The holidays are a-comin’, which means it must be box set season again. And the final weeks of 2008 will see a couple of doozies that are positively late-’90s in their gigantism. One is from a major label, Warner Bros.; the other from an independent, Merge. But what’s most striking is how much the two sets have in common.
Warner Bros.’ box isn’t, strictly speaking, a box. Revolutions in Sound is a hardcover book, written by the estimable Warren Zanes, celebrating the label’s 50th anniversary that comes packaged with a USB flash drive featuring 320 (!) tracks–about 20 CDs’ worth–that, according to the press release, range “from Jimi Hendrix to My Chemical Romance, the Grateful Dead to Madonna, Fleetwood Mac to Frank Sinatra, Tab Hunter to the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” not mention, “Green Day, Van Halen, Michael Bublé, Regina Spektor, The White Stripes, Cher, Curtis Mayfield, Ramones, REM, Faith Hill, Alanis Morrisette, Randy Newman, Funkadelic, Seal, Big & Rich, Alanis Morrisette, Linkin Park, Josh Groban, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton and hundreds of others.” (Let’s hope, for the box’s sake, that Prince and his many, many WB-released side projects are among those “hundreds of others.”) There will also be a 10-CD box, and the book will be published on its own, as well as the February-slated “current artists cover the label’s catalog” comp of the type that has been cluttering used and clearance racks since WB subsidiary Elektra issued Rubaiyat back in 1990.
Usually I’d say “by contrast” before discussing the Merge package, but Score! Merge Is 20! differs from Revolutions in Sound primarily by not stuffing its tracks onto a thumb drive. The set isn’t out until January, but the label is offering pre-orders for $179 through Sunday, after which it goes for $199. What you get for that price: 14 compilation CDs, each put together by a special guest like Peter Buck, David Byrne, Zach Galifianakis, Georgia Hubley, Miranda July, Jonathan Lethem, Amy Poehler, or Alex Ross; the inevitable remix CD (Battles, Caribou, Jason Forrest, Junior Boys, John McEntire (of Tortoise), Barbara Morgenstern, and Mark Robinson are among the participants); another catalog-covers disc; a softcover book of the label’s cover art; a new Scharpling & Wurster CD; and as-yet-unspecified “other stuff.”
I admit it: I’m curious about both sets, even if I’m unlikely to shell out for either. If I were to go for one, it’d probably be the WB, if only because I’ve been waiting for someone to finally put out an official MP3 box set for years. To see a major label do it is especially intriguing. Who, I wonder, will be next? But I have to say that of the two catalog-covers discs, the Merge has more of my interest, if only because one of the credits there is for “Tracey Thorn & Jens Lekman”–a pair I’d love to hear do an entire album together.
Revolutions in Sound: Warner Bros. Launches 50th Anniversary Celebration [PR Inside]
Score! Merge Is 20! [Merge Records]