Hive Five: Box Sets Besides Elvis Costello’s Worth Avoiding

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Elvis Costello hasn’t turned up at Zuccotti Park to pound out “Pump It Up” for OWS protesters, but he recently cast his lot with 99 percent via his website. Costello urged his admirers not to buy the limited-edition version of his live box set, The Return of the Spectacular Singing Songbook. Apparently, he’d attempted unsuccessfully to get the label to lower the price tag — it’s currently selling for anywhere between $200 and $290, depending on the outlet. Costello decried the price as “either a misprint or a satire,” noting that the various items included in the “elaborate hoax” would be “available separately at a more affordable price” in 2012. In the spirit of Elvis’s stand against materialistic excess, here are five equally over-the-top new box sets you don’t need to blow your holiday budget on either.

1. Pink Floyd, Immersion Series

Pink Floyd was never exactly a band known for keeping it lean and mean – they probably spent more on the giant-size bricks for that stupid wall than it cost to record the entire Beatles discography. So it shouldn’t shock anyone that the band is going all out to, um, document its legacy as the surviving members enter into their dotage. Their new Discovery box comprised of all 14 of their studio albums seems positively Spartan compared to its sister series, the Immersion box sets. Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall have all gotten the Immersion treatment, each set entailing three CDs, two DVDs, a Blu-ray disc, and at least 10 extras including everything from collectors’ cards to (seriously) a set of coasters.

Retail price for each set: $119.00

2. U2, Achtung Baby Uber Deluxe Edition

For the 20th anniversary of the last U2 album anyone ever got excited about, the people’s band has decided to milk, er, sorry — satisfy the most devoted members of their audience by blowing the Achtung Baby reissue up beyond all reason. Bono and the boys have somehow found a way to make six CDs, four DVDs, five 45’s and a double LP a part of the Achtung experience. Even with a wealth of previously unreleased tracks, videos, and other rarities, that’s pushing it. Did we mention the hardcover book, magazine, art prints, and patented Bono-style “Fly” sunglasses? And the four Franklins minimum you’ll shell out for this limited-edition doorstop from these four faithful friends of the workingman?

Retail price: $434.99

3. Sting, 25 Years

Admittedly, Sting is as easy a target as you’ll find in the global rock-star roll call. But even allowing for an extra helping of pomposity, this celebration of the Policeman’s quarter-century solo career feels like frippery. If His Royal Stingness had seen fit to sprinkle the three-CD/one-DVD anthology with a smattering of previously unreleased tracks, it might be easier to justify this set’s triple-figure price tag, but when the main draw for hardcore fans is a 10-song 2005 live video and a fancy booklet, only the most forgiving will fail to call “foul.”

Retail price: $199.99

4. Queen, Royal Orb

If it’s Queen, it’s got to be larger than life, right? After all, you don’t create “Bohemian Rhapsody” by lacking ambition. Still, it’s tough to shake the feeling that even the late, great Freddie Mercury — never a man known for his asceticism — would have considered this concept a tad overdone. The packaging: a “gift box” containing a regal-looking golden sphere that opens to reveal two items – a pendant in a velvet pouch and a USB drive containing the 15 Queen studio albums anyone even remotely considering this item already owns in four or five different formats. That’s the whole show – no CDs, no DVDs, no handsomely appointed booklet, and as far as we can tell, no bonus tracks. The list price? Roughly twice what you’d probably pay for all the individual albums on MP3 or CD.

Retail price: $288.99

5. Robert Johnson, The Complete Original Masters: Centennial Edition

There’s no denying that the Robert Johnson discography is one of the greatest musical treasures ever to grace our planet. Every reasonable person ought to own as much of his music as possible. But let’s review the salient facts: in his short lifetime, the Delta blues giant released a total of 29 songs. Even when you throw in the 13 extant alternate takes, that still only lifts the total to 42 tracks, all of which are available on the plain-Jane two-CD Centennial Collection for about 15 bucks. Let’s add the 45rpm reproductions of a dozen Johnson 78s, the obligatory booklet, a two-CD set featuring other artists’ music, and a 1998 documentary you could buy separately for about $15 or rent for two. Now how much would you pay? If your answer is anywhere near 350 smackers, we dub thee “target demographic.”

Retail price: $349.00

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