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Reviews

Factory Records Box Set

Various artists
Rhino Records

Factory Records

The decline of the traditional CD format is well documented. Your typical youngster now wants something non-tangible, less plasticky, more portable and - regardless of the wishes of bands and record companies - totally free of charge. Digital formats now account for billions of plays around the world, whether via illegal downloads or licensed services like Apple's iTunes, eMusic or Spotify.

Last Christmas the CD did a respectable trade. But less well than the previous year, and lower again than the year before that. These trends may not apply to your household but global demand, and perhaps conscience, is waning.

There is, however, one physical format for which there will be customers for a long time to come. The box set. Like the vinyl sets that came before, it's not helpful to think of the box as merely a sum of its parts. I used to think such a thing was just bigger version of the CD format, but marvelling at this rather lavish Factory Records thing, I have to admit I was wrong.

Sure, it contains four separate compact discs. But this is a world away from scraping together your meagre pocket money on a Saturday and being ushered into a new and dangerous world, via Woolworths (RIP). This is a historical document, a vanity purchase, or gift. It's more like a glass case in a museum, complete with notes, than anything resembling a teenage kick.

Manchester's Factory Records was the brainchild of maverick businessman Tony Wilson. Sadly, neither remains with us so it falls to Rhino Records to breeze through the archives and collect 63 potted releases in roughly chronological order, spanning 1978 to 1992.
Factory Records is prime for this kind of nostalgic treatment. For example, it was as much the suicide of frontman Ian Curtis as their small catalogue of songs that sealed Joy Division's near-flawless legacy. The band is well-represented here, as is the pristine, funereal imagery of Factory's house designer Peter Saville, which gets more fitting with the years - one of the perfect marriages of design with music.

After Curtis died, Joy Division regrouped as New Order and sealed their own reputation, most famously with 'Blue Monday', 'Temptation' and other seminal tracks. This product is heavy with reminders. To Wilson's further credit, we also have a later wave of Manchester stars like Happy Mondays and James. Newcomers will appreciate the cold funk of A Certain Ratio, industrial pioneers Cabaret Voltaire plus fleeting curios like Crispy Ambulance (who finally came to wider attention when depicted in Anton Corbijn's film Control).

There's no doubting that it is fascinating, high quality material. There will always be buyers for this. Like any piece of good nostalgia, it'll give listeners a weird mix of joy and sadness. And nostalgia not just for the music, but for a time when musicians and record companies made things you could have and hold. To cherish with, because you actually paid for it, honour.

Carl Morris