Monday, 20 May 2019

THE VINYL STRAW - COLLECTORS EDITION BOXSETS AND HOW NOT TO PACKAGE THEM

A tale of record collecting woe...





Last Friday, two packages arrived for me. I am one of these people you read about who spend money on "vinyls" (grrr) and who buy deluxe editions of releases by certain bands. I also buy ridiculous things like every 7" version of People Are People that I come across, but that particular Depeche Mode related problem is the subject of everything else I write, so we'll leave that for now.

The two packages that arrived for me were the triple coloured vinyl version of I Am Easy To Find, the new album by The National and the deluxe boxset version of the most recent Foals album Everything Not Save Will be Lost - Part 1. The National's album came direct from The National's Cherry Tree fanclub and the Foals album direct from their online store. Both cost in the region of £50 each. 

For that money, you'd expect some care would go into sending a package that a lot of thought has already gone into. The National's album comes in triple vinyl in a tri-fold sleeve and is a lovely thing. That release was packaged up perfectly - a strong cardboard outer box contained another cardboard package inside which the record had been vacuum packed for extra safety. Although the actual vinyl was send in the sleeve inside its own inner sleeve (usually a no-no), the vacuum packing had kept it in place and it arrived in pristine, unblemished condition. Great.

As soon as I opened the Foals package however, it was clear something had gone very wrong.

The Foals Collector's Edition boxset promises this:
- Special edition box with additional vinyl sleeve to fit the equivalent Part 2 vinyl upon release
- 24 Page hardcover book
- Album on 12" violet coloured 180g vinyl
- Exits 7" vinyl single exclusive to this set

It also adds digital singles and a signed piece of artwork. All rather tempting if you're a person like me and if you've been playing the superb Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 1 incessantly since its release.

The first thing I noticed was the the spine of the box which didn't exactly fill me with confidence:


The front of the "hardcover" book is also torn:


Needless to say, the top and bottom corners are bashed and crushed.

Somewhat tentatively then, I opened the box. It came as no real surprise, when I found the album in this state:


The album had been left in its inner sleeve when dispatched and, having just been bunged into a box with no support, the inevitable happened. The sleeve is ripped on the right hand side and, doubtless because the vinyl was given room to roam about in transit like some sort of violet coloured marauding beast, the seems on the neighbouring page of the book are nicely ripped.


There is also the 7" of Exits which is found a couple of pages on inside the book. Hilariously, it was in worse condition than the album:




Exits had successfully exited its sleeve. The record is also damaged for additional good measure:


What a lot of shoddy shite.

I put up some of these posts on Instagram on Friday night and people responded, telling me that they had had similar problems withe the Foals boxset. One had even returned it at his own cost, only to be sent another that was in even worse condition.

With few exceptions (DFA, Mute, Hand Drawn Dracula to name three diverse companies). record companies obviously don't give a toss about how they send out orders because, as long as there are people like me in the world, they will be given bundles of cash for different versions of albums. I only bought the Foals box as I'd enjoyed their album so much on Spotify in the first place. Being an old fashioned type, I still feel that an artist should benefit from their labours so I wanted to get my hands on a cool version of what is a superb record. I ordered it and then whoever packaged it chucked it in a box, kicked it around a bit and then sent it to me. Thanks. Thanks very much.

What's the point of this post? I don't know. I'm fucked off that I've again bought something that is treated with no care at all once I've paid over my money. I can't even be bothered asking for a swap as I fear I'll just have to write another blog talking about another smashed up box. Contrast Foals packaging with that of The National and it's even more frustrating. Other labels or acts like I've mentioned above or, for example, the superb way in which Nine Inch Nails handle their packaging, are unfortunate exceptions to the general rule that those in charge of Foals' packaging have steadfastly abided by.

I imagine most of you who read this will have had similar issues. I hope this post helps people consider packaging a bit more from a 7" single all the way up to the most madcap of boxsets. I don't think it will however as, frankly, very few record companies actually care.

Everything Not Packaged Properly Will Be Lost - Part1 to infinity.....






Tuesday, 19 March 2019

HALO – THE STORY BEHIND DEPECHE MODE’S CLASSIC ALBUM VIOLATOR



HALO - A NEW BOOK BY KEVIN MAY AND DAVID McELROY

Today is the 29th anniversary of the release of Violator, Depeche Mode’s finest album and an album which I seem to have spent the last 29 years telling anyone who would listen just how important an album it is. 

Next year, the album turns 30 and my intention is to repeat the idea of the month-long Black Celebration – A Month Long Period Of Rejoicing blog I ran in March 2016 with a month’s worth of articles by me and a number of other contributors looking at Violator from every conceivable angle. 

One of those contributors will be Kevin May, author of Halo, a man who possibly knows more about Violator than the band themselves. 

Kevin had originally planned to release Halo in 2015 but events overtook him somewhat, meaning that the book was unfortunately delayed. It will now be released in 2020 to celebrate Violator’s 30th anniversary and I’m delighted and very proud to announce that Kevin has asked me to co-author the book. It was a real honour to be asked and I was only too happy to accept. 

