Friday, April 12, 2013

TIMR 3: jethro tull 20 years

There will be some recurring themes across this series, related to music, packaging, aesthetics and more.

This is the cover of the booklet which came with the 20th anniversary set from Tull. They are a band I have followed across the years, though some of the music as they got more 'rocky' around the rock island and catfish rising time left me a bit cold: always reminded me of Dire Straits.

But they have always been interested in great packaging. Stand Up originally included a stand up version of the band when you opened the gatefold (which I never had); Thick As A Brick is probably as well known for the newspaper that it came in as the music - an amazing read; Living In The Past had the structure and feel of a photo album - really thick card covers. Later albums were more along normal lines. The 20th box set was a box, while the 25th was more cleverly packaged as a cigar box.

Tull also went out of their way to make the compilations (those landmark ones) special - there was a lot of non-album material. LITP had a few album tracks but most was singles, some live stuff and extras (the sort of tracks that later featured on cds as extra material). The 20th again had lots of unissued music - live, radio, chateau d'isaster, extra tracks - while the 25th had more live material, remastered tracks and also rerecorded ones. Great value.

Which raises another of the themes - sequencing albums. In the vinyl days artists spent a lot of time deciding the order of the tracks on each side, which track would start side 1 or 2 or 3, how to balance moods, themes, and listening trajectories. As we go digital this is being lost for a number of reasons. People seem less interested in an album - there are very few times I have bought only one or two tracks, but the common method these days seems to cherry pick. It is sometimes harder to find the time but I try and get immersed in the whole experience. Then there are cds, which have no sides and contain as much music as an old style double album - perhaps we don't listen to it all because we are getting too much, artists and buyers think if there is 80 minutes it should be filled, so we play parts, or go for random play.

The importance of sequencing was shown clearly in the 20th set. As vinyl or cassette it consisted of 5 albums - each with a theme (essential, radio, rare, flawed gems, the other side). When this went to cd it was totally lost as the structure was lost and the disks spread across different cds. A real loss - regainable but the originally thinking was hidden.

I think that we should be willing to accept shorter cds that can reflect a more thoughtful approach to sequence and listening flow. With downloads it is even easier as the tracks can simply be assigned albums through track and disk numbering in the metadata. This can allow artists to present the material even more obviously in the way they have structured it.

And as buyers, more is not necessarily better - the amount of time to fill a cd can lead to excess, indulgence or more crap filler. 

(Thanks again to Dave Stafford who I discussed this issue with)

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