You've just paid £80 for the new album by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, and when you get home you discover the enclosed CD is blank. What do you do? According to Danger Mouse himself, whatever you want. If that means finding Dark Night of the Soul online and burning your own copy, then go ahead. Go ahead and stick it to EMI.
The CD comes in a package labelled, "For legal reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will." Mr Mouse says he is embroiled in "an ongoing dispute with EMI" and is "unable to release the recorded music without fear of being sued" by the record label.
The artist and producer, also known as one half of Gnarls Barkley, made his name with an album that mashed up Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles White Album to create -- what else? -- the Grey Album. Although massively acclaimed, it was controversial on the copyright front. It's not clear whether Dark Night of the Soul, an album-length piece of music joined by assorted guest vocalists, also has copyright issues: we've had a listen and if there are samples involved we couldn't spot them.
It's surprising that this is a dark night, given the luminous line-up of indie stars assembled. The album features portly Pixie Frank Black, insurance salesman Iggy Pop, erstwhile Stroke Julian Casablancas, every one of the Flaming Lips, Shin James Mercer, singer-songwriters Suzanne Vega and Vic Chestnutt, Grandaddy Jason Lytle, Cardigan Nina Persson and chief Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys. As if that wasn't enough, David Lynch provides the visuals with a limited run of 5,000 100-page books of photography inspired by and based on the music.
Green Day did something vaguely similar way back in 2004, offering a pack of five blank CD-Rs for $8, complete with band artwork disc stickers. The branded packaging encouraged fans to "download music legally and burn your own Green Day compilations". Having recently seen the launch of a , Crave maintains that giving consumers this kind of control over what they want to take away from the shop could save music retail.
As a one-off solution to a legal dispute, you have to admire Danger Mouse's cheek. But we don't know whether this is a solution to the travails of the music industry. While we love the idea of multimedia elements adding value to music, it's another step along the path of listeners believing music should be free. Which is a lovely idea, but musicians should have a right to be paid for their work.
The album-without-an-album, content package, call it what you will, ships on 29 May. You can buy a poster and blank CD for $10 (£6), or book and blank CD for $50 (£32). Sadly, with shipping costs it'll cost you $130 (£83)! Still, the album itself will no doubt be all over the Internet by now, for frees. And incidentally, it's worth every penny.
Update: The Dark Night of the Soul book and CD package is now available at Amazon for a much more palatable £33.14.