There’s a new Beatles box set. Of course there’s a new Beatles box set. And that certainty is not just because it’s the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Beatles fans are a licence to print money because we – yes, we: I’ve been buying Beatles reissues and box sets since 1985 and have all the albums in at least six iterations – not only have our numbers swell each generation but are eager to spend on new versions, including sets such as this four CD/DVD/vinyl Sgt Pepper’s box.
Which isn’t to suggest a scam. Apart from no one being forced to buy reissues and box sets, this anniversary edition offers a new Giles “son of George” Martin stereo mix (the original stereo mix of most Beatles albums were often afterthoughts or at least of secondary value for a band, and market, raised on mono) on CD and vinyl which does tantalise the ears.
Then there’s almost two hours of studio offcuts showing the recording in progress, a DVD documentary, a hefty book of studio details, photos and fan-friendly bric-a-brac, and a separate double (thick) vinyl version. No one is losing out here.
As a Universal Music Australia spokesman said of fans last year: “There is a small but significant core of collectors and completists, which if anything is growing, that remain hungry for deluxe packages and extra content.”
Even though actual sales may not be challenging Adele numbers on the charts, not least because the boxes often are available in limited quantities, with profit margins significant (original recording and marketing costs have been long paid off after all), labels know as well as someone like Mike Glynn, product manager, music, for the retail leader JB Hi-Fi, that a dedicated fan base makes box sets “definitely genuine sellers”.And of course, it’s not confined to the Beatles with this month alone offering substantial career-overview packages from Midnight Oil and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
As counter-intuitive as it seems, if you’re going to buy the Cave Lovely Creatures box it should not be for the music.
That’s not because the music is not good or not plentiful or not thorough – nor that the accompanying DVD doesn’t offer plenty of live performances and interviews. Across three CDs there are 45 songs, covering all Bad Seeds bases.
It starts with the lurching menace, cheap keyboards/razor guitars, and sonic primitivism of From Her To Eternity, which is a fair representation of the visceral band which emerged from the smouldering wreckage of The Birthday Party.
It ends with the elegant, sombrely atmospheric Push The Sky Away which in its tender exchange between Cave and female backing voices is a fair representation of the subtle, varied and intense group which would within two years make the stunning Skeleton Tree album.
But with no new songs the real reward is a stunningly attractive hardback book of photos (check the one of Cave in a hair net applying make-up!); memorabilia any fan/obsessive would delight in for fun fripperies – ticket stubs and passes, postcards and hand scrawled drawings and notes; and, best of all, multiple essays.
These essays offer history, perspective, beginnings of arguments, physical and literary contexts, and reasons to think about the how and why of the band’s place in your collection and life.
The balance is tipped the other way in the twin-tank Midnight Oil package. That’s “twin-tank” because the CDs are packaged in two recreations of drummer/writer/singer Rob Hirst’s favourite percussion weapon, a rusted rain tank.
There’s an essay from Sean Sennett in Full Tank which contains every album, EP and the DVD collection of videos. All worth having, though if you’re missing bits you could probably get them individually.
The real goodies come in the Overflow Tank which would justify the expense alone for its live recordings in bars, studios, on the water and in the heart of Johannesburg: the seminal, for many of us, Live At The Wireless from 1978 a standout, but Penrith Leagues in 1998 scorches too.
In addition, there is an essay from Brisbane writer Andrew Stafford, two documentaries, on their outback experience and the making of the 10-1 album, and then for the diehards – and really, who else but diehards would buy this second tank? – not just b-sides and rarities such as the spectral “ambient version” of The Great Gibber Plain and a slow deconstruction of Cemetery In My Mind, but a trove of demos.
These demos reveal a band getting it right in stages, getting it wrong at times and testing themselves, whether it’s two moments from pre-Oils days (one nowt but noise; the other a brief drifting instrumental), the nearly-there pop Ghost Of The Roadhouse or the all-there minor gem The Band Played The Last Melody.
There’s a bloc of fans who won’t, or can’t, say no to that.