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iTunes Pass: Worst of both worlds short-changes album fans

iTunes is launching iTunes Pass in the US -- it's like buying a physical album, only not as good, and like buying an album on iTunes... only not as good. Click here to see why it's such a terrible idea

Apple and EMI have announced a new feature called iTunes Pass, to launch in the US with content from everyone's favourite doomsynth survivors Depeche Mode. Y'know, from the 80s. Depeche Mode may be a band that had the cojones to dangle the title Enjoy the Silence in front of snarky music journalists, but there's precious little to enjoy about iTunes Pass.

iTunes Pass allows US users to pre-order the Mode's forthcoming album Sounds of the Universe. For $19 (£13), DRM-free iTunes Plus tracks will be gradually released, as will videos and exclusive remixes, in the run-up to the standard album's 21 April release date, for $10 (£7) sans exclusive bits and bobs.

It's telling that iTunes Pass will only include 'a hand-picked selection of your favourite artists', and just as telling that the first act is an established band from the age of the true album, rather than Miley Cyrus or someone equally ghastly. To us, iTunes Pass is a way of selling the iTunes 'every song a single' effect to people who still believe in the concept of the album as a whole: that is, older music fans who haven't had their attention spans and music-judging faculties destroyed by iTunes' irritatingly and often arbitrarily truncated song snippets.

Crave always feels cheated by B-sides that are all remixes, especially when half of them are rubbish. We had a listen to the only track available from Sounds of the Universe, the Black Light Odyssey Dub of Oh Well. From the preview it sounded like a cowbell-laced slice of menacing electro; when we ponied up our 79p we discovered it's a plinky-plonky load of half-speed spacey Eurobobbins.

At least when a special edition is released normally you can preview the extra tracks. By pre-paying, you're locked into taking all the content, regardless of quality. Those buying into iTunes Pass will be seduced by the covenience and will lose the freedom of being able to preview new tracks. It'll appeal to listeners with enough disposable income to be comfortable with this kind of sight-unseen purchase, and those with enough stored-up loyalty to an act to make such a goodwill purchase. In other words, older fans and older acts.

Paradoxically, even though you're paying for an album-sized package, you're really not if you listen to each song as it arrives, because they're out of context. It's more like buying a bunch of singles, complete with shonky remix B-sides. iTunes Pass ejects the best thing about buying an album -- the context created by a group of songs as sequenced by the artists themselves -- and yet also manages to chuck out the best thing about iTunes -- the option to only pay for the bits you like. It's the worst of both worlds.

On the plus side, there's no need to go warning your dad just yet. Apple is being typically closed-mouthed about whether the UK will be subjected to iTunes Pass. Aw, and we were just dying to pre-order the follow-up to Chinese Democracy...