The limited-edition, hand-crafted, solar-powered hit single
This week I read that those samurai rap legends the Wu-Tang Clan are making a very special album. There will only be one copy, and it will be recorded on the highest quality of materials. It will be housed in a handcrafted silver box (which is now hanging out in Morocco) and will travel around the world, where fans can listen to it one at a time under tight anti-piracy security at festivals.
Call it pompous, but this is brilliant. The brothers Wu have long used the mystique surrounding the group to continue its legend for 20-some years. The secret-album-in-silver-box story keeps up with their whole ancient martial-arts image. Even Forbes predicts that this could be a big moneymaker for any investor who would want to buy the sole copy of the album, which is sure to be full of great tracks. Not that I’ll ever know.
Like the record attached to the Voyager spacecraft, they can put this masterpiece into space – aliens need something with a beat.
The lucky few who get to listen to some of the two-hour album will be continuing the practice of music-making as an art. From wax to reel-to-reel to 8-track to cassette to CD and back again, crafting the format music is released on is just as artistic and detailed as the music itself.
Beck released an album as sheet music – you can record it yourself. Albums also come out one track at a time, or the whole thing debuted live onstage.
Before it gets to the point that music is released as a series of dog-whistle decibel sounds that need to be deciphered by a musical dog app and played back to you at human frequencies, let us just reminisce a bit about simpler musical times.
First, there were those little record-and-storybook deals. Then came my first actual music records (ZZ Top and “We Are The World” when I was 4).
When you first begin forming your tastes and music persona, the world is your oyster. I combed BMG, Music X, Waves, NRM and Music Oasis for tapes and later CDs to teach me about life, and to serve as an outlet for those awkward teen years.
Records were dying out as I entered the scene. Tapes were it. They were portable, sturdy, and the spines created a wall of look-who-I’m-into when stacked into towers. You could cram a dozen into a glove box. Colorful rectangles of possibilities.
My car has a tape player, and I pop in my “Adventures of Pete and Pete” cassette sampler I got in a box of Corn Pops. Bands are releasing new music on tapes, just to be cute. Tapes, I salute you.
CDs – sorry, you are too flimsy, too easily scratched, too hard to cram into a glove box. You can scotch-tape a cassette if it snaps – CDs, good luck. Opening a new CD? That plastic wrap is impenetrable. And why did they come in those huge boxes at first? They need to breathe?
When NRM at Eastwood Mall closed, I filled an actual garbage bag with closeout CDs and tapes. Some for cover art alone – others, morbid curiosity.
The Digital Age swept us, and while I enjoy having 21,000 songs all in a device the size of a Pop Tart, it lacks personality. No iPod or tablet is big enough to convey colorful, psychedelic album art.
Thankfully, vinyl has spun back around to rule once again. New music is being released in high-quality wax, in handsome volumes with colorful art. I have bought more vinyl records in the past few years than downloads.
There’s something more social, elegant, homey, about the vinyl experience. Music while driving will always be a close second, but vinyl on a Sunday afternoon can’t be beat. Caveat – records are not good for a room full of dancing people.
So, to recap: vinyl, then digital, then tapes, then CDs. Box sets, cool album art and foldout covers are still appreciated. Packaging cool stuff like coasters and posters and bubblegum with albums? Feel free. Albums that play themselves using solar power? Get on it.
What will be the next format to get lost under the seat of your car? Not sure. When it comes, I’ll still be waiting in line to hear the new Wu-Tang Clan.
What’s your favorite format? Tell me at ssepanek@ tribtoday.com.