10 beautiful CD and vinyl boxsets for Christmas 2011
As music becomes digested in smaller and smaller bites, more than a few artists have claimed during the past year that they're abandoning the album format altogether. Among the reasons cited: Albums take too long to make, they're too expensive to produce, the public only wants a few songs at a time, and other various and sundry ways of saying, "What's the point?"
So then, could the end of the album be at hand? For some musicians, it's already here. But many still cling to the notion and the dream of a sustained piece of work, with a beginning, middle and end. For them - and us, the listeners - this could result in shorter albums with an emphasis on quality over quantity. (And if you really want those leftover tracks, many artists make them available for free on their websites.)
But hey, it's Christmas, so let us now give praise to the boxset, that thing of beauty that exemplifies everything big, bursting and overstuffed, custom-built with the superfan in mind. Gloriously packaged reissues or compilations that come complete with spiffed-up sound, DVDs, documentaries, previously unreleased tracks, alternate versions, and just about everything else you can fit into a kitchen sink - there's nothing like opening up that giant package of discs with all the trimmings and getting intimate with your favorite band.
"Super Deluxe" seemed to be the favored term applied to boxsets this year, and when you consider the completist nature of many of the offerings, it's entirely apropos. So let's take a look at 10 of the more notable boxsets that were released this year. Hopefully, you'll see one under your tree very shortly.
The Beach Boys - The Smile Sessions
It took 44 years for Brian Wilson's mythical masterwork to emerge from the original tapes, and the result is a look inside the eternally optimistic yet increasingly troubled mind of its creator.
Bright and bouncy but tinged with shades of gray, The Smile Sessions unfolds over the course of five CDs, 2 LPs and two seven-inch singles. Early song demos, studio chatter, alternate takes, instrumental and vocals-only mixes - the listener is literally a fly on the wall during a magical time of unmatched creativity.
In addition to the music, The Smile Sessions includes a 60-page book featuring extensive liner notes, lyrics, producer's notes, a sessionography, drawings and more than 60 never-before-seen photos.
Phil Spector Presents The Philles Album Collection
While it's hard to top the impeccable anthology Back To Mono, this set presents a sprawling, more leisurely offering that includes the first six full albums released on Phil Spector's own Philles label, including discs by The Crystals, Bobb B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans, and The Ronettes.
The remastered albums are presented in mono (what better way to render the Wall Of Sound?) and come in mini-vinyl replica sleeves. In addition, there's an anthology disc and an added bonus: Phil's Flipsides, a collection of B-side instrumentals by Spector's studio musicians (many of whom comprised the famed Wrecking Crew).
Our suggestion this holiday season? After filling your house with the sounds on these seven CDs, pull out A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector and give it a spin. Those vocals, those big beats, that mesmerizing production? You'll wish every day were Christmas.
Rush - Sectors
For most Rush fans (and they continue to grow in numbers, remarkable after nearly 40 years), there is no such thing as too much Rush, so the band's first 15 albums presented here - chronicling the trio's development from scruffy but lofty sci-fi rockers, authentic prog-rock pioneers, radio-friendly hitmakers stars and keyboard enthusiasts - is just right.
Sectors is divided into three separate six-disc box sets, each one including five chronological CDs and a 5.1 surround sound DVD of one of those albums.
Sector 1 begins with the band’s 1974 self-titled debut and finishes with their first live album, 1976′s All the World’s a Stage. Sector 2 features 1980's Permanent Waves, 1981's Moving Pictures and a special DVD of 1977's A Farewell To Kings. Sector 3 includes 1982′s Signals, 1984's Grace Under Pressure and ends with 1988′s double live album, A Show of Hands.
Each Sector comes with an exclusive booklet packed with previously unpublished photos, along with lyrics and credits. And get this: when you put all of the three boxes together they form a Rush CD road case.
Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon Immersion Boxset
How many ways can you hear Brain Damage? On The Dark Side Of The Moon Immersion Boxset you can hear it in its original form (albeit remastered) and live from Wembley in 1974. So already the price of admission is fair.
Immersion presents The Dark Side Of The Moon - the original classic that stayed on the Billboard chart for an astounding 741 weeks - digitally remastered. The six discs in the package include rare and unreleased audio and video material (hear the original quad mix!), a complete recording of The Dark Side Of The Moon performed live in its entirely, along with a 40-page booklet designed by Storm Thorgerson, an exclusive photo book edited by Jill Furmanovsky and assorted collectibles (replicas of Dark Side Of The Moon tour tickets and backstage passes!).
Earth, Wind & Fire - The Columbia Masters
September, Shining Star, Sing A Song, Let's Groove, After The Love Is Gone, Boogie Wonderland - the string of hits that Earth, Wind & Fire racked up go on and on, and they haven't aged one bit. But this 16-CD set, comprising the group's entire output for Columbia, goes much deeper than the ear candy.
