I recently purchased the Man of Steel LP. As a habit, I try and purchase the vinyl version of an album since I also get a digital copy (usually MP3) with the album as a free download.
As I was looking at the two-record “deluxe” version of the Man of Steel album, I somehow felt… well, cheated. It struck me: I’m not sure if this is anecdotal or factual, but album art isn’t what it used to be. Let me rephrase that, it’s not even the album art, it’s the entire album experience.
I was disappointed by the interior centerfold of the Man of Steel album.
It’s a nice but relatively uninspiring picture of the recording session. I went back to my old, original Star Wars album, which featured image vignettes from the movie itself.
Additionally, the original Star Wars LP featured an insert with further details about the history of how John Williams became involved, composing process, the philosophy behind it, a summary of each track, and even what was included in the LP itself.
By looking at the insert, I could see clearly that for the album John Williams chose only 74 minutes of the 90 minutes of the movie score. Whether or not I originally read all that material is irrelevant. It was there. It was thought through. It was considered as part of the overall experience for the music lover.
I then randomly pulled out different LPs. Operas, by nature, have nicer presentations. Strauss’ Salome, pictured below, has a beautiful booklet to accompany the box album set.
There’s a full libretto plus a photo gallery of “Famous Salomes” in past productions.
The Best of Judy Garland has a nice photo in the centerfold. Peter Gabriel’s So album is less inspiring on the cover as it’s just a single LP.
So I guess here’s my ultimate point and I don’t know if its factual or anecdotal: I feel like the overall experience and pride in an album is dead. I feel that the cover art has suffered; I feel that the centerfold material is an afterthought; I feel that the custom jackets that you would sometimes get have given way to the squeezing margins.
Worst of all, I feel as though the concept of an album has suffered to the point where it’s reflected in sub-par cover artwork, uninspiring centerfolds, and any extras are… well, just not there. Then again, perhaps I’m simply being nostalgic to the days when you could go to a music store and thumb through new albums and they would pop—larger than life—in your hands. Even if you never purchased the album, there was a certain experience about it all.
Granted, I didn’t see the Man of Steel album sitting on a shelf as a highlighted new release. I didn’t hold it—still sealed—in my hands before purchasing it (perhaps even talking with someone in the store about the music or the movie). I didn’t carry it around and then come home with it in anticipation. Instead, it just came in the mail in a brown box from Amazon.
I love my LPs, but I also loved the experience. What’s missing?