Repackaged Goods

The boxed-set dilemma: When are four CDs too little and three CDs too much respect?

Paul Weller fans can invest in two import boxed sets that feature everything the Jam ever did. Lord help us, there's even a five-CD set of the Style Council, possibly the most reviled group ever formed by a former superpower. Before the "Cappuccino Kid" called it quits, the Style Council had a final album in the can that Polydor begged off releasing. And it's here for the belching. I'm all for it; if someone wants this, let him eat shite!

We do boxes right:
Sometimes quantity and quality come together in a boxed set that succeeds on all levels. Zombies Heaven, a four-CD summary only available as an import, gives you the sense that here was a group that rivaled The Beatles and Kinks in the sheer brilliance and consistency of its criminally neglected catalogue. Despite a glowing booklet intro by Tom Petty, most Americans might tend to view the Zombies as a three-hit wonder. Cultists are more familiar with the legendary Odessey and Oracle album, which the band released posthumously, only to see its single "Time of the Season" soar to number three a year after the split.

The Zombies released only two albums in their four-year existence, but the standard on every B-side is of such high caliber, you wonder if all that was standing in the way of mass acceptance was the band's nerdy, horn-rimmed image. One fan-magazine blurb reproduced in the splendidly annotated full-color book has the band members playing chess with the caption "the group with brain power." Certainly they had more than that going for them; they had one of pop's most gifted vocalists in Colin Blunstone and one of England's first true keyboard heroes in Rod Argent.

But it's the organization and care that is taken with the whole enterprise that makes it so enjoyable, and here is where Zombies Heaven really puts The Beatles Anthology to shame. Once the official stuff on disc one and two have won you over, you get a disc of outtakes and studio chatter and a disc of BBC recordings of high and low fidelity that you graduate to when you want more out of a defunct group.

The book also gives you a record of every date they ever played, sessions and revealing anecdotes from all five former members. Who knew that the Zombies played the Philippines right after the Beatles' debacle there and were treated like royalty? Or that there were dozens of impostor Zombies groups touring America to cash in on their sudden posthumous popularity? And Britrock fans can finally get to hear in its entirety a single like "Indication," which contained premature-ejaculation lyrics about "holding out against sensation, I know I can hold out" far more controversial than "Let's Spend the Night Together."

One really comes away knowing all there is to know about a band that really deserved more praise than it ever got. But who's to say some outtakes won't surface in the year 2000 that will render this set "superfluous

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