Rock box sets are indefensible cash-sponges that will endure for as long as baby boomer parents require Christmas presents. Honestly, you don't care if they're any good any more than you worried about whether that tie you bought Dad last Father's Day was ugly. But let's pretend, just for fun, that you're a justifiably skeptical consumer surveying the year's bloated reissue products, and you're seeking a little justifiably skeptical guidance. You've come to the right place.
David Bowie, Nothing Has Changed (Deluxe Edition)
What do they want me to buy now? David Bowie would like to remind you that for the past two decades, he has been recording music that you have not bothered to listen to, music which he has showcased prominently on the first of three discs that survey his entire career in reverse-chronological order.
Really? Like every boomer-rock icon, Bowie has already been relentlessly repackaged and compiled, most economically on 1990's single-disc Changesbowie, most indulgently on 1989's four-disc box Sound + Vision. But this time he's got a Big Concept.
But don't I already own this music? Maybe not, even if you're a fan. I know a bunch of Bowie fans who, against all reason, continued to buy his albums into the '90s and beyond, and then sold them back in disgust.
Is that extra stuff worth it? Bowie's failures are often more intriguing than lesser artists' triumphs. How's that for dodging the question?
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? The Benjamin Button shtick here does have a cool disorienting effect, as an avant-garde weirdo slowly learns to write songs, then forgets how to dance, and finally youthens into a British Invasion embryo. In other words, "once."
Bob Dylan and the Band, The Bootleg Series Volume 11: The Basement Tapes Complete
What do they want me to buy now? Six CDs containing pretty much every last scrap of music Dylan recorded when he holed up with the Band in Woodstock after his 1967 motorcycle accident. (We discussed this situation in great detail a few weeks back.)
Really? The original 1975 collection The Basement Tapes was as good as his non-archival album that year, Blood on the Tracks. This is Dylan at his most offhandedly brilliant. But there's such a thing as too offhanded.
But don't I already own this music? This is some of the most heavily bootlegged music in rock, but you'd have to be some crazed Dylanologist to have collected everything here.
Is that extra stuff worth it? So many false starts and studio goofs lard up these six discs, I'm surprised there isn't a seventh disc of smoke-break chatter. They used to ridicule obsessive conspiracy theorist A.J. Webeman for literally rooting through Dyan's trash for clues to his genius, but dude was just ahead of his time.
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? There are Dylan devotees who would no more skip a track here than a devout Catholic would sneak out of mass immediately after taking communion. But for Christmas-and-Easter-only churchgoers, there's a two-disc abbreviation, The Basement Tapes Raw.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, CSNY 1974
What do they want me to buy now? The quartet's legendary 1974 tour, captured for the first time on three audio discs and a DVD—or for you particularly extravagant ex-hippie sellouts, there's a six-LP set with a coffee-table book.
Really? Forty years ago, four talented assholes attempted to suppress their hated for one other long enough to bask in the adoration of their fans and take their money. I can't stand three of these guys, and even I was a little curious to hear this.
But don't I already own this music? Nope. Not only are these live recordings unreleased, but they include five Young originals that he never recorded for his own albums.
Is that extra stuff worth it? If you're a Neil completist, maybe. Historians may dig "Goodbye Dick," written just after Richard Nixon's resignation and weirdly fixated on Rosemary Woods.
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? If you like these guys, plenty, maybe. But after one listen I was like, "Goodbye, dicks."
The Beatles, In Mono Vinyl Box Set
What do they want me to buy now? Every Beatles LP up through and including the White Album, 14 vinyl records in all.
Really? This is apparently some serious audiophile shit. Each album has been remastered from the original analog masters for 180-gram vinyl (he said, pretending any of that meant anything to him).
But don't I already own this music? Are you a white person who owns any music at all? Than yes.
Is that extra stuff worth it? Amazon reviews from the sorts of people who ostentatiously note what sort of stereo equipment they own have been generally favorable. There's also a booklet with lots of pictures (in case you forgot what four of the most photographed humans of the 20th century look like) and essays about the music (in case you forgot why you sunk into $300 on this).
