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Another Spin
A blog by Scott E. Shepherd · A continuing look at popular music, past, present and future.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

All That You Can't Leave Behind (Plus Some You Can)

I think it is safe for me to say that U2 is probably my most favorite active band. Recent inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the boys from Dublin have put out consistently good music for almost 30 years. I have most of their albums, and even a few rare B-sides singles (back when they still made singles).

When U2 released their two Best of CDs (1980-1990 and 1990-2000), each with a bonus CD of B-sides and alternate takes (extended mixes), I was torn - I really wanted the rare stuff, but I didn't want the songs I already had. Plus they were released in 2003 - U2 had already released another album and more "singles" with new B-sides that weren't on these albums. What's a semi-loyal fan to do?

The answer came late 2004, when U2 hooked up with Apple to not only promote their new album and single, but also release the "U2 version" of the iPod and The Complete U2 package on iTunes. The Complete U2 has everything, and I mean everything, the band has ever released commercially - every single, every EP, and every CD release single. It even has several live shows and early demos that are (like all good packaged box sets) only available when you buy the complete set. Now every U2 fan can have every song the band ever released at the low, low cost of $149.99!

For the fanatic, I'm sure this is a bargain (although I would assume the true fanatic would already have everything), but for a casual fan, such as myself, this is a little overwhelming. As one reviewer stated, "I love U2, but can I stand 446 songs by U2? No. There are some incredible songs... but I don't need 14 remixes of 'Lemon'"

That's one of the problems I have with the package and U2 in general - there are three versions of "Electrical Storm" - the original, the "William Orbit Mix," and the "William Orbit Mix- Radio Edit." I loved the version I heard on the radio, which I'm guessing was the "Radio Edit" version, but really, I couldn't tell the differences with the little 30-second clips iTunes allows you. U2 has also released several "singles" that contain five or six versions of the same song, which are also included (one CD included has 10 versions of "Discotheque").

Also, since the package is "complete," several songs are repeated in the exact same version ("Beautiful Day" appears exactly the same on All That You Can't Leave Behind, the CD singe, and Best of 1990-2000.)

Ultimately, The Complete U2 is sort of their answer to the Beatles' Anthology series - all of the band's "rare" stuff, with several versions of the same song when most fans just want the original. The Complete U2 even carries their "Passengers" CD that was kind of their Sgt. Pepper (i.e. - U2 pretending they weren't U2). For the ultimate fan, this is the ultimate package, and even for us more casual fans who would like to have some of the B-sides stuff, iTunes does allow us to pick and choose the previously released stuff, at 99 cents a pop.

I guess it's convenient to have all the songs in one place, but part of me wishes U2 and iTunes would just release all the singles and EPs in their original format, and let me pick and choose that way. That way maybe I could collect more of the original artwork. At least U2 released all of their material, unlike some other bands (where are you Beatles?)

But what happens to The Complete U2 when they release their next album?
Posted at 10:01 am ET