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Overpriced and underwhelming: Mellencamp box not worth the wait

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This John Mellencamp 1978-2012 career overview was originally released back in December 2013 but seemed to be around only briefly before becoming unavailable. Six months later is seems to be back in stock at various Amazon sites and my copy turned up a few days ago (having been ordered in January 2014!).

I don’t know whether the long wait had raised expectations with regards to this set but upon opening it, it was quickly clear to me that this is one of the worst packaging jobs on a music box I’ve ever seen.

The 19 CDs come in the kind of card box that you might find a Yuletide Christmas Log in – complete with little plastic ‘window’ so you can see what’s inside. I’m talking about a chocolate log that you’d be lucky to pay £5 for. This set is around £100.

Once you slide the very flimsy card ‘lid’ off the box set you can access the 19 discs. Each album cover art is about 20% smaller than you’d expect thanks to a thick black border around the outside of each card wallet. The discs all have a consistent design, but that is about it – a disc in a basic card wallet. No gatefolds, no inner sleeves, no special packaging elements (foil blocking, embossing etc).

So what else do you get in this box? Er, nothing. That’s it. No book (or even booklet), no essay, no array of archive photography, no hi-res, no surround sound, no download code for MP3s, no DVDs, no lithograph, no poster, no marbles, no scarves, no tote bag, no badges or key-rings – nothing at all. Yes, it seems that Mercury Records apparently really do think that 19 John Mellencamp CDs in plain card wallets is worth 100 of your English pounds. Or to put it another way roughly the same price as the Bob Dylan 47CD set which comes in a sturdy (and beautiful) outer box and comes with a 272 page hardback book! Or about the same as it cost to buy The Clash Sound System box with its hidden compartments and fantastic selection of music and memorabilia.

For heaven’s sake, at the time of ordering, the Wings Over America box set was £10 cheaper than this and that must have cost a billion times more to make than this box with its air of disposability.

I’m deliberately avoiding talking about the music. Perhaps some of the remastering is spectacular, but putting that to one side, this is a truly pathetic attempt to present an artist’s career to the paying public. If this is the best you can do, why bother? The only way to even find out something basic like which year each album came out, is to look at the small print at the bottom of the rear of each wallet. You have no idea who played on each album, whether the album was successful, or what was going on in John Mellencamp’s life at that time. Not really far short of giving someone a load of MP3s on a USB stick. Amazing.

If this was £35, the criticisms would still apply but they’d be easier to forgive. But it’s three times that price. If you’re charging for Afternoon Tea at The Ritz, then you need to deliver paper doilies, silver service, Cornish clotted cream and bone china. What we have here is a cellophane-sealed tuna sandwich with yesterday’s date on it. Avoid.

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25 responses to Overpriced and underwhelming: Mellencamp box not worth the wait

  1. DJ Control says:

    Wow! No booklets. No bonus tracks? I was under the impression that the Mercury records albums (up to Mr. Happy Go Lucky) were based on the 2005 re-masters which all had one bonus track on them. The fact that “A Biography” is not included is also a major oversight. I thought at the time it was originally released it was overpriced and decided not to purchase. Glad I didn’t now.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Actually you do get the 2005 bonus tracks (basically one track each on 12 CDs). What I meant was no extra bonus material in the way that there was for the Nilsson box. Still, could be confusing so I’ll remove the comment about bonus tracks altogether.

  2. Paul Mac says:

    Even at the price charged by Amazon Canada (and presuming I don’t get nabbed for import robbery!), this sounds like it hasn’t been worth the six+ month wait (I also ordered in January, expecting it to arrive sometime this week).

  3. Adam says:

    I’m thinking of the Yes studio albums box, which had very little in the way of packaging (cheap box, fairly useless poster, no separate booklet), BUT at least had “full-size” (well, CD-size anyways) original artwork for all the CDs, occasional gatefold sleeves where warranted, and had the latest remasters with all the bonus tracks. That baby cost me under $45 for 13 CDs. So there’s that for comparison.

    (The Amazon description of the Mellencamp box says 12 of the CDs have bonus tracks. You may want to amend your “no bonus tracks” statement based on that.)

  4. fedge says:

    There ARE bonus tracks on some on the albums, though not many. I suspect there weren’t many non-LP b-sides for quite a few of these albums. Mine showed up a couple months ago and I agree with PS, the packaging and shrunken album covers left me somewhat underwhelmed.

  5. C Feeney says:

    There are lots of career spanning box set costing c.£2 per disc out there. Many by much better/historically significant artists. Check out Roxy Music, The Byrds, Madonna…. The list goes on, so your suggested £35 price tag is about right. If I was a J.C.M fan I would be seriously annoyed by this.

    I expect to see it remaindered by Christmas.

  6. Rick says:

    Definite contender for worst packaging ever. I can imagine your surprise and bemusement.

    That outer box is indeed identical to the boxes cakes are in at my local supermarket.

    Overall, what I would expect to see coming from one man knocking them out on the cheap from a poorly equipped home office rather than a professional company.

  7. Hans says:

    Where is my comment?

  8. AlexKx says:

    I have addressed that there was a serious issue with the idea and concept of “ICON: Nothing Like I Planned – Greatest Hits Volume III” when there is not a volume I or II!!! I think it is far more of a serious issue than miss titling a compilation. This and these types of releases should not have such oversight.

