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Marketing Tool

It's all semantics: A single CD and a four-track video compilation now constitutes a boxed set. When will it end?

The release of a Tool boxed set caused no small amount of outrage around the RFT music offices. Tool has a grand total of three albums to their credit, and here they are getting a boxed set? Sonic Youth has 14 albums, and they don't have a boxed set; the Melvins have extruded 13 albums, and they, too, are boxed-set-deficient. The Red Hot Chili Peppers don't have a boxed set, and they have an MTV Video Vanguard Award, for Carson Daly's sake! The industry hasn't blundered so egregiously since releasing that Best of Silverchair, Vol. I travesty (if you just scratched your head and grunted quizzically, well, that was our reaction, too). In true High Fidelity spirit, lists of the Top Five Bands That Deserve Boxed Sets More Than Tool were being smugly and self-righteously compiled when the door to the Radar Station bunker opened with the pneumatic hiss of escaping gas, silencing our bluster. The gnarled and wizened claw of the Great Old One beckoned from the shadows of Ground Zero, and we averted our eyes, lest they make contact with the cold black orbs that rest in the Anointed One's face: "Somebody listen to the friggin' thing first," he pronounced. "Then you can gripe about it. In descending order: Mekons, Run-D.M.C., Lee Hazlewood, Bay City Rollers, Maurice Chevalier." An empire rose and fell in the pause. "Friswold. And get me some more Pop Rocks while you're out."

So, having purchased, listened to, watched, absorbed, ruminated upon, eaten and expelled Tool's Salival for the better part of two weeks, it is with great regret that your humble musical scribe must resort to the last words of Aleister Crowley by way of assessment: "I am perplexed."

Perplexed that Salival is called a boxed set when it consists of a nine-track CD and a videocassette containing but four videos.

Perplexed that a lavishly illustrated 50-plus-page booklet accompanies said CD and video, and yet the whole shebang costs a mere $23.41 at Vintage Vinyl ("Where the elite meet to buy musical treats").

Perplexed that a band that has not released an album in almost five years would choose this boxed set/not a boxed set hybrid as their vehicle to re-enter the public view.

Perplexed that 105.7 The Point has been forcing "Maynard's Dick" down our collective throat when "No Quarter" (or any of the live cuts, for that matter) is so much better.

Undoubtedly these issues concern you also, or you would not have read this far. Let us apply the Stri-Dex of critical analysis and clear up this complexion of perplexion.

Point No. 1: Traditionally, boxed sets are massive chunks of music that function as triple-X porn for music nerds. They require multiple CDs to contain all the b-sides, outtakes, covers, rare mixes, false starts and studio shenanigans that the artist has been squirreling away for years. One of those discs had better be live, because that's the money shot for collectors. These prized CDs are accompanied by thick booklets of pictures, anecdotes, discographies, band history and testimonials from famous fans. Ideally there should be at least one essay written about the artist by David Fricke, Danny Sugarman or Clive Davis.

Salival is missing more than a few of those elements. Its lone CD features five live songs, three unreleased studio cuts (including a Zeppelin cover and a Peach cover) and the throwaway "Maynard's Dick." The videotape features the entire Tool video library: "Sober," "Prison Sex," "Stinkfist" and "Aenima." Total listening/ viewing time is about an hour and 40 minutes. Not quite the staggering sensory overload of the Stooges' Funhouse Sessions or Metallica's Live Shit: Binge and Purge, but, then, Salival doesn't have any of the song overlap of either of those two juggernauts. But how could it? It only has nine songs! Those nine songs range in quality from mediocre ("Maynard's Dick") to great ("You Lied") but there just aren't enough of them. And a four-song video is just plain skimpy. Again, the quality of the videos is not in question: Tool makes transcendent videos. But Tool also has a visually powerful live show -- why not put some live stuff we haven't seen before on the video? Boxed sets are about quality and quantity; you should get a lot of great, weird shit, and you should pay through the nose for it. This isn't a boxed set, it's a glorified LP.

This leads to point No. 2: Salival costs only slightly more than a brand-new CD. Huh? The record industry works on a simple principle: They won't release it if they don't think they're going to make their money back and then some. A brand-new copy of Aenima, Tool's last album, costs around 15 bucks. For about 8 bucks more, Salival gives you the CD, a video, a full-color hardbound CD book and a fancy, too-big-for-your-shelf slipcase to hold it all. How can Tool's record company afford all that extra stuff without jacking the price way up? Salival, unlike more traditional boxed sets, is accessible to both hardcore Tool fans and the casual listener. The hardcore fan must buy it, no matter what the cost; he's hardcore. The casual listener can afford to pick it up without having to take on a second mortgage. This broader market appeal means that Tool's record company (Zoo/Volcano Entertainment) will conceivably sell more copies and thus make its nut back. Unless record companies are already gouging on the price of CDs ... no, that's unthinkable! Those hardworking industry suits are just breaking even, if that. Anyway, Salival was listed as Vintage Vinyl's No. 1 seller for the week ending Jan. 13. Ka-ching! When was the last time you saw a boxed set as a top seller? Again, it ain't no boxed set, it's a glorified LP.

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