Thursday, April 24, 2008

Elvis Costello - MOMOFUKU and the Death of the CD

Elvis Costello has released his latest album, MOMOFUKU, exclusively as a 2 LP set. It will be available on CD and as a digital download on May 6th. Rumor has it the original plan was to forgo a CD release altogether, but Costello changed his mind at the last minute.

Costello (or someone at Universal Music Group) may have blinked, but this is a peak into the future folks. The CD is dead. It's hard for a died-in-the-wool vinyl enthusiast like me who suffered through years of "perfect sound forever" triumphalism not to feel a bit vindicated now that it's clear that the mighty LP will outlive the CD. It's also hard for me to gloat knowing that lossy compressed digital downloads are what is replacing the CD, although I can take some comfort in a modest (but real) resurgence of interest in the vinyl LP.

In the age of digital downloads, CDs are totally irrelevant. Sure the music industry will continue to release CDs for a while longer--much as the hair and nails continue to grow on a corpse after burial--but the CD is essentially a dead medium at this point. If you want convenience and crappy sound, downloads are both more convenient and sound even crappier than CDs. Simply put, there is no longer a reason for CDs to exist, and before you know it, they won't. For those who still care about sound quality, the LP will remain the medium of choice. Kudos to Costello for recognizing that.

MOMOFUKU arrived with little advance fanfare. I didn't even know about it until I spotted a copy at my local record store--Zingg Music in Warren, RI--and picked it up. Yes, I still buy Elvis Costello albums and I still buy LPs. What can I say, I'm old. (I keep hearing rumors of "kids" becoming interested in vinyl, but I'm a bit skeptical as to the widespread nature of this phenomenon. I didn't exactly have fight off a horde 13 year-old skate-punks to grab my copy of MOMOFUKU.)

First the good news. If you like anything by Elvis Costello post Trust, you are also very likely to enjoy MOMOFUKU. It's as good as, or better than, other relatively successful late career Costello albums like The Delivery Man or When I Was Cruel. Fans of Rilo Kiley will be happy to know that Jenny Lewis' backing vocals are all over the album, and that works out very nicely. The LPs are pressed on dead quiet 180 gram vinyl, and at $17.99 it's not too expensive. Also, the album was mixed and mastered entirely in the analog domain and has a warm and pleasing vibe to it. Costello envisioned this as an LP release first and foremost, so this is not a case of the LP being an afterthought for the few weirdos out there who are still dedicated to vinyl.

I picked on Elvis a while back for endlessly reissuing his back catalog, but the deal he struck with UMG allows him to release new music when and how he chooses, and no doubt rights to his back catalog were a major bargaining chip in guarantying him that freedom. This is a tough time to make a living in the music industry, and I should probably be a little more forgiving of practices I might previously have thought crass. If an endless string of super-deluxe reissues of the early albums is the price to be paid for Costello to do what he pleases in the here and now, I'm okay with that.

The only thing that bugs me about this package (aside from the cover art, which is pretty lame) is that a sticker on the front of the LP advertises a free download of the full album. However, once you open it up there are no instructions for downloading. A note on Costello's website informs that the download will be available May 1st, but gives no clue as to how to get it. I'm a big fan of the trend toward including a digital download with LPs, it gives me the best of both worlds, good sound and nice packaging to enjoy at home and the convenience of digital on the go.

I'll probably eventually get the download issue settled, but in the meantime I ripped a copy from the vinyl to enjoy on my iPod right now. Speaking of which, the tech-savy bloggers at New York Magazine think it's "really, really hard to make MP3s from a vinyl record," otherwise MOMOFUKU would be leaking all over the internets. I'm not so sure about that. It took me about 10 minutes in addition to the time it took to listen to the album to make my iPod MOMOFUKU enabled. What do these geniuses think people are doing with all those USB turntables you can buy at Target, using them to serve hors' dourves at cocktail parties?


Billy Weeks said...

There should be a download card in either of the sleeves of the LP. That's where mine was. It'll have a download code and a url. Not the white paper sleeves but where the lps actually go. Happy Hunting.

Pete Bilderback said...

I looked pretty hard, but couldn't find anything except a "MOMOFUKU" stencil (which I guess I am supposed to use to spray paint the album title on my son's elementary school). I even had my wife look for it, as she tends to be better at finding things than me. Good to hear others are finding the download card. I'll check with the store where I bought it about getting the download url and code.

I probably didn't make it clear in my post, but I think this is a really good album.

Rex said...

I've heard it's an urban myth that hair and nails grow after one's demise, but the effect is caused by skin shrinkage. Can't wait to die so I can find out the truth firsthand.

Thanks for the heads-up on Zingg's (soon to be In Your Ear). I've been meaning to check that store out.

Pete Bilderback said...

Yeah, I've heard that's an urban myth too. I've never really bothered to check it out for myself. I should really get around to that one day.

Definitely check out Zingg (or In Your Ear). He has recently expanded the amount of new and used vinyl in the store. Also, he has a lot of $1 CDs scattered around the store--most of them are junk, but there are some good ones in there.

wardo said...

Chris Zingg is a good guy -- haven't been to one of his stores in years. Glad to hear he's still serving the public!

James Edgar Poague Bell said...

Hey Pete - love the blog, the only thing I am qualified to add is that Momofuku is 'hot' noodle bar in the the West Village run by chef David Chang.

STEVE said...

Mine had no stencil and an expired download card.