The Irritations of Modern Life: 36. The CD Case

IN HIS biographical pop odyssey Lost in Music, Giles Smith devotes part of a chapter to the question of how to open a CD case. It is a measure of how much the LP generation struggled with the new box that his instructions run to a full nine pages.

"The left hand is spanned across the front of the disc with the little finger clamped firmly against the spine low down, the thumb parallel with it, working at the opening edge. Meanwhile the right-hand thumb, cupped round from the back in a mostly supporting role at the top edge, woggles the back free of the front."

And so on.

Everyone has their own technique, but most involve the stomach-tightening moment, after the "woggling" stage, when the lid has bent partly open in the centre, but the sides refuse to give way. The tension of knowing that any second the CD is going to fly out of the box and skid across the floor is liable to wreck the ritual of putting on a record.

Of course, one of the design features is that getting furious is entirely counter-productive. The ball-and-socket hinge is shallow and easily comes apart, which is not difficult to remedy in itself, except that usually the lid falls on the floor and you step on it and the resulting cracks make the whole thing look tired and cheap. Worse, if you fail to open the box exactly straight, when it eventually pops open the top hinge tends to snap clean off. Every single time you open it thereafter, the box will lurch unevenly and then fall apart. This is particularly aggravating as it increases the likelihood that the lid will fall on the floor (see above). It also means the box will not shut properly, making it impossible to put back in its slot.

When you remove the disc, the teeth in the centre which are supposed to keep it in place often break off, so it slides easily out on to the floor (qv).

Apart from the need to buy special storage units (I am aware there are people who absolutely love special storage units, I just don't happen to be one), the shortage of surface area is a major disappointment. Re- reading for the hundredth time some loving biographical detail or the pretentious thank-yous on the back of an LP was always a major part of listening pleasure. The CD case contains a small, glossy, stapled pamphlet which should slide out from under small brackets on the underside of the lid. Only the drummer's girlfriend has offered to do some artwork and, as a result, the booklet is too fat to be slid. After you've removed it and replaced it a few times, the top and bottom of the pages become furled and creased, so you have to force them into place with your fingertips.

Whatever you do, do not try to move the artwork for your favourite CD into an unbroken case. It is tempting, I know, and it looks so simple, but you must not do it. I have tried. Pulling the booklet out of the lid is simple enough. And you might be able to lift the inner plastic casing of the lower box just enough to slide out the backing card. But even if you get that far without snapping it, you will never, ever get the card back in. Not if you break all your nails. Not if you use a long, screwdriver- like implement.

You will be left with two CD cases in bits, one broken, four bits of printed card and two homeless discs. And, since many designers seem to think it clever to avoid printing the album name on the disc, you'll have to play a selection before you find the one you're looking for. It's enough to make you nostalgic for cassettes.