Last summer I was milling about casually in Liverpool. Rain, taxis and chips: home is where the heart is. My friend, who I'd met up with in the day over something or other, invited me into a clothes store on Bold Street called 'Soho's', with a record store in the basement called 'Dig Vinyl'. We traipsed down the worn-away linoleum steps into a pretty little hidden gem of a music store. It was like a secret; a hushed murmur of a place. One black winegum found amongst your coat pocket lint when you thought you had none.
We trawled through records like oh-so-clever wine conoisseurs, self-indulgently praising the good, poking fun at the bad, and querying the strange. (Like Japanese Punk. They had a lot of Japanese Punk. Seriously, get into Japanese Punk)
Each section was divvied into genres: rock, roll, rock AND roll, reggae, synthpop, drum 'n' bass. All neatly organised into prim little shelf stacks and piles. There was a small section sectioned particularly for the term “miscellaneous”; stuff like obscure metal genres and vocal choir anthologies - weird shit, essentially.
It was in this tucked away corner of a tucked away store where I found the strangest album I ever bought. It was right at the very bottom of the discarded pile of miscellaneous albums. I picked out the damn thing after a fair degree of record shimmying, avoiding wiping out a whole cornucopia of other tracks and vinyls which had god knows on them. Lo' and behold: the foreboding beast.
It was black. Fully black. Piano-key ebony. It had no cover art, and no sleeve notes. The central spindle hole and label in the centre were black and blank. It was also a double album. The viynl was thick, heavy: a 180 grammer. It was spotless, impeccably clean. Like a freshly crafted blade. It had no information regarding anything about the actual album itself. It didn’t even have a barcode.
I had to ask the lad behind the till:
“Excuse me mate, what's this?”
He walks over, and eye-scans the item in question.
“Is there no barcode on this, mate?”
He checks again, each inch of the vinyl:
“Nah mate, no idea, where did you get this from?”
"From the pile"
(Don't know why he's hinting at me here. Or even what he's hinting. That I bring these weird vinyls in myself?)
"Without a barcode I can't help you, mate"
“Alright, how about it for a fiver?”
That was painless.
I went home, whacked it on, and prepared myself to be underwhelmed.
“This is probably a single with no cover art so they just put it in a blank sleeve.”
“It's probably an blank test pressing of background noise, something the record company threw out for a giggle.”
"That Metallica album, perhaps, but - darker? Evil-er?"
Then I started to get wild notions. Ideas.
“What if I've bought something bad for my health here? You know, one of those audio torture records that the KGB used on spies to get them to spill the nuclear codes. No, not that. This isn't Bond. You're not Bond.”
"What have I purchased? A Pandora's box of an album? It reminded me of the huge great obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was a lowly chimp, and perhaps this was the catalyst of progress which, upon listening to, I would turn into a Beyond-Infinite Star Child, looking down onto earth at those who hadn't listened to this one particular, unknown, secret album."
The needle hit the groove.
What I heard was 45 minutes of experimental drum 'n' bass.
Fine, fair enough. You win, God.
Life has no meaning in of itself, grand narratives are a falsity. We are carbon that is self aware in its own tissue. The idea that a blank album would contain anything wild, mysterious or unheard of was as still immature and childish as I thought. Never dream, kids.
Hope was all but lost. However, the record kept spinning, presumably - I thought - to some stuttering conclusion, a hidden track that was more of the same of the bastard thing. And then it played Thriller. Yes, Thriller. Just randomly there, right there, dead last. It was the nicest surprise. The strangest surprise. It was good to be alive that day, my friends.