DiscoEx Archive: This Is Not My Beautiful LP Sleeve...!
I used to think that on most things, David Byrne and I agreed. Brazilian music, good. Disco music, good. Drum machines, good. Director Jonathan Demme, good.
But then he did a whole art project in Microsoft powerpoint, and I wasn’t sure anymore. I loathe powerpoint. It’s a sad crutch for bad presentation skills. If the teaching’s good, you don’t need powerpoint! At the least, powerpoint should consist of black slides alternating with actual content, instead of being a steady barrage of useless, poorly conceived charts and bullets. You know what bullets do? They kill education.
But back to David Byrne. And the Talking Heads. Remember how great Talking Heads cover art is? Let me refresh your memory.
The Talking Heads record covers are high pop art - so revolutionary each that they’ve been parodied and duplicated many times since, so fascinating that they remain etched in my mind when I hear songs from each album.
So today I went out looking for what DB’s been up to and happened to read the most recent entry in his most excellent blog wherein he extolls the virtues of shedding the album art culture in favor of the new digital delivery culture. His explanation of the corporate control and marketing motives behind even the most liberated album art feeds his enthusiasm for the (as yet un-tapped) potential of digital delivery - the ability to attach innumerable digital experiences to the online version of a piece of musical art.
*gasp* Have I been stabbed in the heart? I’m not sure, perhaps he only grazed the spleen. Perhaps that though I confess a rather unhealthy love for vinyl records, it’s come to my attention lately that I don’t really use the album art and other accoutrements in the same way I used.
Back in the day: you used to get home with a new CD or record, having waiting in line for the monday midnight sale at Tower, and you get home, rip open the package and start playing the disc, simultaneously spending the next 45 minutes of album-oriented orgasmic bliss (or unbelievable disappointment) reading the liner notes, lyrics and producing credits and savoring the album art’s detailed glory. I can certainly recall my pleasure at seeing the multimedia work of Russell Mills inside NIN’s “Downward Spiral” or the detailed phrenological nonsense of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy (yeah, yeah, I know, not very disco of me).
Me now: I get home with several used or new obscure singles of futuristic dance music. Some are packaged in a plain black sleeve with nothing at all on the label or perhaps the cursory, minimal techno record’s usual pseudo-sci-fi-ridiculousness. Maybe I have an actual 2XLP album in there with some digitally manipulated imagery for a cover. I throw the records in my rack, and one by one I *skip through* the record at breakneck pace, sampling 15 second snatches at 1 minute intervals. I scraw some notes on a post-it, plastic-bag the collectibles, and then get around to listening to the whole thing, in one unbroken segment, very late some other evening when I’m just listening to record after record while cleaning the room up.
Liner notes? There are none, mostly. Lyrics? “Oh my god it’s techno music!….” About the best thing is the shiny, psychedelic stickers that adorned the early-90’s releases of Jonah Sharp’s nearly-revived-and-then-dead-again Reflective Records, because they create their own special effects while the record is playing, nearly hypnotizing the DJ and trainspotter with rhythmic pulses of refracted light.
So perhaps I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t actually derive as much pleasure from the album art as I used to.
You know how I use album art now? To decide what used stuff I should buy without ever hearing it. And if there’s one great thing about dance music, it’s that you can sometimes judge the book by its cover. Wanky 3-D chakras and mandelbrot sets? probably bad mid-90’s world-goa. “featuring Jocelyn Brown” in huge letters across the top? Bad vocal house. “(c) 1985 Metroplex” = $$$detroit$$$.
Will you miss album art when it’s gone?