View the orginal Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.
So, there’s been a definite lag on me writing my conclusions from the past year. I wasn’t fuzzy on what they were, I’ve been compiling them since about March or so. Honestly, I just wasn’t feeling it. And I am so glad I waited. Something happened this morning that put it all into perspective.
I walked into my cubicle at work and literally gasped out loud. A friend had dropped off an unexpected early birthday present for me. It’s an LP by a band I really, really love and one I have never seen on vinyl. I spent the next twenty minutes just holding it and checking it out, spellbound like a shaman in a fever dream.
Let’s start with the title. The layout does nothing at all to help you figure out if it’s supposed to be called “Fables of the Reconstruction” or “Reconstruction of the Fables” or “Reconstruction of the Fables of the Reconstruction of the...” (Keep in mind, you couldn’t just google it to find out back in 1985.) To further confuse the issue, the packaging is all laid out so that it can be read either way.
Speaking of packaging, both sides of the jacket look like cover art, and neither is oriented normally in regard to the spine. A small barcode is really the only thing that distinguishes which one should be the back cover. And it’s not a square package. It’s slightly rectangular, so the insert will only go in sideways from the way that would seem to make sense – and again, not in any clear orientation to the sleeve.
And then there’s the LP itself. One side is labeled the A Side (it is titled “Fables of the Reconstruction). There is no B Side. Instead, there is Another Side (it is titled “Reconstruction of the Fables”).
Not to mention all the cryptic word games and bizarre marginalia in the liner notes. The whole thing feels like some sort of weird puzzle box. It is totally awesome.
R.E.M. isn’t alone when it comes to creative packaging. Led Zeppelin wins that category hands down. I can’t really describe it or even post an image because most of their covers were interactive in some way. And Steve Harris still brags that people bought early Iron Maiden records not because they had heard the music, but because they were intrigued by the artwork.
So even though I’ve had the clearly titled “Fables of the Reconstruction” on CD for almost twenty years now, I was utterly excited about my gift this morning. Vinyl is a very different beast. There is absolutely a sense of discovery and a feeling of something when you hold an LP in your hands. Very little of that ever translates to CDs, and none of it to thumbnail images on an MP3 player.
And that’s what I think some of us feel like we’re missing when we lament the passing of the album and the onrush of the digital age. It’s taken me a hundred records and over a year to realize that my original notion of what constitutes “an album” didn’t include the full picture. It’s not just about a cohesive sound. It’s about a listener’s commitment to a time and a place; it’s about involvement of four senses rather than just one. To me, it’s about wonder. And wonder, it seems, is a decidedly analog quality.