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? As often as you listen to the Beatles records you already own.
Bruce Springsteen, The Album Collection Vol. 1, 1973-1984
What do they want me to buy now? Springsteen's first seven albums, available on CD or vinyl.
Really? Five of these albums have been remastered for CD for the first time since their initial release. All seven are remastered for vinyl for the first time ever. These things matter to some people, I've been told. I still listen to some of my all-time favorite music on dubbed cassettes, what do I know?
But don't I already own this music? Well, yeah, and so do I. Then again, my copy of The River skips. Good thing it's only on "Point Blank."
Is that extra stuff worth it? "A 60-page book featuring rarely seen photos, memorabilia and original press clippingzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? More often than you'll listen to his next album of new material.
Ronnie Milsap, The RCA Albums Collection
What do they want me to buy now? There's excess. There's wretched excess. And then there's this: all 21 albums the country crossover king cut for RCA, beginning in 1973 and ending in 2006.
Really? Milsap landed 40 no. 1 country hits; only George Strait and Conway Twitty have more. But he's so slick and uncool that probably no one born after 1980 has given him a first thought, let alone a second one. But who knows, maybe Justin Vernon hears this and claims Ronnie as an influence on his next horrible project.
But don't I already own this music? Um, anything is possible, I guess.
Is that extra stuff worth it? What, 21 Ronnie Milsap albums isn't enough for you ingrates? Fucking millennials.
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? Maybe once? And then you could get a book deal out of it, like that guy who spent all year reading the Encyclopedia Britannica.
What do they want me to buy now? Elton's most popular and highly regarded LP— his third or fourth best, in my opinion—is now padded out to four audio discs and an interview DVD.
Really? Elton has always believed that the customer is always right, even if that means he has to let popular youngsters like halfling heartthrob Ed Sheeran ruin his songs in order t0 hook the elusive millennial consumer.
But don't I already own this music? If you own any Elton album that's not a greatest hits, this is probably it.
Is that extra stuff worth it? The bonus tribute disc features mostly clueless young people, and the two-disc 1973 concert doesn't quite capture what made him special—his outfits may have been loud in the '70s, but that doesn't mean you can hear them.
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? If you can make it even once through Hunter Hayes singing the title track as though it's about mailing a Wizard of Oz DVD back to Netflix, you are far purer of heart than I.
Lenny Kravitz, Strut Limited Edition Boxset
What do they want me to buy now? To celebrate the zero'th anniversary of his new album, Strut, Kravitz has gathered up an armload of fan-bait, including a Polaroid photo "personally paint-splattered by Lenny" and a large "psychedelic poster," all of which is "housed in a leather-like foil embossed box."
Really? I am honored that you think I could make something like this up.
But don't I already own this music? The regular album was released in September, so if you couldn't wait, you got suckered.
Is that extra stuff worth it? Worth it? Why, in my parents' day, only Rockefellers ever owned anything in a leather-like foil embossed box.
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? Judging from the bare-chested album cover photo, dude is seriously ripped for a 50-year-old. Sorry, am I dodging the question again?
Nickelback, Original Album Series
What do they want me to buy now? Five Nickelback albums, from 2001's Silver Side Up to 2011's Here and Now, listing at under $20.
Really? Look, I've making exasperated lip-farts about these clods since "How You Remind Me," but as opinions about music go, knee-jerk Nickelback-bashing has become as smug and cliché and dopey as "I like all kinds of music but country and rap."
But don't I already own this music? Nickelback are a very popular rock band. It's possible. Shut up.
Is that extra stuff worth it? Has any rock frontman had a more perfect name that Chad Kroeger? The dude doesn't sing – he kroegs. (You are totally fucking baiting me into talking shit about Nickelback, and I will not break.)
Seriously, how many times will I ever listen to this? Yes, if you buy five Nickelback albums, the odds are very good that will listen to five Nickelback albums. No shame in that. Live your life.
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Keith Harris is an immigration attorney who writes about music (mostly) and lives in Minneapolis. Sometimes he tweets @useful_noise.