Quick Spins: Should I Buy That Box Set Or Not?

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 13, 2016 6:38PM

It's the holiday season and gift giving is in the air. So of course every single record label and band is trying to figure out how to snag some of your hard earned cash with deluxe reissues and multi-media box sets. We're here to help you answer the question: Is the original enough or do I need this new version?

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R.E.M.
Out Of Time [25th Anniversary Edition]

Green catapulted R.E.M. from the status of quirky singles band (as far as the non-college rock demographic was concerned) into full-fledged stars. And Out Of Time cemented that with Shiny Happy B-52s cross-overs and the juggernaut known as "Losing My Religion." Personally I still think "Belong" is the best track on the album, but I'm clearly in the minority. Further classifying my minority stance is my belief that Out Of Time is actually a pretty weak album when viewed as a whole. It still feels like a band trying to find its way, balancing widespread acclaim with their own artistic inclinations.

This anniversary edition packs in a slew of demos and a 1991 concert recording. Honestly, the demos don't reveal much as far as the band's songwriting process is concerned, and ultimately function as a glimpse into the recording process that doesn't fully pay off. The concert that's included is worth a listen; R.E.M. has always been a great touring band and this show was captured at the height of their transition from working band to famous rock stars. That said, it still feels like something that's more geared towards completists than the average listener.

Our verdict: Only for the super fan.


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Various Artists
First Class Rock Steady

24 tracks of rock steady reggae on vinyl? Yes please! It's time to push your favorite college student's boundaries beyond Bob Marley, and this set is a wonderful collection of tracks from trailblazers including Lee "Scratch" Perry (when he wrote memorable hooks), Desmond Dekker and Johnny Nash. Yeah, I know, these aren't exactly shining beacons of the rock steady underground, but it is an excellent entry point into that world.

Our verdict: Whether you smoke or not, you can get high on this collection.


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Rush
2112 [40th Anniversary Edition]

Rush celebrates the 40th anniversary of their prog-rock opus 2112 with this box set. The first disc contains a remastered version of the album. Though, at this point, was just "remaster" even mean outside re-equalizing levels to be competitive with current recordings?

The second disc contains the album covered by rock luminaries both old and new. Members of the Foo Fighters tackle 2212's "Overture' and it's a nice time capsule to commemorate the same musicians playing tribute to the band at their 2013 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Outside that all you have are a few tepid covers delivered by Billy Talent, Steven Wilson, Alice In Chains (?!) and Jacob Moon. The only true gem in this set is a full live recording of the 2112 suite by Rush captured at Massey Hall in 1976, since it displays a trio at the height of their power and full of bravado.

Our verdict: Find the Massey Hall performance and skip the set. if you're a Rush fan you already own all of this anyway.

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Pink Floyd
The Early Years 1965 - 1972

This is one of those rare box sets that actually, exhaustively digs through the audio and visual archives to reveal stuff that's a must-have for fans. A bunch of the music has been available on bootleg form since forever but it is so lovely to hear cleaned up, original versions instead of 36th generation multi-cassette dubs. It even scratches every collector's itch with the inclusion of cool reprints of period promotional posters, articles and concert tickets. This may be the most lavish and complete box set package I've encountered since the late '80s when Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton's labels first figured out there might be a market for this sort of thing.

This set's recordings mix the known with the thrill of actual discovery for even the super fans, which is unusual when it comes to these sorts of things. The video components are also pretty mind-blowing. It's a rarity in that even the Bluray discs reveal a wealth of material even longtime fans such as myself have never seen.It's a trip to see the band when they are so young slowly develop into the musical masters they would eventually become. Roger Waters, in interviews, is already so Roger Waters, and seeing Syd Barrett moving around and talking gives a tiny glimpse that leads to a deeper understanding of just how oddly charismatic he really was. You also get the added bonus of traipsing through so many live performances, none of which feel repetitive or redundant.

As an added bonus, a remastered version of Meddle is hidden on one of the Bluray discs; a recording originally intended for the set but "left off" at the last minute. Another last minute inclusion is the band's full performance live at Pompeii, added in "by accident" as well.

Our verdict: I admit I paid full price for this, and I usually get most music for free due to my status as a longtime critic. And I am completely satisfied after years of being let down by box sets that don't actually reveal anything new. this is worth the hefty chunk of change it costs.