How far to update old songs?

I’m working on a new album release, which will contain some songs which are 25 to 30 years old. Some of them were written when I was very young, and before I’d really become the person I am. In some ways, they reflect my black and white view of the world back then. As we grow into adulthood, we discover perhaps that things are often not quite as easy to tell apart – that life operates in a series of greys. Or even better, when life actually shows you colour.

So the question I face at the moment is – should I record these songs as they were written, reflecting as they do ideas and themes which were very important to me back then, but less true of me now? I suppose my thinking is – a lot of us go through similar growing pains as were touched upon in the lyrics of these songs, so to change them to fit more with my present-day worldview might be doing them a disservice, robbing them of any power to speak to others going through what I did then.

But then, what if the skills I have learned, and developed, honed, since then, means that actually, musically or lyrically, the songs don’t quite measure up? In releasing them to the world as they were, am I again doing them a different disservice, in not allowing them to be as good as they could be?

But at the same time, I’m reminded of Picasso. Not that I’m comparing myself to Picasso of course, but Picasso was an artist who could draw and paint from nature with the best of them, yet chose instead to create work which is almost childlike. Certainly not childlike in its themes, but in its execution, there is a naivety, a sense of joy in simple creation of line and shape. What I guess this means is that practising one’s highly developed skills is not always what is needed in the creation of a new piece. Sometimes we need to let the inner child shine through.

So to adultify(?)/adulterate my more naive songs might be to rob them of their power. The comparative simplicity of my worldview back then is what these songs were really all about – so repainting them with the hues of my present worldview would surely not improve them. It might make them more polished, but there is also great beauty in the unhewn piece of rock which forms the raw materials of a gemstone.

And all the time, whilst I write this, I’m laughing at myself and thinking how pretentious all of this sounds. Because in the end, it’s just a few songs. But I hope that when they are born into the world, they will perhaps have the power to speak to someone. That’s what every songwriter dreams of surely?

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