In Praise of the Album

This is a repost of something I wrote for a while ago. I still like albums, so I thought I’d rewrite it and post it here. 

A lot of people have declared the death of the album. So many, there’s even an article on the subject in the Christian Science Monitor (Christians and science? What?).

Personally, I find this distressing because I listen to albums, as albums. I like them! Pearl Jam’s Ten, Mansun’s Six, Bowie’s Outside, Dream Theater’s Awake, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, King Crimson’s Red all of these are amongst my favourite albums, and I have always listened to them as a complete work.

My favourite works of popular music all fit together as roughly forty minutes to an hour’s worth of coherent music. I like them that way, and as an artistic statement, I don’t see that anything’s changed.

Business Case?

I don’t know about the business case, though it seems to me that there are differing views on this. Scott Perry of the New Music Tipsheet says they make financial sense, Bob Lefsetz says they don’t.

But I’m a fan!

What I do know is that there are plenty of us out there, the real music fans, who don’t just listen to the hits. I’ve never listened to music radio, I don’t see what it’s for at all. First you have DJs, as if the concept of someone stupider than me babbling crap between songs could be entertaining, but worst of all you only get the latest single or biggest hit from any given band, invariable with the beginning and ending cut off.

Useless. Pointless. You hear the hook, but it doesn’t hook you in, because we’ve changed to the next song.

The point of the hook is to get you interested enough to put the effort in and discover the larger work. Having a random pop hook stuck in your head, knowing forty such random hooks, is not what being a fan is about. The fan is the person who puts on their headphones, lays on their bed and listening to every note beginning to end, losing themselves in the music. The fan is the person who lets go of seconds and minutes in favour of beats and bars, so that an hour of their time isn’t an hour at all, but a space of time and emotion totally dictated by the music.

I don’t want to do that for a catchy riff and three goes round the chorus. I want the mix of pace, the build, the development of a larger work.

Something very similar happens with the live set. Any musican will tell you that playing live is less about the individual songs and more about the mixture of pace, key and emotion to create a space in time. Albums do that too. I don’t want to lose it, and I don’t see why we should.

Organising principles.

Steven Hodson tells me ‘the majority of musicians still only produce one or two good songs per CD’. CDs have always been full of filler, with countless bands managing a decent single or two, and then hours of crap. Does that invalidate the album as an artistic concept? No more than a bad tv series invalidates the notion of a tv season as an artistic statement. Sure, there are crap albums, I own shelves of them, but I don’t see what that has to do with the artistic merits of the form.

To be fair, the first article I read on the subject only said albums might end as an organising princple, and Steven Hodson in the above article says albums will stay if ‘musicians provide enough value for fans so that they are willing to pay for an album’.

Albums were never the only organising principle. The live concert is an organising principle, as are listener generated ideas like the mixtape and the playlist. I will even grudingly admit that playlists chosen by DJs might be acceptable to some people. And yes, the internet is opening up new possibilities in terms of regular updates, more frequent smaller collections. Even singles have a place for those that like them, though I never have.

Just don’t tell me albums are dead, because I love them, and I’d rather a few more were made.