26 November 2008

Some thoughts on boxed sets...

A few days ago I posted a review of the new Ayreon boxed set, Timeline. It got me to thinking about boxed sets in general. A bunch of progressive rock bands have released (in some cases, several) boxed sets, with varying degrees of success.

What do I mean by success?

That can be measured in so many ways. Certainly commercial sales is one way, but come on…this is prog. More importantly are artistic degrees of success and content. A label can repackage an artist’s catalogue, but if the artist him (or her) self is involved, the results are often superior. Related to that would be the contents of the set…is it a simple collection of previously released material, or is it filled up with interesting stuff that we may never have heard before?

The following is a smattering of boxed sets that I’ve found to offer very good value for one reason or another.

King CrimsonEpitaph, The Great Deceiver. Sure, they released one of the better career retrospective boxed sets in Frame by Frame. But save for the fourth disc of live material and a few curious edits (re-recording vocals and bass on "Cadence and Cascade" and "Bolero" respectively, among others), FxF doesn’t offer a huge amount to the hardcore Crimhead. Better to look at Epitaph, a 4-CD set of material from the first incarnation of the band (including some awesome BBC session stuff), or The Great Deceiver, 4 discs of concert material from 1973-1974. Both are well nigh essential…the first really allowed people to re-evaluate the first band and what they were capable of, while the second showed the 1973-1974 band for what they were…perhaps the first progressive metal band, and one who could jam as well. Awesome stuff all the way around.

GenesisArchive 1968-1975. Full Lamb Lies Down concert? Check. Another disc of live material from the Selling England period, along with some hard to find B-sides? Sure, why not? An entire disc of material from the Genesis to Revelations era? Well…interesting, to be certain. It’s a shame the band didn’t visit this idea for the second boxed set (1976-1992)…if they had, I’d recommend both. Add in some excellent liner notes and recollections from all parties involved, and I am more than willing to overlook the re-recorded bits (yes, it was hard to mic Gabriel when he was in the Slipperman costume, but…). Now, all we need to find is a previously unknown high quality professionally filmed Lamb show and release it on DVD…that sound you hear is the sound of 500,000 devoted Genesis fans combusting spontaneously in thought…

Magma Trilogie au Triannon. It’s tempting to say you need no more Magma than this. This is the essence…the first trilogy from Christian Vander and his Kobaian band mates. MDK, Wurdah Itah, Theusz Hamtaakh…Orff-ian, minimalistic, orchestral, intense. You get lyrics! You can sing along! It sounds like I making fun of this, but…I’m not. Magma is one of my favourite bands ever, and this boxed set is one of the best ways to discover what this underrated band has to offer. Not many groups can claim to have created a whole genre of music…Magma did just that. Essential. Essential in extremis.

Frank ZappaThe MOFO Project/Object. Zappa’s had a bunch of things that could be considered a boxed set. Lather is one, one might consider the YCDTOSA series as one, especially if you have the road case to put the volumes in. But that one was released in 6 individual releases, while Lather is more a repackaging than anything else. MOFO is…more. Yes, you have the original Freak Out! Album, but it’s a mix no one has heard in almost ever. Plus loads of studio sessions, outtakes, interviews…it gives the listener a great look into Zappa in 1966, the Mothers of Invention at their early onset, and it smokes to boot. I am not too keen on the packaging (the plastic seems to stick a little bit), but it’s an impressive looking thing, to be sure. And the music matches it.

EcholynA Little Nonsense. Yes, I wish the debut release were in print by itself. Same with …and every blossom, or When the Sweet Turns Sour. But we get all of them here, along with some remakes of older songs, some outtakes, and so on. 3 discs, a bugger of a package (yes, it looks all nice, but the discs can be a beast to get out carefully), and a nice booklet that offers up some historical background to the music in hand. If you’ve got everything else the band released and are missing these, get the box. It’s less expensive by far than trying to dredge up an original pressing of the debut, which at one point was selling for $200 or more.

RenaissanceDa Capo. A bit slight at only 2 CDs, this set is, however, what the old Sire released Tales of 1001 Nights dreamed it could be. More inclusive by far, it covers the old Keith Relf era of the band up through unreleased material from the Time Line/Camera Camera era band. The booklet is informative, there’s some great photos of the band from throughout the life of the group, and over all, it’s the best package a Renaissance fan has right now. It serves as a great intro to the band for those unfamiliar with their glorious classically influenced progressive rock. And really…you can never have too much Annie Haslam.

Emerson Lake and Palmer – Where do I go here? I don’t have the most recently released boxed set, so I am limited to looking at The Return of the Manticore and the 3 Bootleg Boxes. The original 4 CD boxed set really only offered up one disc of interest to hardcore fans…the first, with some reworkings of songs from each band member’s past (i.e., a Crimson cover, a Nice cover, an Arthur Brown cover), as well as a reworking of Pictures at an Exhibition. There’s a few previously unreleased live tracks tossed in to spice things up, but overall, this is pretty much a career retrospective and not much more. The bootleg boxes are illuminating, and occasionally offer up some great sounding live recordings (the pair from 1992 and 1993 specifically), but in the end they are for absolute die hard fans only, the ones who can handle listening to a recording that is muffled or imperfect in order to hear the band taking risks.

I have a hard time with Yes. All I really have is the old YesYears set. I do not have In a Word, nor do I have The Word is Live. So I can’t recommend either of those. And YesYears…out of print, out of date (only covers up to Union), and some curious selections in tracks. Not a lot of unreleased goodies either…and very unessential now that Rhino has repackaged and re-released all the original studio albums with a plethora of bonus tracks and stuff.

I'll probably revisit this subject in a few days as well, once I've had a chance to mull over a few other boxed sets and artists...watch this space!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To me, some box sets are redundant for a band and I think they are just out for the almighty buck - especially some of Rush's and Genesis'!
Just too many IMO!