The band Radiohead has released their new album, "In Rainbows", via digital download, as I'm sure many of you have heard. I received my download pass last night (about 2am), and was impressed by how smoothly and efficiently the whole experiment worked. Within a few cyberseconds, the album was on my computer.
But one thing immediately struck me -- no cover art! This pretty much blew my mind. It's almost impossible now to find a product that doesn't pay close attention to its packaging, but in the world of music, the album cover is a sacred and inseparable part of the whole; often equaling and sometimes surpassing the experience of the music itself. What other medium can do a minimalist gesture like the Beatle's "White" album and have it recognized as an artistic statement? Sure, there are good and bad album covers -- but no cover at all? That seems to go against the soul of music consumerism as I've come to know it.
And the technology has followed this trend. The first generations of iPods were music-only, but subsequent models brought the ability to show the cover art, to the point now where the latest iPods let you navigate solely by album art, demonstrating how the technology has finally caught up with listeners' sensibilities. We need our cover art.
No no, Radiohead -- this will not do.
Left with this gaping gap in my new music experience, I did what any thoughtful person of my generation would do, which was to Google around and see if someone had solved my problem for me. I was thrilled when I came across a site with tons of homemade cover art for "In Rainbows." Some of these designs are incredible, and all clearly are labors of love. Now I'm spoiled with choices as to which one I want to pick for my iPod!
And this leads me to wonder: Although there are claims that official cover art for the album is coming soon, was Radiohead a bit cleverer than I had given them credit for? Releasing a pay-what-you-want album to the masses, and then encouraging fans to produce and distribute their own cover art.... Could this be the most participatory music experiment of the digital age? Stroke of genius, or happy coincidence? Either way, I got to experience an album and my thoughts about music in general from a new angle, and am thrilled by the creativity and energy of those others out there on the other end of my Wi-Fi.
Rockin' good news.