The decline of the album sleeve is symptomatic of a deeper crisis. Things aren’t consumed as they were. Rather, they are increasingly given away or stolen. And when something’s value is diminished, so is its worth. As James Heartfield has observed in Mute magazine: ‘The declining value of music also means that it is of declining value to the consumer, so that they will tend to fail as goods that enhance the self-esteem of their purchasers.’ When you don’t pay for something, you don’t take the time to enjoy it. That’s why you come away from a free newspaper website feeling unsatisfied. If you pay for a newspaper, you are much more like to read it properly.
Objects have character, memories, idiosyncracies, flaws. My long-dead grandmother’s pencilled ‘arguments’ with Freud in his books remain my connection with her. A certain skip in ‘Here Comes the Sun’ on my taped copy of Abbey Road will remind me always of a caravan holiday in 1992. And ‘Eddie’, the skeletal icon that featured on Iron Maiden album sleeves and t-shirts, will forever bring me back to a family holiday to Yugoslavia in 1984, where I first saw it. In the digital age, all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
West touches on some of the reasons I’ve come back to records. I buy plenty of music online, but I try to collect the albums I enjoy most (or anticipate enjoying most) on vinyl because of the experience of taking the shrink wrap off the record, soaking in the artwork, reading the liner notes and flipping the record over when the side is over.
Where albums get lost and forgotten when they are no longer new in my iTunes shuffle or on my iPhone, records are quite difficult to lose or forget (especially when moving) and the songs are almost always listened to in the order they were intended, side A first.