Blur 21: Collector's Boxed Set (13 X LP) Limited Edition
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One of the most successful and enduring bands the UK has ever produced Blur need no introduction, their 20 UK Top 20 singles and 5 UK No 1 albums speak for themselves.
21 years on from their debut album Leisure, Blur have now come of age and to celebrate this milestone the Blur 21 campaign will present all seven of their studio albums expanded - and the first five remastered - for the first time on 2CD and LP, together with a 21 disc super deluxe box set charting the history of one the UK's most important bands. Personally compiled by the band, these editions and boxed sets are due for release by Parlophone on July 31, 2012.
Blur's first five studio albums have now been remastered from the original tapes by Frank Arkwright (The Smiths, Arcade Fire, New Order, Joy Division), with the remastering overseen by legendary producer, Stephen Street. All seven original Blur albums have now been given the space of 2 LPs (expect for Leisure which remains a single LP), cut on heavyweight 180 gram, audiophile vinyl and housed in a replica of the original sleeve artwork.
All seven vinyl formats of the Blur albums are collected together for Blur 21: The Vinyl Box and housed in a study hard case, presenting the definitive collection of Blur vinyl.
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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...
So what does this collection contain? Here's the inventory:
7 studio albums (all expanded to 2 discs apiece)
4 discs of rarities (a good bit previously unreleased elsewhere)
3 DVDs (two live shows and one with videos)
A hardback book full of liner notes that follow the bands' career
A 7" single of "Superman" (from the band's days as Seymour)
The two-disc studio albums include all of the band's major releases: Leisure, Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, The Great Escape, Blur, 13, and Think Tank. The band's first five albums have also been remastered. Each album is accompanied with a bonus disc that contains B-sides, live cuts, a few remixes, etc... Some of the content from these extra discs have been available for quite some time. The band has led a fascinating artistic direction, from Leisure's mild psychedelia, to Parklife's britpop glam, to the selftitled Blur's crunching distortion, to Think Tank's refined pop sensibilities. It may be important to note that all of these albums have been concurrently released independently with this collection -- if you're only interested in hearing material from the band's early era, you can buy those discs separately.
The hardbound book includes many insights from the band itself. This book includes interviews with the band members, but it is primarily composed of pictures. The collection of photography here tells the visual story of Blur's rise to success in Britain and America. Likewise, the DVD's serve a similar function. Two of the DVDs are live shows: one from the band's 1994, and the other being from 1999 (titled "THE SINGLES NIGHT"). It's remarkable to see these two live shows in juxtaposition of one another -- they almost behave like different bands. The third disc contains some of the band's music videos (mainly their later videos), their first appearance on television, and a few other live cuts.
Longtime Blur fans will be interested in the 4-discs worth of rarities. These tracks range from Seymour-era demos, some live tracks, some remixes, fan-club singles, songs left on albums' cutting room floors, and of particular interest, the aborted sessions with XTC's Andy Partridge. These tracks range from silly, unfinished demos to songs that outshine many of the band's singles. The majority of the material from the band's later years are early demos of songs that did in fact make it to the album; they have all been mastered, so they are certainly listenable and of interest to Blur fans. It's largely a grab bag though, these tracks vary wildly in length, mastering, and quality.
To top all of this off, the purchase of this staggering collection comes with a download code; this code allows purchasers a chase to download the entirety of this material in digital format. Don't worry -- you don't have to rip all 21 of these discs to your PC. :)
It's really hard to recommend this enormous collection to many people. Most hardcore fans will probably only be interested in the four discs of rarities, the vinyl single of "Superman", and the hardback book; for this content, 21 isn't worth the pricepoint. However, if you are a Blur fan who doesn't happen to own any of their albums, the price of admission is well worth what is essentially everything in the band's catalog. For fans unfamiliar with the band, I would recommend starting elsewhere -- Blur: The Best Of and Parklife are both fine places to begin listening and stop missing out.
1. Substitute (track featured on 'Who Covers Who' compilation)
2. Oliver's Army (track included on 'Peace Together' compilation)
3. Colours (fan club single)
4. I Know (the version on the box set is the extended version, not the original UK B-Side version)
5. High Cool (Easy Listening Mix)
6. Bad Day (Leisurely Mix)
7. Headist/Into Another
8. 7 Days
9. Dizzy (Seymour Version). The version included on the box set isn't the "Sunday Sunday" B-Side version, even though the liner notes indicate that it is!)
10. Fried Seymour Version)
11. Shimmer Seymour Version)
12. Long Legged Seymour Version)
13. Mixed Up Seymour Version). The version included on the box set isn't the "Sunday Sunday" B-Side version, even though the liner notes indicate that it is!)
14. Tell Me Tell Me Seymour Version)
15. She's So High (Single Edit)
16. For Tomorrow (Single Edit)
17. For Tomorrow (acoustic)
18. Chemical World (U.S. Version) This was the version included on the U.S. CD of "Modern Life Is Rubbish", but was left off of this set, however, the box set does actually contain "Chemical World (Reworked)" which is the exact same recording as the "U.S. Version" except for a few seconds during the intro where there's only bass and drums before the main guitar riff kicks in. Other than this minor discrepancy, it's the same recording.
