnily enough, one of the band’s original drummers Kim Martinengo had started his own label in the years since, 1:12 Records. The label specialises in vinyl, but it was decided that PR Nightmare should be released in the way it was originally intended - on Compact Disc. Kreisler says the title is as true now as it was when then first titled it back in the 90s:
“Everything we did around the media always seemed to backfire. We’d ended up saying something stupid and offensive about another band when we were interviewed. One of us said something really dumb about The Exponents just before they were about to take us on a national tour. They got in touch and said - nah, we’ve got another band to play with us instead.”
One of the songs ‘Blunter Classics’ is a comment on the obscurer-than-thou obsession of the record collector, who always has the newest, coolest release that you’ve never heard of. Maybe PR Nightmare itself will turn out to be one of these obscure classics? For listeners who really aren’t interested in CDs, the album is available on Bandcamp too.
However Gin Halligan at Marbecks does encourage bands to do CDs if they have a reasonable following:
“Just do the minimum run at Stebbings. Run off an extra 100 of covers in case you do need to repress, you've got them there. Even just as a merch desk item. People will still spend 15-20 bucks on a CD to support a band they like. Whereas if you have a vinyl record then you’re expecting someone to spend a lot more money then have to carry this massive album around with them all night. With a CD, you can just chuck it in your pocket and forget about it … It’s still a very viable market for us at Marbecks. We don’t see ourselves reducing our stock of CDs any time soon, unless it’s forced on us by the distributors.”