Up until the past couple years or so, CDs had always been kind of whack to me. Their form and function and how they are produced always felt very commercial and disingenuous. I would see see them in hordes at places like Gallery of Sound and thrift stores, just sitting there like junk. I’d see one on the ground that someone left there as litter and pick it up and throw it to see how far it’d go since it was already scratched beyond repair. I couldn’t imagine doing that with a vinyl record or cassette though, there’s things you could do with those still.
CDs never seemed to have any real value other than what the store was selling them for, which was arguably way too much. Like $20, how? The most expensive part of the CD didn’t seem like it was the disc itself, unlike cassettes and vinyl records, so the price never really made sense to me as a younger person. Learning to appreciate the efforts behind artists’ output over the years has put me in a different perspective when digging through physical media to purchase.
I’ve realized that most releases are never 100% the band getting to do what they want – everything is a compromise of some form between multiple parties. This is much less true for hardcore music as it’s all being funded and produced by the bands so there’s not really anyone to disagree with their ideas. I think this approach to putting out music is the most interesting way to do it, but CDs usually do not get produced like this. The level of production that record labels can afford for their releases makes the CDs look way cooler than a burned CD with the band’s name and album title written onto it with a Sharpie. I’m not sure what in particular caused my opinion to change but for some reason now I can’t stop imagining new demos for hardcore and metal bands coming out on CD and how I’d buy it if it was in front of me at a show.
It may have started with me digging through Discogs trying to find Merauder lyrics to a song off Master Killer to win some argument I was in at the time. I learned that the record was never pressed to vinyl anywhere except Germany when it came out. I guess it was in that awkward place in time when CDs seemed more futuristic and therefore more profitable than vinyl in the US? Maybe I have a skewed timeline of the music industry, who’s to say? The point at hand is that I saw that and to imagine a record like Master Killer being only put on CD seemed like a genuine travesty to me.
On top of that, it wouldn’t get a real vinyl pressing in the United States until almost 10 years after it initially came out. The fact that it never had a pressing upon original release made the CDs more desirable: they’re the only document of its original output. When I saw that piece of info it was like for the first time ever I wanted to own an original copy of a CD. The insert booklet is probably so sick. CDs have the luxury of booklet inserts instead of trying to fit all the info onto one 12×12 insert of paper. The cover art itself looks like some lower tier mid-90s fighting game like Mortal Kombat or Ninja Gaiden. The graphic printing directly onto the actual CDs themselves has always been kind of a crazy concept to me too. Of course Merauder has their classic shuriken logo printed dead center of the CD too.
It’d be wild to own an original copy just to get a perspective on design during the 90s and how printed material looked. It’s all CMYK dot tone imaging. I’m curious what other legendary hardcore and metal records are out there that have been given an unfair treatment like this.
Other CDs have found their way into my watch lists too, but many not quite hardcore related. One in particular that I find myself thinking about pretty often is the soundtrack to the original Pikmin video game, titled Pikmin World. I don’t think it was released anywhere but in Japan, so I can’t imagine many copies floating around. The cover design is amazing, all the Pikmin and Olimar hanging out on a real life photo of a leaf with a circle of Cooper Black text saying the title. Love the soundtrack to the game as much as the game itself, but unfortunately I can’t see myself spending over $100 on media as fragile as a CD. Every aspect of this album release I think they really took advantage of making it look as cool as possible just by using graphics from the game.
I believe the first CD I ever bought with my own money was Demon Days by Gorillaz and I think that album really took advantage of what could be done with the layout of a CD: having a cross-shaped foldout package of all four members of the fictional band on each panel (see image below). The original cover is side profiles of the band in a 4×4 square, but this release had just one of them on the outside cover. The way the cover worked was so that you could flip whatever member of the band you wanted to be on the main cover of the CD, in case you didn’t want Murdoc on front cover. The Jamie Hewlett illustrations that everyone knows so well from the original cover having alternate versions on the inside was pretty mind blowing to me.
The inside was also done very well. The lyrics booklet has a graphic for every single song on the record, all by Hewlett. I think my favorite is “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven,” a very raw, unsettling image for me to see as a fifteen year old. I thought I’d picked a pretty good example of a package with an innovative design for my first buying choice of physical music. Though I haven’t purchased many CDs since, I think the only one that I currently own is Monotheist by Celtic Frost, which has some real hits.
CDs are pretty cool if you can get all the aesthetic bells and whistles done to them by a label. I want to say it’s either you do the full package and make them look sick or don’t do them at all. When CDs look bad, it’s real bad, like an instant thrift store donation. They’re almost as cool as cassette tapes if they’re done right. It’d be cool to see more of them in the future, but cassettes are still #1 in my book.