Judging by a Cover
OK, so you can't judge a book by its cover. Supposedly. I think that phrase only worked when all books were bound in brown leather and didn't have cartoon poodles on them. Or the bottom half of a cartoon woman walking the cartoon poodle on 4-inch cartoon heels. That book, I don't want to read.
The same is with CDs, I find. In my role as World Music Director at KZSU I see a lot of CDs and some of them you can tell just by looking at them that they're going in the crap pile.
For instance, anything that uses the phrase "a musical experience" is bound to be bad. Also "soundscape" and, less reliably but always a red flag, "journey." Most "musical experiences" are new age releases featuring tracks with titles like "Timeless Moon, Part 1" and "Shadow Dream for Maya." The titles are themselves enough of a warning. No one has ever had any fun to a song like "Timeless Moon, Part 1". It's never been cranked up for a road trip down the Great Highway. It's never been fucked to. It's never been anyone's first dance. "Timeless Moon, Part 1" is the kind of thing you hear at the dentist office when they don't want you to hear the root canal guy screaming.
Warning number two is reviews from 4th rate newspapers or radio markets. When "Stu, host of "Color Me Hip" on KRAP, Solvang, raves about something and that rave is listed on the CD cover....run. It meant the SF Chronicle, the LA Times, the San Jose Mercury News, hell maybe even the Lodi Shopper's Weekly have all received the CD and threw it directly into the "to be sold" pile. No quotes from the big guys? You take what you can get. "A magical journey.....affirming life." (The Sparks Navadan.) So what exactly did that ellipsis cut out? And why do I need my life affirmed, anyway. I have a life, I know this. You seconding the motion doesn't make me any more real and, in fact, your awful music might diminish it in some way.
The cleavage factor is a CD phenomenon that only applies to ladies. The more you show off your tits, the less likely you are to have talent. Sorry, it just works out that way. Gracing your cover of "The Many Moods of Mandy Mellow" with your spectacular 38ds will no doubt get the guys salivating, which just makes it easier for them to laugh when you launch into "Can't Help Loving that Man of Mine." Here's a hint breast girls, covering Billie and Ella is stupid. Covering the crumb-catchers might be smart.
The male equivalent of the cleavage factor is the hair. Oh, the hair! Yanni was just the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. And, unfortunately, the rest of them weren't buried under the ocean. They some how rose up, flowing locks intact, and put themselves on their music. Blond men with long hair sitting moodily in a B&W scene designed to look like Paris but ruined by the fact that there's a Muni bus stop across the street. Dark men caressing their guitar to show they are passionate and to suggest "if my guitar looks this happy, imagine what I can do with you." Um...I'm guessing what you can do is make me giggle like a schoolgirl when I hear you sing.
Bad astronomy. Why do so many CD covers feature bad astronomy? 70's looking collages with neon colors of planets and stars in some sort of cosmic soup, with the band name written in silver in a font last seen in a Brady Bunch fan poster. Pink comets streaking across pale blue skys while artists with one-word names (Ana, Rainbird, Corrie, Flair) grab the tail and hold on for dear life....the only action the music will ever see.
Now, to be fair, I do not automatically dismiss anything based on how it looks. Everything gets a fair listen. But I gotta say that 9 times out of 10 these judgements hold true. The 10th time I'm always surprised at how someone with musical talent can have so little idea of artistic talent and marketing. I don't think Elvis would have been such a big star if his albums featured inflatable neon green spaceships which he would ride with his exceptionally long hair flowed down his bare back while a bevy of huge-breasted backup singers hung out on Saturn. But then again, he's Elvis. They bought him when he was fat.