It was classic teaser marketing. And yet when “Dark Night of the Soul” was finally unveiled a few weeks ago, it still left fans puzzled. The project, it turned out, is a large-format book-and-CD package that Danger Mouse was releasing by himself, with 50 photographs by Mr. Lynch intended as accompaniment to the album’s 13 songs. But the CD is blank and recordable, and a sticker on the shrink wrap explains cryptically: “For legal reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.”
Bloggers and journalists speculated widely about why Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Burton, had withdrawn the music from the book. A statement on the project’s Web site (dnots.com) blamed “an ongoing dispute with EMI.”
In response, EMI issued a statement that offered no greater clarity but hinted at a negotiation: “Danger Mouse is a brilliant, talented artist for whom we have enormous respect. We continue to make every effort to resolve this situation and we are talking to Brian directly. Meanwhile, we need to reserve our rights.”
In most cases this turn of events would signify defeat: an artist battles a record label, and his music vanishes down the memory hole. But in the peculiar way that Danger Mouse has built his career, “Dark Night of the Soul” seemed to be an oblique victory, in which failure at official business can generate notoriety and, ultimately, lead to success in other endeavors.
For fans the sticker’s winking reference to illegal downloading — “Dark Night of the Soul,” like most albums in the age of leaks, is widely if unofficially available free online — was amusingly familiar. […]