|[Which John Williams do I have to blow to get an album of the guitarist playing solo arrangements of the composer's themes to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, The Long Goodbye, etc.?]|
So, album packaging. Until recently, it was impossible for music to exist without some visual element; vinyl, cassettes, CDs, 8-tracks -- all physical media make a visual statement before you hear the first second of the sound they contain. Intentional or not, the blankest package makes as much of a statement about what it contains as records with quad-panel gatefolds and illustrations that would make the Old Masters of the Chevy Van weep, curse Gawd and break their airbrushes over their knees. Would Live At Leeds or Damaged be as badass if they traded covers with Visions of the Emerald Beyond or Moving Pictures? Would Rock For Light be more iconic and influential today if it had a cover that actually reflected its contents?
|[Doesn't exactly convey YOU WILL REPLAY THE FIRST 45 SECONDS OF "BIG TAKEOVER" OVER AND OVER IN YOUR MIND FOR THE REST OF YOUR NOW-IMPROVED LIFE, AND NOT JUST IN THE GYM OR BEFORE A FISTFIGHT, now does it?]|
Even the design of the actual media can make a statement -- you show me a jiveass retro-pop band and I'll show you a 2012 CD published with a pastiche of some decades-old LP's label, implying that today's CD should be thought of in the same context as the classic pop music that the band rips off in the actual recordings. If you ask around long enough you'll discover that you know at least one person who has a firm opinion about which CDs look the coolest when seen spinning in their disc player.
|[Whoa, I bet this one looks cool spinning in the player. I would buy a copy of Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo if I knew the CD's face would produce the movie's iconic swirling when it was played.]|
I recently helped a friend reunite her CDs and jewel cases in order to sell them, and I quickly came to appreciate the discs/artists who had the decency to feature identifying names on the CD itself. I noted that there was a marked drop-off in legible credits on albums made since the MP3's debut -- is this because we've given up on the album as a single unit of entertainment, something to enjoy on its own terms, offline? Is the commercial CD becoming as disposable as the blank CD, something to be ripped to your computer to experience and if you keep the disc at all it's in case your hard drive fails and you lose your MP3s? Or, have designers and producers figure "why bother writing the name of the band/album/tracks on the CD when iTunes will do all that for people the second they open the case for the first time and pop the CD into their disc drives?" and make the physical object aesthetically pleasing with no obligation to the music it contains.
|thanks for nothing/nothing for thanks.|
One of my favorite pastimes is shitting all over Sgt. Pepper and anyone who cites it as the best thing ever recorded -- The first generation or two of listeners were listening to it with their eyes at least as much as with their ears, and the following generations mindlessly accepted Pepper's supremacy as gospel. Take a look at the album's track listing -- now, really, how many of these songs can you remember all the way through, as compared to the songs on Revolver or Rubber Soul?
Anyway, lately I've been branching out to dump on the White Album, which is almost as much of a triumph of packaging over music as its predecessor. Hey man, this one is all about the substance, man, not some fancy covers -- that's why the cover is almost blank … but with some cool embossing for the band name … and each copy getting stamped with its own individual serial number … and a double-sided poster of the band … and glossy headshots each Beatle … uh, yeah. ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC, MAN. The packaging actually does serve the music quite well in many ways -- The Beatles is an album without a group shot of the band for good reason; even the poster is made of solo photos of each Beatle, the glossies looking like the work of four different photographers -- but let's stop pretending that its package steps back and lets the music speak for itself, contra Pepper. One of the many things the Beatles will eventually be held accountable for in The Hague of popular culture once their headlock on our society finally slips is popularizing the concept of ostentatious austerity, the humble brag as objet d'art.
|If you squint hard enough, this looks just like the glamourshot of Thoreau used in the first edition of Walden.|
NEXT: A probably hypocritical list of the best [read: my favorite] LP packages of all time.