Halo, the book version, will feature all the original interviews, story, analysis and fan contributions that Kevin has worked so hard on. Trust me, you’re going to love what Kevin has done. The book will now also feature additional elements from me and other blog contributors, many of which will be teased during the blog’s Violator month in March 2020. 

The release of Halo in paperback, Kindle and other digital formats will come at the conclusion of that online series – as close to March 31st 2020 as we can get it! 

I’m really thrilled to be involved in Halo as I know how keenly the Depeche Mode fanbase is anticipating it. I hope that the additional content that I provide will add to what is already a hugely exciting project.

Monday, 11 February 2019

LADYTRON - LADYTRON


One of the finest pieces of music news I got in 2018 (other than confirmation that the Depeche Mode tour was finally ending meaning I could put the Global Spirit Tour Project to bed and reclaim my life) was that Ladytron were coming back. For reasons I've never been able to understand, Ladytron have never been given the recognition their immense back catalogue deserves - if this album doesn't put that right, I'm officially giving up on holding out any hope for the public's taste in music.

Since 2011's Gravity The Seducer, the members of the band have been off doing their own thing. Helen Marnie's two solo albums Crystal World and Strange Words And Weird Wars were two exceptional albums much loved by this blog, both of which moved away from the dark electronics of Ladytron into a poppier area. On Ladytron, this poppier, lighter feel combines wonderfully with the band's trademark sound, producing an album rich in quality and bursting with wonderful tunes. 

Opener Until The Fire opens the album perfectly with a real statement of intent, leading into the already released The Island. Both The Island and The Animals were issued last year to rightful acclaim, but when you hear them as part of the album, they sound bigger and even better. They, and indeed the whole of this album, seem to suggest that Ladytron have found a new level of confidence, making them sound better than they ever have done. When you compare this album to Chvrches sadly forgettable third album, there is a marked difference.




It no doubt seems over the top to say this, but it's very hard to pick one highlight out from this album because the whole thing is excellent. It's not too often a 13 track album will hold the listener's attention its full duration, but Ladytron manages this effortlessly. Tower Of Glass is a stunning track which, like the album's penultimate track The Mountain, brings to mind Helen Marnie's solo work.  The blazing electronics in Paper Highways are just superb and Mira's lead vocal on the track is sublime. A Mira track is always welcome. At the band's comeback show in Glasgow last year, Black Cat was a standout as it always is. If the band tour this album (and let's hope they do), Paper Highways will doubtless be a similar highlight.

Even though the job of a review is to review the album in some depth, I'm going to ignore that and just once again say that this album is excellent. You really do have to listen to it. Ladytron have been away far too long and not many bands come back after such a break with the same magic they previously had. Ladytron have not only come back impressively, but they've come back sounding bigger and better than they ever have done. Ladytron is an album you really don't want to miss.

Ladytron by Ladytron is out on 15 February on !K7. Find out more at https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/ladytron

Monday, 7 January 2019

BOXSETS ARE BOXSETS - DEPECHE MODE'S CONSTRUCTION TIME AGAIN AND SOME GREAT REWARD 12" SINGLES BOXSETS


The release of Depeche Mode's first two 12" single boxsets (review here) was greeted with a mixture of delight and complaints as with every Depeche release these days it seems. Many people felt that they were too expensive especially when they would be paying for things they already had, which is a perfectly understandable view to take. There's no getting away from the fact that they are expensive and as the series continues the prices will only go up. When we get to the Violator boxset for example, we're looking at at least nine 12" singles. If you've been a collector since the early days then, you'll have all these records already. However, if you're new to Depeche Mode collecting, these boxes are a great way of starting things off.

Again using Violator as an example, a look at Discogs this morning shows me that the cost of buying the full set of 12" singles released in 1990 in mint condition (as the 12" singles in the boxset are) is £273 plus postage. I presume, indeed I desperately hope, that the Violator boxset will cost less than that - I'm sure you'll remind me if it doesn't.

Anyway, my point is that, while costly, these boxsets are a great way to get a hold of mint condition Depeche Mode 12" singles for less than you'd pay on Discogs etc. They're a good thing as far as I'm concerned. There are of course people like me who already have the 12" singles AND buy the boxsets but we're beyond help. 

Right - enough rambling. What about the boxsets themselves?

Construction Time Again The 12" Singles Boxset


Look at those beauties. The Construction Time Again era contains some of the band's most iconic cover art with the album and Love In Itself covers superbly photographed by Brian Griffin. The attention to detail throughout that era's releases is superb. From the worker icons on both Get The Balance Right singles (which may have slightly influenced this blog's logo) which fit the theme of the at that point unreleased album perfectly, to the matching designs of the three limited edition 12" singles, everything the band released in 1983 had a marvellous symmetry to it, each released tied to the themes of the album itself. 

The 12" singles in the boxset are of course faithful reproductions of the originals. For people who get excited about that sort of thing, and I of course am one of those, the covers of the limited edition 12" singles have the same texture as the original releases. The labels on the records are also identical to those on the original releases and again, that is a very good thing. That sort of attention to detail is what makes these boxsets worthwhile. As ever, thanks to Daniel Barassi for all his work here.

