I hate to do this, but two clarifications seem important at the outset: I adore Bob Dylan and, as a lover of physical media, I'm one of the few people (20-somethings especially) still collecting CDs. With that said, I have to say this, too: There's no fucking way I'm plucking down $280 for the recently announced box set of Bob Dylan's collected discography.
The problems of repackaging the same albums over and over and over again aren't unique to Dylan, of course: The Onion famously nailed it with "Man Who Bought the 34th Anniversary Reissue of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours Feeling Like a Real Idiot After Passing Display for 35th Anniversary Edition."
But Dylan (or Columbia Records, to be more exact) is as guilty as anyone.
Read More: Sorry, Bob Dylan's Self Portrait Is Still A Bad Album.
It was only 10 years ago that the "Limited Edition Catalog Box Set" SACD versions were released, touted as the "ultimate listening experience." That one came with 15 of Dylan's best, instead of this all-inclusive one, with a few more SACDs trickling out in the following years. One must feel at least some small level of pity for the completists who sold all their regular plastic jewel-cased Dylan CDs to pick up that collection, only to now be faced with the same problem once again.
Admittedly, all these newly released versions would look awful snazzy on your shelf -- from the looks of it, Columbia spared no expense in making the discs look nice. Part of the problem, though, is that only a portion of those albums are going to be worthwhile.
Unlike, say, The Beatles, who re-released (on CD anyway) their discography in 2009, there are huge chunks of Dylan's oeuvre that are barely worth your time. Yes, it's going to be great to have that pristine copy of Blood on the Tracks, but does anyone really give a shit if they have a super-sweet version of Knocked Out Loaded?
In short, I'm not really sure who this is being marketed to. If they're aiming for the aging-boomers-with-disposable-income market, I'm not convinced that they're actually going to relish the packaging, or revisit these records that they know by heart anyway. If it's younger folks, they likely already have this shit on iTunes anyway or would just buy the goofy harmonica-shaped USB release that is coming out at the same time.
It's possible, I suppose, that there's a youngster out there somewhere who is just now getting into Dylan (oh, to be there again!) for whom this box set might make an excellent gift. But Dylan's discography is too staggering to ingest all at once; if you're going through that getting-into-Dylan-phase, you're probably better served to absorb these albums one at a time. To try otherwise is to do a disservice to both Dylan and yourself.
Which leaves only one option: Columbia's banking on the completists buying this one -- those poor souls who're going to be suckered with the "Side Tracks" compilation, a wealth of previously released non-album singles, tracks from Biograph and other compilations, songs from films, and more. I admit, it tempts me too.
But I'm not falling for it this time. I'll save up instead for the now-out-of-print Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton and assume that Dylan himself would support the decision.
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