It starts with the choice of cover art: A black and white photograph of an empty seascape, with an ill-defined border between sea and sky. It’s by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto from his 1980-onwards “seascapes” series. It’s a work of art, best viewed as a printed photo–and it ties in with the album title perfectly.
The box packaging seems inspired by Apple. Inside, you’ll find a poster of a different “seascape” photograph, a DVD of an Anton Corbijn film, and a hardcover book with interviews and photographs that document the making of the album. The CD case has a shiny mother-of-pearl-effect logo superimposed over Sugimoto’s photo, and inside there is another booklet and a fold-out poster. They’re all tangible, gripable artifacts.
Of course there’s also the fact that U2’s manager Paul McGuiness has a strong position on digital music, and has specifically laid the blame for music piracy at the feet of Internet service providers. Maybe this played into the new album’s design–it’s a reminder that in an all-digital future, where we’ll read the liner notes on a Kindle e-book, and ogle the photography on an LCD screen, we may miss out on the tactile aspects of artwork.