Since the advent of the CD, music box sets have become as much a part of the holiday season as poinsettias and ugly sweaters. This year’s batch revisits landmark albums and surveys great careers — but be forewarned: Many of them don’t come cheap.
Here’s a look at this year’s key special releases:
Blur, "Parklive: Deluxe Edition" (Virgin) » Blur has always been more important in the U.K. than on these shores, but this live chronicle documents a pair of gold medal-worthy summer shows around the Olympics in London — one in Hyde Park, the other in the 100 Club — along with some other performances. A DVD shows how the Hyde Park gig looked, too.
Alice Cooper, "Old School" (UMe) » A four-CD treasure trove for fans of early Cooper, particular the band’s transition days in Detroit. "Old School" is packed with rare demos, live recordings, rehearsal tapes, radio ads and interviews, all in a yearbook-style package where school was obviously WAY out.
Peter Gabriel, "So: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" (RealWorld/EMI) » OK, so it’s actually 26 years; "So" what? Gabriel’s landmark album still sounds every bit as fresh and cutting edge as it did in 1986, and this version of the reissue includes a "So DNA" disc of demos and work-in-progress versions of the songs, which are illuminating and make for a good listen on their own. A pair of DVDs includes the Martin Scorsese-produced "Live in Athens" show and a "Classic Albums" special. Two vinyl albums are included, as well.
INXS, "Kick 25" (INXS) » The Australian group gives its biggest album a silver anniversary salute across three CDs — two of which contain demos, remixes and live tracks — and a DVD featuring a couple of documentaries and promotional videos. Concurrent with the band’s recent announcement that it’s splitting up, this is a fine way to remember INXS’ glory days.
Michael Jackson, "Bad25" (Epic/Legacy) » It had the pressure of following "Thriller," but "Bad" held its own with worldwide sales of more than 30 million and a record-setting five No. 1 singles. It turns 25 with the addition of a disc of bonus material, including previously unreleased songs, plus a CD and DVD of Jackson’s 1988 concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. This "Bad" is good — really, really good.
Jethro Tull, "Thick as a Brick: Special Collector’s Edition" (Chrysalis/EMI) » The British band’s interconnected concept album turns 40 with a low-key celebration — the original album remixed for CD and audio DVD, the latter by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. The reproduction of the original album’s newspaper art is solid, but it would still be nice to have something we hadn’t heard before.
B.B. King, "Ladies & Gentlemen ... Mr. B.B. King" (Universal) » You’ll have the blues in abundance — and that’s a good thing — with this career-spanning retrospective drawn from the guitar master’s entire career and the many labels that have released his music. Available in four- and 10-disc versions, depending on just how blue you want to get.
Rage Against the Machine, "Rage Against the Machine XX (Deluxe)" (Epic/Legacy) » The ferocious rap-rock quartet’s debut gets its 20th anniversary due with a box set that includes the original album on both CD and vinyl, demos, live recordings and two DVDs packed with live and promotional video footage. As essential now as it was in 1992.
Rolling Stones, "GRRR!: Super Deluxe Edition" (ABKCO/UMe) » This pricey motherlode includes 30 more tracks than its more modest counterparts, pus a bonus disc of 1963 demo recordings, a vinyl EP and a bunch of other goodies that will provide satisfaction for even a casual Stones lover.
Rolling Stones, "Charlie is My Darling: Ireland 1965" (ABKCO) » We’ve established that the Stones know how to give value for the big spenders. This brimming package complements the documentary, which finally saw the light of day this year, with a soundtrack CD and a live show from England on both CD and LP, as well as a hardcover book and concert poster replica. It’s a gas, gas, gas.
Smashing Pumpkins, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Deluxe)" (Virgin/EMI) » The Pumpkins’ most ambitious release gets its due in the group’s outstanding reissue series. You could settle for a straight-up remastered version of the original album, but this box set loads you up with three more CDs of demos, alternate versions and early mixes, plus a DVD of 1996 live performances. Is there any question which is the better (if more expensive) choice?
Eric Clapton, "Slowhand: 35th Anniversary (Super Deluxe)" (Polydor/UMe) » Arguably Clapton’s last great album — featuring the hits "Cocaine," "Wonderful Tonight" and "Lay Down Sally" — this edition of the set is fortified with unreleased tracks, demos, a full live concert from the period and a DVD documentary.
The Velvet Underground, "The Velvet Underground & Nico: 45th Anniversary (Super Deluxe)" (Polydor/UMe) » The debut album by the house band from Andy Warhol’s Factory scene — the one with the famous peelable banana cover — tops the original 11 tracks with five more CDs of material, including 29 unreleased tracks and a Columbus, Ohio, concert that’s bookended by 28-minute takes of "Melody Laughter" and "The Nothing Song." Still dark, and still enormously engrossing.
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