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29 February, 2012

The Other White Album

There will be no image for this post. Imagine an old-school album cover, a canvas of slightly over one gross of square inches where record companies could visually present their product. If this worked, or if dumb luck smiled up a string of hits, then the band could do a Concept Album, complete with specially commissioned airbrush art.

So imagine a young punk's joy at flipping through a bin at Plan 9 and eyeing an album with no damn art at all. Imagine your fingertips treading to the Beatles' "White Album"  (blessed occular nerve relief from Sgt. Pepper's Gaudy Arts Club Band).

Now imagine that you are some lame old longhair, and that in another section of the store is some punk kid looking at a real white album. No words. No fucking advertisement for the band, and sure as shit no critics coming along later and using this marring of White Album-ness pretentiously, as in "Only the original vinyl was thus embossed. Other pressings are worthless...except for the music I suppose."

Furthermore, this blank expanse of non-ink contained within it more or less the legendary album (even when the Sex Pistols were only stale, not historic) "Never Mind the Bollocks." The punk boy knew this because the counter guy said so. So it was a bootleg! Young punk boy didn't know much, but he did know that buying a legit album would just hand money to wankers. Neither he nor the record store, I think, ever figured out that selling certain albums in unmarked sleeves would incentivise insecure customers' purchases.

The vinyl did not disappoint. Banter not on Bollocks (he did know that meant balls or something) appeared on this disc, and at least one song from the album (that grand old abortion ballad "Bodies") had gone missing. The quality was probably shittier than the commercially real thing. Most of the songs sound different, and young punk boy convinced himself that he had real recordings of the band, and not the over-produced crap in the House of McCLaren album cover. 

And so said album was not hidden in shame, culled, nor abused so badly that abandonment remained the only course. This week, that punk boy (now incapable of a mohawk) rearranged some things in the garage, got the phono simultaneously spinning and plugged in and not scratching the hell out of records. It had been two out of three the last time, but that was a crazy set-up on a table saw. Now turntable rested on a heavy slab o walnut on foam strips atop a surprisingly vibration-free freezer, an elegant blend of opportunism and mechanical physics.

He listened with dulleder ears than he had when this smudged and patina'd album was new, when digital recording was unheard of, groove ruled, and once you done scratched, ain't no going back. He cleaned the vinyl, and it looked pretty good, but antiquity popped, wowed, and fluttered through each side. Which was intense, in that fuzzed up preservation of something rough to begin with adheres to the ethos more than a digitally manipulated (is that a redundant phrase?) version available at vendors these days. 

Alas, it was also untense, slack and slow by the hardcore that supplanted American punks' British fadscination by 1980. Johnny Rotten's relentless tooth-hamming remained audible, sneering clearly after all these years while the bass was hard to pick up anymore, but maybe that just what happens to punk boy's ears after standing in front of PA stacks too much as a kid. 

Even if he cannot hear it right, the Sex Pistols canon is preserved, historicized (I've never seen so many notes on a wikipedian entry: 238 as of today), and curated. The Sex Pistols refused canonization by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago, but they do still manage to cash in on their old man music. Meanwhile, God saved the Queen for a 50th and now 60th year of her reign, while Lydon still mugs for the camera for a few quid. 

Lost luster and ironic subsequencies didn't ruin the listen, though, and when the arm swung back to it's resting place and the turntable drifted to a stop, punk boy was a little less old man than he'd been half an hour earlier.

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