It’s in my interests to not believe it – I still like to write about albums. I still want to react to the album as a whole. There are plenty of other music-blogs/sites that plug singles but it’s never been something that’s interested me. I like to consume albums. I receive albums to review – or hunt them out. I still buy albums. I still listen to albums.
When the iPod first caused a stir there was some excitement around playlists – and I certainly enjoyed (sometimes still enjoy) making up playlists: super-long mixtapes, essentially. But the iPod helped me to rediscover my record collection. I loaded that first iPod up with as many albums as I could – some of them I hadn’t heard in years. I found my way to them (again) through the novelty of scrolling, of having – and creating – a walking soundtrack.
Streaming sites and social media do just as much to promote the album as a whole. You can find full albums on YouTube – it can sometimes be your best way to find an old, deleted album. Or to preview something brand new. Sometimes they’re even artist-endorsed, the people that made the music placed it there knowing it’s a way to get an audience.
“Death of the album” stories are a bit like those “vinyl revival” stories – similarly annoying, and ultimately meaningless.
The album is there for you to discover it. And if you’re reading this – and interested in albums and music blogs and such then you are not in the majority. Possibly sad, certainly true.
Music stores, back in the day – I worked in a few, including one right when they were thriving, when the owners would snort lines out the back and thought they were rock stars just for selling the albums made by rock stars - would always get requests for singles, or “cassingles” (even when they were CD singles), people would ask for something like Brown Eyed Girl. You couldn’t sell them a soundtrack, or even The Best of Van Morrison, no, they wanted it “on Cassingle“.
Those moments in High Fidelity – book and film – are real. Those moments happen. People walk into music stores and ask for awful things and in the dumbest way. They ask for things that don’t exist, and never could. And they seem incredulous that you were not able to magic them up the one song they want. Because, you know, they need it right now!
It’s easy to forget that the public – mostly – has terrible taste, is clueless and doesn’t care at all. A passionless lot. And though they don’t like hearing that some other mini-outrage will sweep them away momentarily.
The death of the album is a bit like talking up the death of TV. You could argue that TV3’s current dumbing down, where they make TV as cheap as can be, get all the “stars” to cross-pollinate and appear on radio and TV formats, and make incongruous appearances, all for saving money, is a death of sorts. And it is. But that doesn’t stop people watching the great shows that are about – whether by streaming, downloading, or through pay channels; even waiting for DVD box-sets.
TV shows are still being made, it’s arguably a golden age – just not for local networks, not for the TV as box in the corner of the room.
And the same is true with music. Each year I review more great albums than I ever have before.
Sure, we get force-fed terrible singles and there are viral hits and singing contests on TV and all of that stuff doesn’t feel like it means anything (because – well – it doesn’t) but we’re also experiencing albums that might be game-changers. The new ones from Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo. Any Flying Lotus album, these are all full-lengthers that exist as albums, that need to exist as albums, that work because they’re albums. Even Beyonce had a go, fairly successfully I thought, of stepping out and away from (just) the hit-single machine. And then there was Kamasi Washington’s Epic.
I’m no great Kanye West fan but his albums, particularly the last couple, have been events – the anticipation, release, the reviews, it’s all been about the album, the full album. His Dark Beautiful Fantasy album is already the subject of a volume in the 33 1/3 series.
That series (the 33 1/3 books) is dedicated to discussing the album and in a sense it is discussion that helps keep albums alive. A recent volume dedicated to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous had me back listening to an album I hadn’t played in some 20 years.
I don’t think the album is dying. You just have to be aware and ready and keen to look.
There is plenty of great music you haven’t heard yet. It’s there in the past. And there’s plenty more being made right now.
But what do you think? Do you think streaming and social media and singles have assisted with the death of the album?