My first box set was Soft Machine’s Triple Echo, which may be the first, historically, with rare studio and live tracks rounding out a career overview to that point (already long in ’77!), together with a nice book. It set the form and the standard for all subsequent box sets, of which I bought quite a few. The advent of the CD made the concept more attractive, less cumbersome, and a regular feature of most acts’ back catalogue. Demos were expected, maybe interviews, anything that could be marketed as new, with the added value of remasters. And the bloat factor came in like gangbusters. Six discs, eight … there seems to be no limit.
But all of these lavish and satisfying collections stayed on the shelf. The act of owning them became enough in itself. What was the point of going to all the trouble of opening the box, choosing which disc you wanted to hear, and ejecting it after thirty minutes or so? When the alternative was simply to play an album, it all seemed too much hassle.
These days, I have no physical recordings at all, so the idea of a box set is redundant (as it is if you listen to streamed music from an internet). I may miss – slightly, no, not really – the package itself, the book, the notes, but listening to an album is still the base unit of my musical enjoyment (except for rare car trips, when I put the iPod on shuffle).
Do you get full value from your box sets? Do they replace original albums in terms of playability? Do you think owning hundreds of demos is a good thing in anything more than an archival sense? Do remasters significantly increase your pleasure and appreciation? In short, are your box sets repaying themselves in repeat listens, or simply looking good and satisfying on the shelf?