At their worst, album box sets can be gaudy, over-designed bits of gimcrackery, stuffed full of tat. Yet record labels continue to pump them out. The majority are bought by die-hard fans who already own the music within – on many different formats. So why buy the same thing all over again?
We’ve all heard the arguments about physical formats: that when everyone expects music for free, the only way to persuade people to pay is to create tactile, collectible objects. But really what these sets are selling are memories. They are little time machines, designed to transport you back to younger, better (?) times.
In 1996, the Manic Street Preachers released Everything Must Go. It was a key moment for the band as it marked their first album since the disappearance of guitarist Richey Edwards. The album became a huge hit, bringing the band mainstream success and a host of new fans.
It was also a significant moment for music design. Previously Edwards had produced the artwork for the Manics. For this album, the band brought in Mark Farrow, who by that point had established himself as the leading music designer in the UK. The resulting packaging and advertising campaign was typical of Farrow’s restrained, elegant style and is of a scope and ambition long since abandoned by the industry.
Twenty years on, Farrow has, literally revisited the work for an anniversary box set. Playing on the idea of it being an archive piece, all the original collateral, including sleeves and posters, has been photographed, along with original lyric sheets. Everything has been reproduced in a 40-page booklet with a slightly reduced shot of the original cover on the front. Along with two CDs, two DVDs and a version of the album on heavyweight vinyl, this all sits in a beautiful, light blue box.
Thus, as much as it preserves a piece of music history, this box set also does the same for graphic design.