Amber Books' latest app, following swiftly on the heels of its well-received D-Day: 1944, is an interesting example of the growing genre of "coffee-table apps". Like their print equivalents, coffee-table apps tend to be light and entertaining, designed to be dipped into as and when the user fancies; unlike print, however, they can bring in multimedia to add to the experience. For an app about music, this is a particular plus: if, as Elvis Costello is claimed to have said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then the app format at least allows the reader to see the architecture while watching the dancing.
The app's titular 100 albums comprise the twenty best-selling records for each of the past five decades, with last year's twenty best-sellers thrown in for good measure. Browsing by decade, genre, or artist (or searching) takes you to a screen for each album containing a short introduction to the album plus the original cover art, and details of contributors. A track listing for each album allows the user to listen to snippets from each song (provided it's available on iTunes; most are), with the option of buying it too.
As an interesting additional feature, a short contextual piece in the sidebar for each album discusses an issue loosely connected to the album under discussion: a piece on feminism accompanies Carole King's Tapestry, while Fleetwood Mac's Rumours is accessorised by an article on seventies fashion. A quiz option also allows users to test themselves on their knowledge of the albums, and - in particular - of the fine detail of their sleeves: after nine or ten plays, I'm more than slightly disturbed to find that I can now identify Mick Fleetwood by his ponytail, Norah Jones by her pout, and Carole King by her pet cat.
Developed by Brandwidth, responsible for the Guinness World Records app, Top 100 Albums is as well-presented as the best of coffee-table books. Each top twenty list can be flipped through in cover-view mode, and the sleeve art can be viewed in a larger format more reminiscent of vinyl LPs' twelve-inch cardboard sleeves than the inch-high thumbnails that accompany today's mp3 downloads. And for those who can't get enough of hit albums, future content packs will enable users to expand their collections to include the top 100 albums from each decade.
All in all, Top 100 Albums provides an enjoyable way both to delve into the musical tastes of former generations and - thanks to the top 20 list for 2010 - to despair of the tastes of today's music-buyers (Bieber and Glee both feature). I know that I'll be dipping into it again.
100 Top Albums is available for iPad and iPhone on the appstore.