Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Every Everything

Artists: Beat Happening; Galaxie 500
Albums: Crashing Through (BH); Galaxie 500 (G500); Peel Sessions (G500)
Source: Bought used (BH); bought new (G500 box); gift (Peel)

I want it all. Not just some of it, but all of it.

It's a refrain any serious music lover can hum a few bars of, and the age of the CD made it into a hit: CDs took up less shelf space and held more stuff than LPs, so box sets got bigger, badder and more complete. Suddenly, there was room for more than the Best Of in a multi-disc set; it could now be All Of, Every Everything. Comprehensive CD box sets have a built-in target audience, and that audience is guys like me.

Both of these boxes are from important but short-lived Amerindie bands that have compact catalogues but expansive influence: Beat Happening, the wide-eyed naifs of the Olympia, Washington scene; and Galaxie 500, the slow-rock Bostonians who rode a deceptively simple aping of the third Velvet Underground record into top-shelf name-check status to the many, many bands that followed in their wake.

But that's stuff you can read in the well-heeled booklets that come with boxes like these. This is about the boxes themselves, or rather the idea of them.

Why do you need a four-disc box of everything Galaxie 500 recorded? I'm not entirely sure: in their short lifespan they showed minimal growth, cutting three albums with a lot of sonic overlap and enough extra material to fill a fourth disc, semi-ironically titled Uncollected, that sounds a lot like the other three CDs. Don't get me wrong - I love this band, as well as the groups that the members formed later (Luna and Damon & Naomi), but logicially you should be able to get by with one, maybe two albums. Or maybe just the trio of studio efforts without any of the detritus.

Thing is, it don't work that way. You need all of this stuff; or should I say, I need all of this stuff. It's complete, see, and that counts for something. I'm not sure what, but it's there. Like the "Collect and Win!" games at McDonalds or on the backs of cereal boxes, these weighty multi-disc items are about more than the tracks contained within. It's the tidiness of having the whole story, sort of a novel that plays in stereo.

Same goes for Beat Happening. Sure, they evolved a bit (is that an actual bass guitar on their final effort, You Turn Me On?), and even the extras disc, Music to Climb the Apple Tree By (hey, they beat Galaxie in the titling department there), has some don't-miss gems on it. Truth be told, I don't really like listening to disc 1 all that much (it's a collection of early stuff that, to my ears, still has them finding their artfully wobbly feet) and I sometimes drift midway through Dreamy...but again, it's all here. The whole tale, soup to nuts, and it looks nifty with the tight spines lined up in the little box. Will I ever need to get any more Beat Happening? Nope - I've got the box, brother!

And that, right there, is where the "complete" box gets a little problematic. Like, see that Peel Sessions disc listed up there? Well, that came out after the complete set. And there's a live album, Copenhagen, that I only resist due to some good-sounding Galaxie bootlegs I already have. The same thing inevitably happens with nearly anyone's box set: someone, somewhere, digs up a little more than the previous "all," and then you need that, too. Even though you had everything you least until a lost tape turns up, or a clean recording of a legendary show, or a pristine and historically interesting set of demos, or if the artist recorded for more than one label...basically, they've got the Music Nerds by the short & curlies on this one. Buy the box, collect and win, but beware the simple fact that Every Everything will probably turn out to be Mostly Everything before long.

SISOSIG? But enough of my whining. The upside of the complete (or at least semi-comprehensive) box set is that it's got instant A-List status. I mean, who buys a box set by someone they don't dig, usually a whole hell of a lot? These things are for the fans, and despite the aforementioned procedural/historical difficulties, the average box set pays off in spades: both of these boxes are lovingly compiled, compellingly designed, deeply researched (more info for the Useless Trivia Files!) and filled end-to-end with music I want to go back to, again and again. Even the Peel disc - which kind of ruffled my feathers in a way, just for falling outside the box's purview - is a smile-heavy listen, with all that deliciously reverbed guitar splashing all over a set of icy originals and cool covers. I love my box sets, both for the sounds they house and the stories they tell...I want it all, and I'll keep wanting more.


  • The puzzling thing is that if the "every everything" is for the "fans" then there are some questionable ethics in screwing the fans for music they already have. I bought both of these box sets despite the fact that I had already bought all of the officially released music by both bands and so the vast majority of the music I paid for I already owned. Sure they "repackage" and "remaster" and throw in a few gems you can't get anywhere else, but the truth is that there is some fairly questionable marketing going on. I guess the industry loves the fact that there are suckers like me around!

    Not putting the Peel Sessions in the Galaxie 500 box was a bad decision because missing out such a well known "rarity" exposed the collections lack of completeness from the very beginning.

    By Anonymous Andy, at 5:24 AM  

  • Too true. I expect to take the same hit (if and) when the Feelies finally get their much-needed boxing treatment. I'll have to ditch some already-owned stuff, but I'll still want the box!

    By Blogger bsglaser, at 8:59 AM  

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