"THIS IS THE NEXT CENTURY...."
Whenever a box set comes out, I approach it with caution. Let's face it, these things can be costly. However, let's really think about what you're getting here. Over the past three to five years, we've seen box sets around this price that are commemorating JUST ONE SINGLE ALBUM! Pearl Jam "Ten", The Who's Quadrophenia, etc. However, here you have 97% of their output... in beautifully designed packages, and the sound is spectacular. So, in this review, I'll discuss the content, and try to silence the skeptics.
First, I've read a lot of "But I already have all this stuff. Why would you need it?"
A - Standards, first of all. If you are a casual fan and don't care about the bonus material, this isn't targeted at you anyway. Second, if you primarily listen to music on the free earbuds that come with your iPhone, well, you may not care about remastering. HOWEVER, for those of you that love music and love Blur and have standards, the remastering came out spectacularly!
Frank Arkwright is AGAINST the Loudness Wars and he does NOT "Just make things louder". He sonically improves things. He did a fantastic job with The Smiths' catalogue, and has done it again with this one! It's not just louder.
PLEASE LET ME EXPLAIN WHAT REMASTERING IS: They take the original MASTER tapes, and use MODERN 2012 technology to create a new master. That's what happens when you do it properly. Frank Arkwright is an engineer who does original masters too. He knows this stuff. When the artist or producer isn't involved, and when they hire some unqualified record company schlub to remaster, you may get them simply running a CD mix through an equalizer and pumping up the volume. This isn't the case here. They remastered the songs from the original master tapes. The albums say they're remastered - the demos and bonuses don't specify it. However, most of the bonus material is being mastered for the first time, rght? Make sense? Well, last thing, remastering is NOT remixing! They're not remixing anything! I don't know why people don't get this. This isn't a remix. The sonic improvement is great!
You get all of the albums in their original UK release form. This means, the UK version of "LEISURE" had the track "Sing", so it's included here on the album, but did not contain "I Know", so it isn't included on CD 1. Instead, it's included on the bonus CD. Same goes for "Modern Life Is Rubbish". In the U.S., ours had bonus tracks like the Single-only release "POPSCENE". Like "I Know", "Popscene" is now on the Bonus disc. Also important to point out is the fact that the version of "Chemical World" we had in the U.S. was never the original UK version. It was a re-recording for the U.S. I actually preferred this re-recorded version, and the vocal is completely different. But it isn't included here. You get the original U.K. album version and the UK single "Re-worked version".
Apart from these details, it all sounds wonderful. Songs like "Fade Away", "Best Days" and "Yuko and Hiro", all from THE GREAT ESCAPE, have all been given new life. The breaking bottles that open the track "Parklife" appear as though they're breaking around your feet. Does it sound like that on your 1" HP Computer speakers? How could it? Your crappy free iPhone earbuds? No. On GOOD speakers? It's fantastic!
You don't get EVERYTHING, like The Who cover "Substitute", but... you get all you'd ever want as even the most diehard fan.
Some more specifics about the box:
The box is a fabric-covered, sturdy box that perfectly fits all of the albums and bonus discs. Each album is presented in a Mini-LP Digipak CD with Disc one in one end, and Disc two (Bonuses) in the other side. These are beautiful. You get two bonus 2-CD albums of Rarities from each Era. Example, CD 1: Seymour and Leisure Rarities, CD 2, Modern Life Is Rubbish Rarities - and so forth. The final bonus Rarities CD includes "Fool's Day" and "Under The Westway". You get 3 DVDs that cover 3 live shows from different eras of the band. These are great to have and are not available individually. These DVDs are all REGION 0, NTSC.
Let me be clear: there is just one edition of this box. It's on FOOD/Parlophone Records (EMI). There isn't a risk of the DVDs not playing in your country. The DVD isn't formatted with a region restriction. They work on ANY Player, whether cheap or expensive, on your PS3 too, wherever you may be in the world. They look and sound great and they do NOT have a UK version in PAL, and a U.S. version in NTSC. NTSC works in the UK and everywhere else. You're not limited to watching DVDs on your computer.
You get the Seymour 7" single "Superman" inserted nearly in the box alongside a sturdy, full-color 7" x 7" hardback book. You also get a download code to download all of these songs (except "Superman" curiously) in 320kbps MP3 form, and you can download bonus songs and PDFs and even get a 10% off discount code from the Blur shop so you can buy that expensive yet cool throwback t-shirt you once impressed the girls with in the 90's. They have new shirts and stuff, too.
This set is essential for any Blur fan. You already have this stuff? Upgrade! The sound and bonuses are well worth it. Trade those old crappy versions of the CDs you have into your local record shop and apply it to your favorite Blur Vinyl Re-issue. Those, too, are gorgeous. The NEW CDs in this box look identical to the original issues, with the Food/Parlophone logo on each. The CD covers too have those logos (It's NOT on Virgin. My box says Virgin nowhere on it.)
If you truly are a Blur fan, this is well worth the dough! They were uniquely British and that served me well in the 90s when everyone was trying so hard to sound grunge/American. I'm proud to be American, but give me some originality! Were they the best British Band? It's tough to put them above early Suede or 90s PULP, but they're incredibly inventive and amongst the best ever - and if you feel this way about Graham and Damon and the boys, you will LOVE this set.
A side note: the individual CD Re-issues come in a bonus lift-off box and postcards that have each single's artwork. This box, in order to fit everything, does NOT include that bonus box or postcards. However, I don't miss it and would rather have the DVDs and Rarities discs that aren't available separately!
FINALLY, on a very limited basis, there's an Incredible FREE, yes FREE, BLUR app for the iPad and iPhone. Grab it while you can! It has interviews for all of the albums and eras. The videos show them in 1992, and throughout the years, discussing each album, and interviews from NOW too. It also includes EVERY Blur music video! All for FREE! It's a great time to be a Blur fan...