Casual listeners will be astounded by the artistic reach of the band's founder, Maurice White, who created loose concept albums that explored a vast array of sounds and styles. Funk, soul, disco, African music, blues and jazz - they all had a place in the genre-busting Earth, Wind & Fire.
The Columbia Masters features 15 of the band's classic albums, remastered; original LP jackets, a 40-page booklet with photos and commentary by Maurice White; a bonus disc with unreleased tracks, live performances, live cuts, instrumental versions of Let's Groove and Boogie Wonderland and more.
Nirvana - Nevermind : 20th Anniversary Super Deliuxe Edition
One of the most important bands of the last 20 years, whose influence will live on for decades more, Nirvana broke through to the mainstream with 1991's Nevermind, a raging yet deeply impassioned collection of hook-laden songs that struck a chord with millions of music fans disenchanted with prefab, MTV fodder and hair metal.
Varying and compelling views of Nevermind and its era are captured on the four CDs and one DVD. In addition to the remastered main album, there are demos at Butch Vig's Smart Studios (some before drummer Dave Grohl joined the band), boombox rehearsals, and a live concert from Seattle recorded just weeks before the album was released.
Significantly, there are the Devonshire mixes, producer Vig's original mix of Nevermind that was deemed unsatisfactory by the band (Andy Wallace was called in to mix the final product).
Whether or not a similar reissue of the band's next and final album, In Utero, will be released remains to be seen - is there enough unreleased material? - but this Super Deluxe edition of Nevermind is a powerful testament to a most vital band.
The Smiths - The Smiths: Complete Super Deluxe Boxset
The definitive British band of the '80s, who helped rescue music of that era from synth-driven new wave and pop, The Smiths were (and still are) much adored for their brilliant blend of inventive guitar rock (Johnny Marr) and unique vocal and lyrical stylings (Morrissey).
Like Lennon and McCartney in their end days, Morrissey and Marr were a combative duo, but their disparate musical and personal sensibilities resulted in an astonishingly potent run of singles and albums during the band's brief career.
An exorbitant collector's set (and a costly one, too, listing for around $400 US), it houses The Smiths' entire studio output, seminal albums such as their eponymous debut, Meat Is Murder, Louder Than Bombs, The Queen Is Dead and more. In addition, there's a 'Complete Picture' DVD and 27 seven-inch singles, everything from Hand In Glove to Sweet And Tender Hooligan.
Got a Smiths obsessive in your family? Here's the gift worth giving.
Grateful Dead - Europe '72: The Complete Recordings
Perhaps the most bootlegged band in history (they were among the first to encourage fans to tape their shows), the Grateful Dead, whose studio output was spotty and sometimes haphazard, made their true mark on stage. And this humongous box - 73 discs encompassing 22 shows - underscores the group's gifts as a synergistic live unit.
Standout performances abound on concerts recorded in Rotterdam, London, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Paris, among other locales. While it's doubtful that even the most rabid fan could listen to all 22 shows in one sitting (how many hours is that, anyway?), spread out over weeks or months, this collection should yield many musical treasures.
The Who - Quadrophenia Director's Cut
Whether you're a mod or a rocker, a punk or a godfather, the scope of Pete Townshend's second rock opera, both musically and thematically (schizophrenia, examined during teenage unrest in mid-'60s England), offers something for everyone.
Unfolding over the course of five CDs and nearly 60 tracks, there is the newly remastered double album. Discs three and four contain 25 demos from Townshend's archives, including five previously unreleased songs that represent the origins of Quadrophenia. Also included is The Quadrophenia 5.1, eight tracks in surround sound format. And finally, there's a seven-inch single of 5:15 b/w Water.
Of course, that's just the music. The Quadrophenia Director's Cut also contains photos, memorabilia and a 100-page hard cover book with a 13,000-word essay by Townshend that details the recording process of the album.
U2 - Achtung Baby Super Deluxe Edition
Having reached superstardom with The Joshua Tree and almost blowing it with the vaguely self-important film and album, Rattle & Hum, U2 entered the '90s troubled, fractured and in serious need of retooling. That they did on 1991's Achtung Baby, a surrealistic mix of psychedelic guitar, industrial grunge and hip-hop beats that set the stage for further reinventions over the years.
The 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (six CDs and four DVDs) includes the original Achtung Baby album, along with its companion set, Zooropa. Plus, there's B-sides, alternate takes and previously unreleased material. Of special note is the inclusion of the Davis Guggenheim-directed documentary From The Sky Down, a warts-and-all look at U2 during the making of this difficult but ultimately triumphant record.