MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)
Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually. Three of the eight discs have already been covered here: Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album). The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.
The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering. The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny. Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first album with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest? I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest. It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered. And now we have The Party in hand as proof!
The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg. Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies. The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album. It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.
If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party. It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep. They didn’t go for loudness. This is all very good. You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.
The Bootleg will be the main draw for many. It does not disappoint. In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more. Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.
Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”. It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show. Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever. Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa. “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air. Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”. These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.
The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums. Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party. Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different. Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement. It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good. It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.
Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max! It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress. There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979. Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level. “Walden 5” just needed some editing. A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing. Kim fans will love it! Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.
The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one. Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated. In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.
Oh, one last thing: The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set. So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down. Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture. Just a word to the wise.