In a few weeks it will be a year since EMI released a Super Deluxe Edition box set that featured – amongst other things – lossless surround sound album mixes, hi-res stereo, and Blu-ray for video and audio. One year on, and the same label will be shortly releasing another Deluxe Box set for a different artist that has none of the above, but… you guessed it, they are happily charging the same price.
The former was Pink Floyd’s mighty Dark Side Of The Moon ‘Immersion’ box, the later is Peter Gabriel’s flawed So Super Deluxe box set. What is going on, and why are the specifications of some of the most recently announced box sets failing to meet audience expectations? Paul Sinclair examines the issues…
Super. Deluxe. Edition. Words associated with the best, the very best, the ultimate edition of an album. A celebration, where excess knows no bounds. Multiple discs, hi-res audio, surround sound, demos, session tracks, B-sides, remixes, DVDs, Blu-rays, vinyl, memorabilia, linen-bound books – all this, and sometimes more.
The rewards for the fans when these box sets are done properly is obvious, but the record labels are in it for the money. If they get the content and production-run right, they can charge astronomical figures. Last year the Uber Deluxe Edition of U2’s Achtung Baby cost an eye watering £260, and sold out its print run almost immediately.
Almost a year on from The Dark Side Of The Moon ‘Immersion’ Box is the consumer still getting the same high-end content and value from these sets, or can we detect a certain complacency on the part of record labels? Are these boxes being planned and created by music enthusiasts with a desire to produce a stunning combination of content and presentation, or are the ‘bean counters’ taking over, looking to keep costs as low as feasibly possible to increase margin? In short, is the Super Deluxe Edition box set still fit for purpose?
To help with this investigation, let’s examine the contents of the So Super Deluxe Edition from Peter Gabriel. This set was announced late last year and is due out on 22 October 2012. After eight months of fevered speculation about what would be included within the set, the specification was finally released earlier this week, and is as follows:
- 1 Newly remastered So CD
- 2 So DNA CD (Audio evolution of So)
- 3 + 4 Live In Athens 1987 double CD
- 5 Live In Athens and DVD
- 6 Classic Albums: So DVD
- 7 180g So 12-inch LP
- 8 12-inch AA vinyl collectible
- • 60 page case-bound book
It’s an eight disc set, so that must be good value, right? Well let’s examine it closely.
The first thing to note is the duplicated content. The newly remastered So album is presented on CD and Vinyl. One has to ask, why? Vinyl enthusiasts are simply not going to play the CD. On the other hand, you may have last used a turntable in 1992, and have no use whatsoever for the LP (and a further 12″ vinyl included). Either way, at least one disc is immediately redundant.
Live In Athens is presented on DVD and double CD. We can listen to the music and watch the visuals in 5.1 surround on the DVD, so is it really necessary to take up two whole discs of space by providing us with the CDs? When Erasure released a DVD with their Wonderland deluxe reissue last year they included all the live audio in MP3 format in a ‘downloads’ folder in a data section of the DVD for transfer onto a computer. A simple and inspired idea, designed to offer value. Why couldn’t the So set have done the same, but maybe with FLAC instead. That would have saved the two other discs for different content.
Second rate audio/video
Everyone knows that Blu-ray provides the highest levels of picture quality. So, why are we getting DVDs in the So Deluxe box, not once but twice? Even more significantly, Blu-ray also provides hi-res audio for both stereo and surround sound. This is primarily a music release, is it not? It seems that Peter Gabriel and his team do not want purchasers of the So Deluxe Box to hear and see this concert at its very best. Who would have thought it? The counter argument will be that more people can play the DVD, but if movies can be released in ‘triple play’ format with DVD, a digital copy AND Blu-ray for a premium of only a few extra pounds, then why can’t an £80 box set offer the same? Pink Floyd did this, but a year down the line we are apparently going backwards in what is being offered.
Content available elsewhere
The Classic Albums: So documentary is included with this set on DVD but will be available separately elsewhere on a superior Blu-ray. Hello? Buyers of the box set will have to buy it again, if they wish to view it in high definition and listen to Daniel Lanois manipulating the faders during playback of the So multi-track tapes in hi-res audio.
Also, with all the effort that has gone into Live In Athens DVD – “fully restored and pieced together from over 150 reels of original 35mm negatives” – it will almost certainly get a separate Blu-ray release in the future, bizarrely providing an incentive to NOT buy the deluxe, but to wait for the concert with better quality visuals and audio.
This policy of making content in the Deluxe box available elsewhere with better sound and better picture quality is treating the paying customer with disdain.
