Various Artists

Brain in a Box: The Science Fiction Collection

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It's hard not to look at Rhino's lavish five-disc set Brain in a Box: The Science Fiction Collection as it sits encased in a large metal cube covered with 3-D illustrations and wonder why does it exist and who is it for. This is an expensive set, retailing at nearly $100, and it's filled with recordings that aren't exactly designed for casual listening. Then again, this box is not designed for listening -- it's designed as a conversation piece, a piece of pop culture, and, most likely, a sure-fire Grammy nominee (and winner) for best packaging. And, if you ignore the fact that this isn't really that listenable, even though it covers nearly every base in its five designated categories -- movies themes, TV themes, pop songs, incidental/lounge music, and novelty tunes -- this is a pretty remarkable package, capturing much of the irresistible kitsch of sci-fi pop culture. Make no mistake about it, even if Ray Bradbury contributes an essay for the hardcover 200-page book, this is all about the wonderfully silly comics, B-movies, and dime store magazines that thrived in the '50s and '60s, then was recycled and ironically revived throughout the remaining three decades of the 20th century. Occasionally, Brain in a Box delves into the more measured, intellectual side of sci-fi -- not just by acknowledging that films like Planet of the Apes were very smart, but spending time on think-pieces as varied as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Matrix. Still, when the second in the set kicks off with Richard O'Brien's "Science Fiction/Double Feature," the incomparable opening salvo from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's clear that the compilers favored kitsch and camp. That's fine -- that's what makes this set fun. And, truth be told, the book is as much fun, if not more, than the discs, since not only are the essays strong, but the pictures of old movie posters, magazine covers and ads, comic books, ViewMasters, and action figures from '50s tin robots to Futurama's Bender are utterly enthralling -- at least if you're a pop-culture junkie. Does that make Brain in a Box worth all the money? Well, if (and only if) you found that list of artifacts exciting and you like "Telstar," Esquivel, and Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, plus aren't annoyed by Dr. Demento and don't find Dr. Who strangely unsettling; it may be, you may not put it on much, but it looks nice on the shelf and there are all sorts of great geeky treasures inside. Which might mean that it's worth it, provided that you realize you're buying the package for the package, not the music.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:29
2 1:50
3 2:22
4
4:14
5 1:44
6 3:04
7 2:55
8 1:52
9 0:53
10 1:49
11 2:38
12 1:14
13
0:53
14 1:43
15 2:13
16 4:12
17 2:21
18 3:17
19 3:00
20 2:07
21 0:40
22 1:37
23 3:54
24 1:32
25 3:27
26 1:54
27 2:23
28 8:07

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:10
2 1:59
3 0:51
4 2:24
5 0:59
6 0:40
7 5:24
8 1:08
9 1:25
10 2:44
11 2:33
12 1:56
13 1:13
14 0:31
15 1:03
16 1:20
17 2:56
18 1:04
19 1:31
20 1:36
21 3:24
22
4:54

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:19
2 2:12
3 2:41
4 2:13
5 2:21
6 4:36
7 2:40
8 3:25
9 2:51
10 2:01
11 3:51
12 2:26
13 2:41
14 1:53
15 1:22
16 2:14
17 2:29
18 1:54
19 2:28
20 4:26
21
3:54
blue highlight denotes track pick