Box-Sets of 2004: Which are Worthy?
J. Gordon
12/29/2004 9:10:45 AM

It’s the time of year when all good girls and boys whip out their gift cards, trot down to their favorite record stores, and indulge in the coolest box sets of 2004. Which ones are worth it? Which will end up sitting in the box? Take a look at some of our favorites this year…

The Judas Priest Metalogy Box Set ($55) -You’ve got to admit, this set is fun from the get-go, with its awful pretty black leather and eye-catching metallic studs. Inside is a booklet with many band pictures, and four CDs with 65 tracks of Judas Priest music, spanning their entire career. This box will keep you listening for quite a while. Also included in the set is a live DVD performed in Memphis in 1982. The DVD is a bit of a let down due to not-so-great quality. Still, it gives us a look at a pretty fun performance. But then again, it had better be when the band is known for the stage act. Nicely put together.

Nirvana With the Lights Out ($60)—Like most box sets, this is a box for an already-there Nirvana freak (but really, who isn’t?). The quality of the music alone isn’t strong enough to convert any new listeners. However, this three-CD box also includes bonus DVD disc and an awesome 60-page booklet with pictures and liner notes penned by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

Disc One opens a slaughtered version of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" at the group's first gig in 1987. Distortion and lo-fidelity are exemplified on most of these songs (including "Anorexorcist", "Pen Cap Chew," and a demo version of "Even in His Youth"), and Cobain wouldn't have had it any other way. Disc Two covers the band's uneasy transition to superstar status and features the crucial addition of drummer Dave Grohl. There are some fine B-sides and compilation tracks presented here as well, including a gorgeous reading of the Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now" and a fierce take on Greg Sage's "D-7" that rivals the most intense Nirvana studio tracks. Covering the post-Nevermind years, Disc Three features acoustic readings of In Utero tunes, along with rarities like the stomping (and rather prophetic) "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" and the emotive "Sappy."

The beautiful booklet and the DVD of archival footage serve to further illuminate Nirvana's legacy, which extends far beyond this well-compiled set. Yeah, it’s evident that Courtney clearly cleaned out the closet to gather up some drug money. But Nirvana fans know that this is a great way to drop the curtain on one of the greatest bands ever.

U2 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (Collector's Edition) ($35)
OK, so it’s a few dollars more than the regular CD, but the packaging is spectacular. This special edition comes with an accompanying DVD that goes behind the creation of this CD masterpiece, shows the videos of all the new songs, and some interviews. An extra track also offers up a banjo (yes, banjo) version of the hit song, “Vertigo,” as well as an alternate “Vertigo” video and an acoustic version of “SYCMIOYO.” Also includes a neat little 48-page hard-bound booklet with notes from Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam. This box set is a must-have item for every U2 fan.

The Beatles The Capitol Albums vol. 1 ($65)
Finally! The vinyl I spent all my money on as a teenager and tried so hard to preserve all these years can finally be put to rest! Read our earlier review by clicking here.

Michael Jackson The Ultimate Collection ($60)
It’s really too bad that Michael Jackson’s psycho personality obfuscated his amazing talent. This box set is a reminder of all that he accomplished before he turned into a white woman who likes young boys. There’s a reason he became an international superstar, and The Ultimate Collection takes you as far back as his Jackson 5 roots in 1969 to prove it to you. While there have been many previous Jackson hits collections, this four-CD/one-DVD Ultimate Collection is just that. Mixed in with his numerous hits are previously unreleased songs, demo versions of hits, album tracks, and odds and ends, most remarkably, one of the earliest versions of "We Are the World" with almost completely different lyrics. THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION expertly chronicles the career of one of the most important, if unusual, pop artists of all time.

Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978) ($83)
While Ozzy Osbourne has had a huge cultural impact as both a solo artist and an unlikely television celebrity, his real legacy lies in the eight albums he recorded with Black Sabbath between 1970 and 1978. This gorgeously morbid, pitch-black box set chronicles Sabbath's development, including early-'70s tracks such as the doom-laden, "Black Sabbath," the powerful anti-military song, "War Pigs," and the fierce, "Supernaut."

There’s a much warmer sound than the English Black Sabbath remasters, and incredible detail too. The drop out on the master tape for the Paranoid CD has been filled in without a seam-- but takes some getting used to if you’ve been listening to it the other way for all these years. The song “Evil Woman” on the first album has been put at the end of the disc where it belongs--as a bonus song and the lyrics have been transcribed correctly this time. You can pretty much use the last two CDs for coasters, but everything up to and including “Sabotage” is packed with occasionally goofy, often awe-inspiring slabs of doom.

The bonus DVD features live footage of Black Sabbath performing "Black Sabbath," "Paranoid," "Iron Man," and "Blue Suede Shoes" on the German television show THE BEAT CLUB. Recorded between 1972 & 1978. You’ve also got a black velvet-covered book that includes liner notes by Chris Welch and Brian Ives Tim Scanlin. Wow! This set is the Rosetta Stone of stoner metal.


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