And it’s not all bad for us consumers — as labels get more desperate to sell product, they dig deeper and deeper into their vaults for ever more precious tracks by ever more obscure artists. There was a flood of that this year, with Rhino finally giving the Joy Division catalogue the working over it deserved, Virgin taking on Bowie’s more-difficult latter-day albums, and one of my favorite pet bands, the minimalist, lo-fi late-’70s Young Marble Giants, getting a multi-disc reissue of their very own by Domino, even though they only ever released one proper studio album.
But first let’s dig into a few of the big boys that have hit stores this season. Rhino remains the king of the box set, and every year it seems to come up with at least one smartly packaged, timely genre-based collection, like last year’s leather-laced A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box, or the coffee-bean-encrusted, Seattle-leaning ’90s box that hit stores the year before. This year, it’s THE HEAVY METAL BOX (not to be confused with PiL’s Metal Box, which is surely worth a good remastered reissue now that the Sex Pistols are up and running again), a four-disc set that comes in a box designed to look like the head of a big ol’ Marshall amp that, yes, goes all the way to 11. The set spans roughly four decades, beginning with Iron Butterfly’s incessant “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” working its way up to the ’80s Metallica monolith “One,” and moving into the ’90s with Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell.” As with most of these Rhino sets, half the fun is the packaging and the other half is the sense of nostalgia offered by what amount to familiar mixes, in this case of old warhorses like Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” Ratt’s “Round and Round,” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.” And as usual, though there’s always something to quibble about, Rhino pretty much nails the genre it’s after here.
The classic David Bowie catalogue got its original reworking from Rykodisc, and those limited-edition reissues are now collector’s items. But Virgin has been getting its money’s worth of late, reissuing albums like Young Americans as a “special edition” Digipak earlier this year — a set that comprises a CD of the album and a DVD with music videos and live appearances including some cool footage of Bowie on The Dick Cavett Show. And it’s a sign of the desperate times that Sony has now created a new DAVID BOWIE BOX out of five of the artist’s less commercially successful discs, the late-’90s/early-’00s run of Outside, Earthling, Hours . . ., Heathen, and Reality. It’s one of those “bricks,” which means each album and its corresponding bonus disc of outtakes, remixes, and the like will eventually be offered on its own. But for Bowie fanatics, this is an opportunity to revisit some interesting albums. Of course, there’s a reason these discs didn’t sell well the first time, and more than 60 extra tracks of this material isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, even if some of the remixes are pretty cool.
Jason Molina and his ever-shifting indie outfit Magnolia Electric Company delivered a nice gift to their fans a couple of months ago with SOJOURNER, a four-CD/one-DVD deluxe limited-edition wooden box full of all kinds of goodies (postcards for each disc, a poster, a medallion) that picks up where the band’s 2006 Steve Albini–produced Fading Trails (Secretly Canadian) left off, working its way back through the band’s various recording sessions. There’s a full disc dedicated to the material Molina recorded at Sun Studios. And though some of what’s here has appeared elsewhere, for the most part this is new stuff left over from what were very productive sessions of indie Americana. Just remember, there are only 5000 copies of Sojourner out there.