Thursday, January 29, 2009

Working On A Dream

A couple questions.

First, why is it that every time I buy an LP from a major label that promises a bonus MP3 download, the download doesn't work? I've purchased dozens of LPs from indie labels like Sub-Pop, Merge and Matador, and never had a single problem downloading the MP3's. But with nearly every LP/MP3 package I've purchased from Universal or Sony, there has been some problem with the download (Warner and EMI are apparently still too afraid of big bad MP3's to even pretend to offer them with their vinyl). The zip file I downloaded for Springsteen's latest, Working On A Dream, was totally corrupted and couldn't be decompressed, despite the fact that I tried with several different applications.

It's no big deal I guess; I'll just rip the LP when I get a chance. And considering this is Sony we're talking about, I may be lucky the file didn't work because it might have turned my computer into some sort of evil spy-bot for the RIAA that would, in the fullness of time, rise up against its master and destroy him. But considering I'm one of the few people left on earth willing to shell out $25 for a new album, I think I should get what I've been promised.

Second, what the hell is up with Bruce Springsteen's album covers these days? Born To Run, Born In The U.S.A., Nebraska, Darkness At The Edge Of Town... those albums offered iconic images that carried nearly as much force as the music inside. The cover for Working On A Dream, on the other hand, looks like it was done by an eight-year old who just discovered all the wicked cool things you can do with filters in Photoshop. And his past few albums haven't looked much better.

Unfortunately, the same over-reliance on technology creates a problem for the music too. Brendan O'Brien's production sounds sterile and stitched together in ProTools just as surely as the cover looks like a Photoshop monstrosity. (I hope Springsteen works with a producer he's a little less comfortable with next time.) But, as was the case with 2007's Magic, their are some really good songs here if you can listen past the production. It's not impossible, and perhaps even worth the effort.

It's a nice, quiet, 2 LP pressing anyway.

UPDATE: The support team at Hip Digital Media (the company Sony outsourced the download to) were very helpful and responded to my emails right away (an all too rare occurrence these days). It turns out the problem is that most unarchive utilities on the Mac are incompatible with the zip file, but they found one that worked, called The Unarchiver. So if you've had a similar problem and have a Mac, download this utility, and it should solve your problem.

The other good news is that the MP3s are encoded at 320kps, and at first glance do not appear to suffer from the overly-aggressive dynamic range compression that plagued Magic. Perhaps we really are nearing the end of the loudness wars. Also, it was nice of the Boss to name the eight-minute lead-off track after me. I'll have to thank him for that (and gently take him to task over the cover art) next time I see him.


Peter Hennig said...

I usually don't expect much from album art these days(esp. from the majors), but that is pretty bad.

Looks like a close three-way running now with Human Touch and Lucky Town.

Pete Bilderback said...

I found this site that has thumbnails of Springsteen's album art through the decades. With a couple exceptions, the ones from the 70s and 80s are great. But he hasn't had a really good album cover since the 80s (some might say the same of his music, but I would not concur). Of course this coincides with phase out of LPs and the rise of cassettes and CDs, so it's probably not 100% coincidence. The album art for The Rising is passable, and the Hammersmith Live one is fine, but they were sort of copying the Born To Run aesthetic. Other than that, there is a whole lot of ugly. Lucky Town, Human Touch, Ghost Of Tom Joad, Devils And Dust...they all look like they were assembled by some low level Sony graphic designer. But this is a real low point, IMO.

Mark said...

Pete, Just out of curiosity, what kind of turntable do you have? I've got lots of vinyl that I still enjoy playing and am looking to someday upgrade my turntable.

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Mark,

I have Music Hall MMF-7 with a Grado Statement Sonata cartridge. It's generally considered a good entry to mid level "audiophile" deck. I think it sounds pretty good. But be careful, because when it comes to turntables the sky (or perhaps super-stratosphere) is the limit.

But IMO, at nearly any price point, vinyl is just more fun than digital if you're willing to put in a little effort (and for me the effort is part of the fun). I listened to the new Springsteen last night on a used Thorens table I bought for $100 and am refurbishing for a friend. It sounded very rich and musically satisfying...not as fully resolved as on my table or probably the CD. But the sound was engaging in a way that CDs rarely sound to me.