Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Lost Art of the Album

Several people I have spoken to lately have commented on my CD collection. I have been collecting these since around 1993. I presently own over 400 in multiple languages and music styles, each with its own charms. Prior to starting this collection I bought cassette tapes that I played until they wore down, warped or otherwise stopped playing. But for almost twenty years now, I have been growing my collection even as many of my friends have turned to media downloads.

Downloads are easier to store. You do not have to go to a store for them (although sometimes you can buy a card at a store that allows you to download the music) and you can get what you’re paying for almost immediately. However, the argument for buying CDs is much stronger. With these, you can copy your CD to your PED or delete it as you wish without worrying about losing your music. More importantly, I think that while buying individual songs is okay, you completely miss out on receiving a more comprehensive piece of work that the artist is trying to use to convey a message.

While CDs are more difficult to store than downloads (which live inside of electronic devices), they come with album covers and artwork that convey some sort of idea; an extra insight into the band or singer’s work.

The album cover has been important to how bands portray since the 1960s. To this day, many people (the author included) can be moved to buy an album based exclusively on the cover. How does a band project its image? Who are they? The 1980 KISS album “Unmasked” for instance pokes fun at their make-up and commercialism, and remains a favorite album cover for many fans.

The inlay cover is also a neat part of a cover. For a band with a revolving- door of musicians, Guns n’ Roses for instance, a listing of who plays what on which track is greatly appreciated. To learn songs when I was growing up, the lyric sheet was essential. Finally, the liner notes that often accompany remastered “classic” albums usually provide great insights into the recording of the album or why it mattered. For instance, the liner notes of Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunter” provides context to the album. What was Herbie doing before and after that album? How does this relate to other contemporary music? Read the liner note.

While instant gratification is a clear advantage that downloads have over albums, the latter provides more to the listener than just the music. It provides a more comprehensive understanding of the artists and their music.

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't say liner notes are a completely lost art in the digital age. Some artists provide a PDF of the liner notes with an album download. And for personnel and production notes, there's often plenty of detail on Wikipedia. And since it's on the Internet, it has to be true.