    • Scott says:

      I assume that the double disc “Words and Music: John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits” collection is considered “volumes 1 and 2.” I agree that is stupid and annoying, but would bet money that’s what they were thinking. Madonna did the same thing with her “GHV2: Greatest Hits, Volume 2.” There was technically never a “volume 1.” They just considered “The Immaculate Collection” as the first volume.

  9. Eric says:

    Blimey, I am glad I didn’t feel tempted to buy this set.

  10. PES says:

    Thanks for the consensus on the packaging. When it came out in the US last year, I thought it was one of the crappiest packagings ever. The only rationale I could come up for it was that it somehow may be made of very eco-friendly material (recycled toilet paper perhaps). And yes, they blew it too by not just ponying up and making it a COMPLETE set. I believe Universal does control the copyrights for the earlier material, so it wouldn’t have been too much of a hassle to add those in. Maybe Mellencamp’s trying to pull a Steve Miller and re-write his past. All those complaints aside though, if you don’t have much Mellencamp, it’s a convenient way to add to your collection…and you get the “Falling From Grace” soundtrack thrown in.

  11. emanuele says:

    Totally agreed, ordered last December (!!!) form Amazon Canada after your deal alert, received a few days ago after payment of over 31 euros for customs fees…
    Not so much a great deal! :-(

  12. Tim says:

    I ordered this through Amazon.ca too….it’s arrived at my brother’s who lives in Vancouver and I was looking forward to picking it up at Christmas when I go to see him…from your depressing review it wont be so much of a Merry Christmas, though at least I only spent £45 on it I guess!

  13. Garry says:

    Sounds and looks awful. If you want beautiful reproduction of original packaging, I purchased the Japanese mini lp vinyl replicas of the first 7 JCM releases about a year or so ago. They are beautiful. Unfortunately they only go up to Big Daddy. I just hope they will eventually release the remainder of the albums, as I won’t be purchasing this mess.

  14. AlexKx says:

    Scott I here what you are saying but do you realize that “Words And Music” have some of the same songs on it as the “ICON: Nothing Like I Planned – Greatest Hits III”?! How does that follow your logic?! Madonna’s “GHV2″ was in every way a follow up to “The Immaculate Collection” and there was never any issue of understanding that from a consumer point of view. There are no songs that are on both of those compilations. This case with John Mellencamp is more to do with people both behind and in front of the scenes not caring about their work and holding people responsible for it. I find that very sad and frankly scary. We are not talking about an obscure recording artist with John Mellencamp. We are also not talking about a recording artist who has a whole bunch of compilations but they were able to pull this off without a word from critics.

    • DJ Control says:

      If you’re looking for the “official” JCM anthology set it’s called “On The Rural Route”. 4 CDs compiled by JCM himself in nicely produced folio style hardback book. Whilst it has a few rarities sprinkled throughout it does not have a large amount of music in it. The four CDs could easily fit on three.

  15. Hans says:

    OK 2nd try: got mine from amazon Canada. Price 53 euros vat 14 and ups customs clearance clearance charge 13 euros. So a fair price for the content considering the fact that you ray for at least two of the cds around 50 euros or so according to a friend of mine. Cons: no booklet even if there is enough space in the box and the normally high price, not all albums and bonus tracks are included, badly glued vinyl replicas at least in my case (quite a lot of them open on top) so I was refunded 10,60 euros. Now a bargain at least for me who doesn’t have had any of his cds in the past. Otherwise far too expensive.

  16. Gisabun says:

    Unless you have less than half of the albums this box set isn’t worth it.
    Only thing of interest is that soundtrack.
    Oh wow! A single bonus track! Woo hoo! Reminds me of the Queen remasters a while back.
    To me the box reminds me of the package they used for pre-packaged donuts.
    [A reminder that they had released one of those budget 5-album sets a while back featuring 5 of the albums in his catalogue. More waste.]

  17. Kevin says:

    Slightly off-topic, except someone mentioned Madonna’s “The Immaculate Conception”: I’d love to see WEA and Universal, respectively, reissue that Madonna collection and Sting’s “The Soul Cages” *without* the annoying, gimmicky Qsound. The novelty of the faux-surround-sound effect added nothing to either album; in fact, it did the opposite, making both sound extremely dated within a year or two of release.

  18. simon says:

    thank ‘f’ I recently started subscribing to this site – so far saved around 300 of my English pounds – Oasis & now this.
    Talking of Oasis have you reviewed the 2nd release – not a massive fan but it would appear to the uninitiated eye that this may be better (less worse) than the 1st ? how different / unique / desirable is the cassette bit ?
    Anal as it may be I’m still a sucker for some top notch packaging so (some of) the coin saved has just been invested in the shiny Motorhead ‘head’ (even if I’ve got all the content at least x3 already

    Any chance of an opinion on the recent Embrace super-duper box I’ve heard about – really like most of their stuff (& always a good live show) but it appears a tad expensive ?

    Would it also be sensible to assume that the Costello spinning songbook affair is NOT a ‘best buy’

    Keep up the good (nay excellent) work

    • Simon F says:

      Let us all know about the Motorhead set when you get it Simon. I keep looking at that bugger, but can’t decide whether to shell out for it or not. The price has certainly dropped somewhat since its original release.
      Wish someone would do an ‘unboxing’ of it on YouTube.

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