To describe this set as ‘long-awaited’ is something of an understatement. Rumours of a celebratory box have abounded over the years and Steven Wilson turned in his adventurous stereo and surround sound remixes back in 2012. Given that the three-CD and one DVD, plus book, comes with a hefty price tag (£130) that would make your glam rock mascara run, has it been worth the wait? Yes and no is perhaps the predictable answer. The Ferry-curated book is fascinating and frequently delightful with its vintage press clippings, small ad ephemera, typewritten lyrics, cover photo- shoot outtakes and snaps of the boys in the studio and on stage. With his customary precision, journalist Richard Williams, one of the band’s earliest champions in print, chronicles the giddy excitement of their first year.
Choosing to leave Steven Wilson’s stereo mix on the shelf in favour of the 1999 album remaster – which most fans will already have – presents a missed opportunity. Things improve considerably with disc two’s early 1971 demos and studio outtakes. The sense of ‘otherness’ Roxy Music exemplified is particularly amplified in the demos. With oboe and primitive electronics, the effect is not unlike hearing a kind of post-apocalyptic pop cobbled together from a word-of-mouth account of what rock music was once rumoured to be like. The outtakes drop deep into the cloistered minutiae of the 1972 recording session at Command Studios. Though not to everyone’s taste, this kind of access opens up an alternative reality, a glimpse of how the album could have been, had different choices been exercised. The early radio sessions are useful additions, confirming the true extent to which David O’List shaped some key moments in their repertoire.
Best of all in the box is Steven Wilson’s perceptive surround sound mix. The depth and details exposed by the medium are stunning. The added muscularity to Graham Simpson’s supple, melodic bass work is especially satisfying, while the bristling, white noise dogfights during The Bob, squalls of frenzied distorted guitar carried on Sea Breezes, the gently cascading echoing saxes of 2HB and the 50s retro sci-fi planetscapes of Ladytron have quite simply never sounded better. The fact this mix is not available in the two-disc version is a serious omission and inevitably hints at gouging the fans. It’s to be hoped UMC will issue the set in a more generally affordable format at some point. That said, there’s no denying the opulent presentation of the big box mirrors the head-turning impact and defiant glamour this record had upon its release 45 years ago. ‘Fade away, never’ indeed.