19. Never Clever
20. Pressure On Julian (Live)
21. Come Together (Live)
22. Girls & Boys (7" Remix)
23. The Universal (Live At The Beeb)
24. Mr. Robinson's Quango (Live At The Beeb)
25. It Could Be You (Live At The Beeb)
26. Stereotypes (Live At The Beeb)
27. Beetlebum (Mario Caldato Jr Mix)
28. Beetlebum (Instrumental)
29. Popscene (Live At Peel Acres)
30. Song 2 (Live At Peel Acres)
31. On Your Own (Live At Peel Acres)
32. Chinese Bombs (Live At Peel Acres)
33. Movin On (Live At Peel Acres)
34. M.O.R. (Live At Peel Acres)
35. Death Of A Party (Well Blurred Mix)
36. Death Of A Party (Billy Whiskers Mix)
37. Death Of A Party (12" Death)
38. Death Of A Party (Live At MC Vrendenburg)
39. On Your Own (Crouch End Broadway Mix)
40. On your Own (Walter Wall Mix)
41. Beetlebum (Moby's Minimal House Mix)
42. Movin' On (William Orbit Mix)
43. MOR (Karaoke Version)
44. MOR (Call Out Research Hook #1)
45. MOR (Call Out Research Hook #2 Moulder Mix)
46. MOR (Alan Moulder Mix Edit)
47. Battle (UNKLE Remix)
48. She's So High (Live)
49. Music Is My Radar (4:21 Single Edit) the one on the box set is the longer version.
50. Essex Dogs (Thurston Moore Mix)
51. Theme From Retro (John McEntire Mix)
52. Me, White Noise (Live) from "Observer" 5-Track CD EP
53. Out Of Time (Acoustic) from "Observer" 5-Track CD EP
54. Sunday Sunday (Acoustic)
55. Chemical World (Acoustic)
56. For Tomorrow (Acoustic)
57. To The End (La Comedie) (Instrumental)
58. Bang (Now Mix)
59. Bang (Trend Mix)
Also, the 'Live At The Budakon" 2-CD, The French CD EP "Bet Bet Bet", and "All the People: Live At Hyde Park" CD are not included in this set. The new track "Under the Westway" is actually included in this set, but according to a source (dodgy?) on wikipedia, the version included in this box isn't the same as the officially released single version. Also, there's the B-Side "Puritan" which is the B-Side to "Under the Westway" which isn't included in this box.
The packaging is good (not great). The CDs are housed in very nice looking cube in which the front end of the top lifts open. The book, 7" single, and download card are in the very back of the box. The CDs slide into individual slots. At first this looks awesome, until you unwrap all of the CDs. Once you free the CDs from their very tight shrink-wrap, you can then take the discs out and open the gatefold. The CD cases are the digipak (no tray)/cardboard sleeve types, in which you have to slide the discs out. You could potentially scratch your discs this way, but if you are careful it shouldn't be a problem. The problem with the CD cases, however, are the gatefolds. They do not stay closed all of the way. If you lay them down on the table, one end will always be slightly open. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, but since you have to slide them into these little slots, it does become an issue. To insert them into the slots, you have to hold the case together relatively tight (to prevent the gatefold from opening) so they will fit in all of the way. Not really a big deal, but whatever.
Onto the content of the discs. All of Blur's studio albums are here in 2-disc special editions: Disc 1: Original album; Disc 2: B-sides/bonus tracks. It should be noted that only the first five albums have been remastered. I compared the original Parklife to the remastered one. The remaster is slightly louder (volume wise) and the low end is clearer. None of the remasters are victims of the loudness war. I don't think the remasters will trounce your original copies, so if you get this set, don't get it for the remasters. I am willing to say that these are the definitive editions of the studio albums.
Now, the rarities discs. You get four rarities discs spanning their entire career. I wasn't really intrigued by discs one and two, but three and four were amusing, I guess. It was interesting to hear early versions and demos of some my favorite songs of theirs. The rarities discs were a nice addition to this set, but I wasn't blown away by any of them. I was very happy to see that Fool's Day and Under The Westway were included.
The DVDs include two live shows and a video rarities disc. The live shows are nice to have. Showtime was only released on PAL on VHS, and the Wembley concert was previously unreleased. The quality isn't great, but it's great to have two more live Blur shows. The rarities disc is a bit different. It includes "13" live and other promo videos. This disc almost seems like a companion to the "Blur: The Best Of" DVD. If you own "Blur: The Best Of" DVD, you will now have all of their music videos if you buy this set.
Also included is a book. This very nice hardcover book contains an interview and many high quality pictures. It was nice to read the interviews that corresponded with each album. The 7" single is worthless, sadly. I didn't feel like busting out my record player just to listen to this, but I listened to it online, and it isn't very good. It is terrible quality. Two things baffle me about this: One, why would they put a vinyl single in the CD box, but not in the vinyl box? Two, why isn't this track (Superman) on the rarities disc?
You also get a download card to download all of the CD (not DVD) content onto your computer with some bonuses such as archive footage and every issue of Blurb magazine. As other reviews have stated, this is set is missing some previously released content. I'm not going to go into detail, like other reviews have, but I will say I was slightly disappointed when I realized "Colours" wasn't on this set.
In conclusion, I really enjoy this set. It is excellent to have all of Blur's albums in one place along with some worthwhile extras. The price may seem big, but come on, you get 21 one discs, 6 which include previously unreleased content. As I stated earlier, if you buy this set, don't buy it for the remastered albums if you own the originals. It is up to you to decide if you want to buy the whole set for the rarities discs, DVDs, and the book.
Also, the download codes for the bonus tracks are technically expired as of Aug 1 2013, though they may still work.
So far i have listened to 13 and The Great Escape. 13 has fantastic audiophile quality. TGE lacks the incredible detail but is still preferable soundwise to my old cd.
I'm really enjoying the music but in hindsight the vinyl box is a silly purchase. The cd box looks pretty awesome, but I prefer vinyl sound. But the vinyl set lacks the features of the cd set. Do they expect the vinyl lovers to purchase both sets for the extras? Anyway, I highly recommend avoiding this set, just because the individual albums are so much cheaper and the box version adds nothing to them but a flimsy slipcase.