The contents of each 12" are well known to everyone by now so I won't go through them all. If for some reason you have never heard Get The Balance Right (Combination Mix) or Everything Counts (In Larger Amounts) then you really need to remedy that. They are two of the band's great self produced remixes. The limited edition 12" singles are all worth hearing too as each one contains four live tracks from the band's show at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 25 October 1982. The A Broken Frame era was an interesting one for the band given that they had to deal with Vince's departure. These live tracks show that they were trying to strike a balance or even trying to get the balance right (sorry) between pop (A Photograph Of You, The Meaning Of Love) and the more experimental side of things that the album had already hinted at (see My Secret Garden and its Oberkorn intro). These three records are the only officially released A Broken Frame era live recordings and that makes them worth having.  

The peerless DM Live Wiki has more tracks from that show available for streaming by the way. To further prove my point about the band's more experimental side coming to the fore, check out The Sun And The Rainfall from that show with its pre Construction Time Again metal bashing noises. You can listen to it here. 

This release also contains Alan Wilder's first Depeche Mode songwriting credits. He and Martin co-wrote the frankly awful The Great Outdoors and the "ok lads we get it - it's all about work and metal and all that" decent b-side Work Hard and Alan penned the rather good Fools all by himself. The Great Outdoors  is probably the band's most terrifying track, sounding like the music you would hear as you are murdered by an enraged gnome with the hammer shown on the album's cover.

Finally, the boxset comes with a reproduction Love In Itself promo poster and the box itself shows the oil derrick from the Love In Itself limited edition 12", recreated for this release. There's a download card to allow you to enjoy all these digitally too. One thing that Sony want to change for future releases is the tagging of these songs on all boxsets when downloaded and put into ITunes. When downloaded, the individual track names are all garbled and therefore almost entirely  useless e.g. "ConstructionTimeAgain12"boxset_EverythingCountsA1InLargerAmounts" etc. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but entering the names individually is a pain in the arse. 

By the way, if you bought all these 12" singles in mint condition on Discogs today, you'd pay £117 plus postage. That's more expensive than the boxset,

 As with the previous boxsets, there was an unboxing video and here it is:




Some Great Reward The 12" Singles Boxset


The Some Great Reward boxset unsurprisingly contains all the 12" singles from the era plus a new 12" in the shape of L12BONG7 which is the 12" version of the original 7" ep featuring Somebody (Remix), Everything Counts (Live), Blasphemous Rumours (Single Version) and Told You So (Live). I'm really pleased with that as it means the release is a complete record of the era. It'll be interesting to see what happens with GBONG17 when the Violator boxset comes around.

The artwork for this era isn't as impressive as Construction Time Again, the album cover art aside. It's a lot starker and, while the Master And Servant 12" cover is marvellous, the rest are a little bland. I'm not sure how well known this is or not, but on the People Are People cover, the arm on the right hand side belongs to Hugh Grant the entirely one dimensional English actor. There's a fact to entertain your loved ones with.

One of the best things about this boxset for me is the digital download element, track name nonsense notwithstanding. Unless I'm very much mistaken (awaits "OMG YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT DEPECHE MODE MAN" attack from the Black Swarm), this release sees the first official digital versions of People Are People (On U-Sound Remix by Adrian Sherwood), Are People People? and Master And Servant (An On-U Sound Science Fiction Dance Hall Classic Re-Remixed by Adrian Sherwood) and that is very much a good thing. I love these remixes and the fact I can now sing along to Are People People's Zing Zing Zings and Boom Bop Bops on the train is great for me and terrifying for my fellow passengers. 

For completeness' sake, I should point out that Alan (no he's not coming back) has another song here, the superb In Your Memory, the b-side to People Are People. It's far better than Martin's (Set Me Free) Remotivate Me which lets the Master And Servant  release down rather dramatically. The 12" versions of People Are People and Master And Servant - Different Mix and Slavery Whip Mix - are both towering gorgeous beasts of remixes and should be on everyone's playlists. The live tracks on the Blasphemous Rumours releases are from the band's show at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool on 29 September 1984. 

As an aside, the huge pulsating Depeche Mode brain that is Michael Rose pointed out on depmod's Facebook page a thing that will annoy people like him (and me) for the rest of time. It takes a certain type of person to get annoyed by this sort of thing, but as I mentioned earlier, we are beyond help. Look at the alignment of the spines in the boxset:

Photo courtesy of Michael Rose
WHAT IS L12BONG5 DOING THERE? GET BACK IN LINE.

Sorry.

Finally, there was another unboxing video and this time it features, among others,  the silky sounds of Sean Salo. Here it is:


And what would this cost you if you bought the records all in mint condition on Discogs? £148 plus postage is the answer which seems high to me but there you go. If anyone is remotely interested by this point, I included the 7" ep in that.

And Then...

So there we have it - two more excellently curated releases and two great additions to my collection. If you want them, go and get them. If you don't want them, don't go and get them. Let's not argue about their worth or otherwise. Let's not get along so awfully. Boxsets Are Boxsets.