All I want for Christ­mas is a 90-CD, ¤650 box set

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

I got to disc five of Miles Davis: The Com­plete Columbia Al­bum Col­lec­tion and had to throw in the towel. There were still an­other 65 CDs to go, not to men­tion the DVD, the 250-page book, the bi­og­ra­phy, the discog­ra­phy and all those rare pho­tos. But the time I did spend on it – gaz­ing at those awe­some orig­i­nal cov­ers again, read­ing the es­say by noted French critic Fred­eric Goaty and a “cap­sule de­scrip­tions” of each and ev­ery al­bum – was in­ter­est­ing enough.

But is it worth ¤360? The price varies from place to place, but it’s not cheap any­where. It’s also one of the most beau­ti­ful mu­si­cal ar­ti­facts ever re­leased. But no one re­ally thought peo­ple would pay so much money for a box set, and surely 70 CDs was a bit of an over­load. Ap­par­ently not, by the buzz sur­round­ing it. You can only re­ally go this su­per­sized with an artist of Miles Davis’s stature. And that's the real

beau- ty of this box set. Yes, it’s a mas­sive price for a col­lec­tion of mu­sic, but each CD comes to about ¤5.70 when bought this way.

“There are com­mit­ted fans who view th­ese projects as pieces of art, as cel­e­bra­tions of iconic artists,” says Adam Block, who helped com­pile the release for Sony. “There is one Pi­casso. There is one Miles Davis. Ob­vi­ously, a box set of such ex­traor­di­nary depth is not for every­one. While there is a spe­cific con­sumer for th­ese kinds of elab­o­rate projects, it’s a global con­sumer.

“Miles Davis is one of very few artists whose work tran­scends time and gen­er­a­tions. Also, with some­thing this ex­trav­a­gant, there is a col­lectabil­ity qual­ity that ap­peals to fans out­side mu­sic.”

The Davis box set is a wel­ter­weight com­pared to Yo Yo Ma’s. 30 Years Out­side the Box by the world-fa­mous cel­list con­tains 90 re­mas­tered CDs and a huge hard­bound book in a vel­vet-lined case. There are archival pho­tos a-plenty, tons of es­says and orig­i­nal liner notes. Each copy has its own num­ber. Re­tail­ing for about ¤650, it’s per­haps the dear­est mu­si­cal item on of­fer at the mo­ment, but it will sell – not in the mil­lions, but to the lim­ited mar­ket it’s aimed at.

Ob­vi­ously, there’s a good rea­son why such “en­hanced, vel­vet-bound” be­he­moths are re­leased around now. You can’t wrap a down­load. And buy­ing some­one a voucher for iTunes re­ally doesn’t re­ally cut it.

As gifts go, th­ese of­fer­ings are a con­sid­er­able step up from a Pen­ney’s tie or bot­tle of Old Spice, but the fig­ures show that box sets – par­tic­u­larly the re­ally glitzy ones that look amaz­ing – sell by the truck­loads in De­cem­ber and then fall down to a trickle dur­ing the other months of the year.

You’d be sur­prised at some of the acts who can carry off even a 10-CD box set. Shakin’ Stevens may be only dimly re­mem­bered as a guy in den­ims who looked a bit like Elvis and had a few hit sin­gles in the 1980s, but he still packs out Lon­don’s 02 and wows crowds at the Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val. Stevens’s Epic Mas­ters col­lec­tion takes in nine of his stu­dio al­bums (all with ex­tra con­tent) as well as an ex­tra disc of 12-inch remixes of his hits.

The box set I’ve been telling every­one within earshot would make a per­fect present for the dis­cern­ing mu­sic colum­nist is Keep an Eye on the Sky, a four-CD, 98song ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive by one of the true greats: Big Star.

Of course, “peace on Earth” is the only present any­one should ask for. But un­til then, Big Star will do just fine. bboyd@irish­times.com

No need to blow your own horn, Miles – this box set does it for you

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