"Not available on iTunes!" Those words used to drive music fans crazy, but now they're a selling point, as music acts find more and more extravagant ways to get hardcore collectors to invest in tactile product.
Got a thing for pricy rock tchotchkes? Here are 10 of the weirdest and wooliest deluxe boxed set premiums and odd limited-edition packages that caught our eye in 2011:
Usually, "super-deluxe" is as high a level of packaging as Universal Music offers for its boxed sets. But with U2's Achtung Baby reissues this year, you could go one level higher... to "uber-deluxe," which retails for more than $400 (after being marked down from the original $650). The audio and video content is identical to what you get in the more economical $150 version of the set. So what extras merit shelling out nearly a half-grand? Well, shrink-wrapped replicas of Bono's "Fly" sunglasses are the main bonus. That wad of cash also buys you a box covered with magnetic tiles that form a puzzle, a bunch of clear vinyl singles, stickers and buttons, a reprint of the group's fan magazine, etc. Plus, the box it comes in is big enough for your pets to sleep in when you're all out on the street after your home gets repossessed.
THE BEACH BOYS' LIT-UP STORE
Again, you might have assumed that the $125 version of the Beach Boys' Smile Sessions was as deluxe as it gets. But, again, achtung! There is an even more extravagant edition, which is not available in brick-and-mortar stores. It looks similar to the three-dimensional cover of the normal boxed set... until you flip the switch that makes the cartoon store pictured on the cover light up. You can see no less a luminary than Brian Wilson show off the illuminated version of the package in the video below. He autographs every copy, too. How much will this very limited edition run you? A mere $699.99! But for the true Beach Boys fanatic, this would make one hell of a Christmas ornament... if you've got, like, a 100-year-old oak to support the weight.
FLAMING LIPS' GUMMY SKULL AND GUMMY FETUS
The contests of the USB drive within may last forever, but beware that the packaging is perishable when you buy the Flaming Lips' latest releases. As Coyne told Pitchfork about a $150 item that came out early in 2011, "It's a life-sized human skull completely made out of edible gummy bear stuff. It also has a gummy brain inside of it and, inside of that, there's a USB flash drive that has three new songs on it. It's pretty outrageous." He released a different gummy-skull USB when the Lips played at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in June. Then came a gummy fetus release. Don't imagine that he's done: January will bring a gummy frog. "The frogs will have powder sprinkled on them that is meant to be licked off; the idea was inspired by the South American toads that, when licked, can cause hallucinations."
PINK FLOYD'S MARBLES
The audio and video content in Pink Floyd's series of "Immersion" boxed sets has thrilled fans, though you'll find mixed reactions to the tchotchkes also included in each package. These include coasters, a scarf, and a set of marbles all themed around the original album artwork. With The Dark Side of the Moon, the three marbles included riffed on the familiar prism-and-pyramid iconography. But with Wish You Were Here, the marbles were completely clear. Fans debated online: Clever allusion to the absence of Syd Barrett, which was the ostensible theme of the album... or, possibly, manufacturing oversight? We await the "Immersion" edition of The Wall due in early 2012 to see whether there's brickwork encased in the glass.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD'S STEAMER TRUNK
It took a suitcase to house Europe '72: The Complete Recordings, "housed in a replica steamer trunk reminiscent of the ones prevalently used at the time," the initial press release told us. Inside, for $450, you got your (seemingly now requisite) hardback book, plus 60 discs with 70 hours of music. Who wouldn't be the envy of every TSA worker, running this through the X-ray machine as carry-on baggage?
All the other examples we're citing here are designed to get you to buy the physical product. But here's an exception that's particularly forward-thinking: Bjork really, really wants you to experience her Biophilia as an app—or really a suite of 10 different apps, each corresponding to a different song on the album, that are all available under the umbrella of one purchasable download. Each app illustrates an aspect of biology or cosmology that Bjork is illuminating in song. Some are educational, some involve karaoke or remix components, some are primarily just pretty, but all of them are interactive. Do you feel up to being a co-creator with Bjork? You'll have to find a swan headdress on your own.
BJORK'S TUNING FORKS
But if you are just a physical kind of guy or gal, Bjork didn't leave you out. She also released an oak-cased edition of Biophilia that included, among other things, 10 tuning forks—one for (you guessed it) every song on the album. The price differential between this deluxe set and the app version of the album: about $800. Tune that, suckers.
MOLDOVER'S COMBINATION THEREMIN/JEWEL CASE
Would you believe it if we told you a basic CD jewel case could double as a playable musical instrument? We're still not sure we do, yet Moldover first put this item on the market a few years ago, and issued a second edition in 2011. Behind the plastic is an actual circuit board that can be manipulated into making sounds (though you'll have to plug headphones in to hear them). Compared to some of the other elaborate packages we're discussing, the price on this record sleeve-cum-theremin is right, too: just $29. Guaranteed to amaze your music-geek friends.
DATAROCK'S "MOST EXTRAVAGANT SINGLE IN HISTORY"
That's the electronica outfit's own billing, and "Catcher in the Rye" comes close enough to living up to it by offering a USB stick inside a "soft vinyl" sci-fi-like toy character figurine. Besides the single, you get 105 bonus tracks, 1500 photos, 20 music videos, and an hour-long concert. Do those all count as B-sides?
METALLICA's AND LOU REED'S FANCY POSTER TUBE
The deluxe edition of their Lulu collaboration came in a poster-style tube, which contained two CDs in a fold-out digipack, a poster with lyrics, and three Anton Corbijn photos of the fabulous five-some, suitable for framing. The going rate is $100-125. But they may have to invent such a thing as boxed-set cut-out bins just for this one, since, in case you haven't heard, Lulu is officially the most reviled album of all time.