Artwork aside, there are good ideas and bad ideas for album packaging. Don’t get me wrong – I get it: an album is a work of art, and works of art are supposed to push the boundaries from time to time. Raise questions. Challenge ideals. Get you thinking. Packaging, along with artwork, is often the first encounter you have with the album’s statement, and it’s also one of the most-neglected portion of the statement, so why not bring it to the foreground? Somewhere between concept and reality, that vision gets lost in translation. Below we recount seven examples of bizarre album packaging in order from whimsically unnecessary to undeniably horrifying.
1. The Simpsons Movie Soundtrack (2007)
Pros: It’s thematic, novel and playful. As the iconic craving for Homer Simpson’s American “everyman”, there’s nothing quite like fried dough, glazed with an unnatural pink sheen, dotted with little bits that taste like chalk, and filled with purple stuff (which, according to Homer, is a fruit).
Cons: First and most egregiously, the donut has no hole, which makes it look kinda like a frosted Saturn peach or something. Second, the case actually smells like a donut, which carries a high ick-factor if your collection is housed in anything without access to an occasional breeze. (Although it could be a nice conversation piece if you had to explain to someone why your Pantera CDs smell so delicious.)
Aside from that, storage is predictably awkward if you want to store it on your shelf. CDs are round and CD cases are not — there’s a reason for this. Which, actually leads us into…
2. Public Image Ltd. – Metal Box (1979)
Pros: It’s sleek and futuristic, especially from the man who was tooling around with ransom type on pink backgrounds only two years earlier. John Lydon, frontman of PiL, also collected vinyl, and he claims that the 12-inch canister properly protected his records.
Cons: Storage. Definitely. While the Simpsons Movie Soundtrack’s donut was a circular case, it also came in a box, which was designed to be a generic and uninspired version of a Krispy Kreme box. It was bulky, but at least it kept the thing from rolling off your shelf.
Second, according to owners of original metal canister, the three 12″ records inside were only separated by thin sheets of paper, and fitted extremely close to the edge of the container, making damage to the vinyl almost inescapable. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.
It’s also worth nothing that a major problem with any “Special/Collector’s/Limited Edition” packaging is the cost shouldered by the producers. This innocent looking metal box container apparently forced the band the give up most of their advance (out of their own wages) in order to pay for the costs.
3. The Durutti Column – The Return of the Durutti Column (1979)
Pros: Classic Factory Records design. It’s minimal, industrial and subversive.
Cons: Taking a cue from Situationist International member Guy Debord and his first book on psychogeography titled Mémoires, the entire sleeve of the early limited run of The Return of the Durutti Column is created with industrial grade sandpaper, which means that the sleeves of whatever records you store next to FACT 14 will be eventually destroyed. Is there any other statement more mischievous, more self-important, more quintessentially Factory Records than destroying other works of art with your own?
4. Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (1997)
Pros: Keeping in line with their career-spanning theme of medical inner space, Spiritualized released several special editions of their 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. The artwork remains the same scant, industrial text/blueprint graphic, but the packaging of these editions mimics that of prescriptions drugs. One such case features a CD encased in a blister pack, accompanied with a directions pamphlet for liner notes. A solid, bold statement for a solid, bold album.
Cons: The other version of this special editions takes the concept right over the edge and into the deep end, featuring twelve 3-inch discs in two 6-portion blister packs. Each disc contains a single song, making for easily the most inconvenient way to listen to an album whose songs regularly bleed into one another. If you’ve got an extra $200 to spend on drugs, this is probably the safest option you’ve got as you’ll likely never want to break the seal.
5. Flaming Lips – Gummy Song Fetus (2011)
Pros: Ah, the specimen that started my ideas on this whole post. The Flaming Lips are known for being envelope-pushers, not in a mean or offensive sort of way, but in a just-plain-weird sense. Their live shows are highly theatric, audience-encompassing mini-festivals, and I’m sure any other adjectives I use to describe them will result in many more hyphens.
Cons: Pure, unadulterated gross-out factor. As the name implies, that’s a gummy fetus with a USB drive in the middle of the cute little head of our unborn friend. Implanted music content has been around since the advent of hidden locked groove tracks, but this takes a whole new turn for the worse. The music might be good, and the novelty is invaluably viral, but what do you do with the edible gummy fetus carcass after you’ve retrieved the EP? Eat it? Ugh.
6. Josh Freese – My New Friends (2011)
Pros: Graded pay-scales for albums are a wonderful thing. If you’re a fan of the artist, you can buy the album like you normally would. An interested less-than-fan can purchase the digital download for less than half the cost of the physical disc. Capital!
Cons: Josh Freese is an accomplished drummer, having played for notable acts like A Perfect Circle, Devo and Nine Inch Nails, to name a few. Still, regardless of how good a drummer is, I have trouble convincing myself to buy a solo album from one. I think Mr. Freese is aware of this stigma. His newest effort features an outrageous pay-scale you can catch a glimpse of in the screencap. Yes, that does say $7500. And it goes all the way up to $75,000.
Your friend Abraham Lincoln will buy you the digital version of the EP. His twin brother and a couple of George Washingtons will buy you the actual disc. $350 will get you a lunch with Freese at PF Chang’s among other perks. And for $75k, well, let’s just say one part of the package involves Hollywood, a Lamborghini and shrooms. Good luck with that one, Josh.
7. Rammstein – Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da (2009)
Pros: Oh, what a nice sleek box…
“A limited edition deluxe box set … features the Special Edition album, handcuffs, lubricant and six dildos (corresponding to the members of the band).”