By far the biggest complaint about this So Deluxe Box is about the lack of non-album tracks that originally appeared on So-era singles? Seriously, where are they? It simply defies belief that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from any of the singles was considered suitable for inclusion. Gabriel fans may remember the B-side to Sledgehammer, the sublime studio recording Don’t Break This Rhythm? Not here. The limited edition white-sleeved John “Tokes” Potoker dance remix of Sledgehammer? Not here. In short, no single edits, no extended remixes, no B-sides, no single bonus tracks. Some of these tracks have never been issued on CD before. It beggars belief. Maybe a Peter Gabriel rarities box set is in the planning and the label are ‘saving’ this content for such a box. In other words, they will happily compromise this release for the promise of future income. Nice. Also, once the decision was made to NOT include any of these tracks, it is likely that this led to ‘padding’ out the box with the duplicates mentioned above.
No 5.1 or hi-res for the album
Where has the ambition gone with these expensive, super deluxe box sets to provide the ultimate in listening experience? Ten years ago when the record industry was trying to sell music on new formats such as SACD and DVD-Audio (both capable of hi-res surround sound), albums were being remixed into 5.1 regularly and hi-res audio was something that music fans got very excited about. R.E.M’s whole Warner-era catalogue got the DVD-A treatment for example. But unlike Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel has chosen NOT to offer his seminal So album as either hi-res audio or in 5.1 surround sound. It has been issued in (stereo) hi-res audio before on a now out-of-print SACD (from 2003). Also SIX of the nine album tracks have already been mixed into 5.1 surround sound for 2004’s Play DVD. The So Deluxe Box is primarily supposed to be about the album but rather than spend a little bit of time working on the three further tracks to create what would be a stunning surround version, the team on this set has been preoccupied with the Live In Athens concert. Although the remastering could well be superb, it is likely that a good sounding CD quality version of So is right at the bottom of most fans’ list of priorities.
Bonus tracks not on CD
To recap, the Deluxe Box does not contain any So album tracks in hi-res surround sound (Blu-ray), we haven’t even been offered lossy surround sound (Dolby or DTS via a DVD), and putting surround to one side, there is nothing in the So Deluxe Box that will play back the album in stereo to match the hi-res version on a nine year old SACD. So far, So disappointing, but it gets worse. The three measly previously unreleased session tracks that do appear on this box AREN’T EVEN ON CD! Yep, you have to own a turntable to enjoy them on the 12-inch vinyl ‘collectible’.
Demos, early versions or perhaps specially edited together takes are collected together on a CD called So DNA. To be fair this sounds like a genuinely interesting disc, but it is not clear whether it will run like a radio documentary (with voice-over), or take the form of nine self-contained tracks.
The record labels want to release these big multi-disc box sets and thereby create a perception of value. The whole of the audio and video content in the So deluxe box would probably fit on ONE Blu-ray disc. Would you pay £80 or $140 for one Blu-ray? Thought not. So the industry have turned it into a numbers game. The Dark Side Of The Moon was six discs, The Wall was seven discs, Peter Gabriel’s So is eight discs. Throw in a book and some marbles and they can set the price accordingly. But it’s not how big your content is, it’s what you do with it.
It is hard to find one positive comment about the forthcoming So deluxe box from the readers of this blog, because EMI/Virgin/Peter Gabriel have simply failed to meet the expectations of the people willing to buy this set. Did they ask them what they wanted? It seems not. Gabriel’s interest in music technology is well known, and most people expected him to embrace hi-res and surround sound for the album. Why he hasn’t done this is unfathomable. But worse than this is not doing the basics i.e. using this celebratory So box to gather together all the period remixes, and B-sides. This is pathetic. There are no other word for it. An industry completely and utterly out of touch with its audience and happy to put future income streams (a Gabriel rarities box set) ahead the demands of current products.
Although the focus has been on So, there are lots of other examples of missed opportunities with these box sets
• Michael Jackson‘s forthcoming four-disc deluxe of Bad completely ignores at least 19 period extended remixes, preferring to fill up a bonus disc with demos (three previously released) and modern remixes by currently hip artists such as Afrojack. It also contains no hi-res audio or surround mixes for the album
• Paul McCartney released a deluxe four disc Electric Arguments set in 2009 under his pseudonym The Fireman which contained a hi-res stereo audio on a DVD, and multi-track audio files on a data DVD. None of his four McCartney Archive Collection releases, which started the following year, included any physical hi-res audio at all, although they have done an excellent job with hi-res downloads. Band On The Run had already been remixed for surround sound for a DTS CD in the mid-1990s but this was not used for the Deluxe Edition released in 2010.
• Pink Floyd offered Blu-ray discs for The Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here with hi-res audio and surround mixes, but no 5.1 or hi-res was offered with the third set The Wall.
Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts on whether these sets are meeting your expectations? Leave a comment below.