The way everybody listens to music now is completely different to people listened to music in the 90s. And perhaps the largest casualty, aside from the brick and mortar stores selling records, and of course the shiny compact disc, has been the album.
It’s a sad thing that the album is on its last legs. The new age of ‘shuffle’ and of purchasing (or downloading) individual tracks has meant that the sanctity of a set of tracks in a given order has been broken. I’ll admit to being a culprit of this crime as much as anybody else – but it’s one I feel bad about.
Albums used to be the focal point of an artists’ career. Still, to me, an artist can be defined by their albums, with each album and its individual sound and theme lending its personality to an era for the artist. Take The Killers for a modern example. Everybody can see the clear change in their music between different albums, from the new and angsty Hot Fuss to the more sophisticated rock of Sam’s Town. People used to qualify how much they liked a band by saying which era they liked best. This was a fundamental part of how we appreciated artists, but it is not so much anymore.
Part of the death of the album must be attributed to artists themselves, though. Calvin Harris, at the weekend, broke Michael Jackson’s record of most top ten hits from one album, with his 8th single from the album 18 months. I like Calvin Harris, but the album is not worthy of the title. It is a collection of singles rather than an album. 3 of the singles were released before the album, with the earliest coming 14 months before. Surely, then, the single isn’t really from the album then? It is albums, like these, that are ruining their good name and destroying the art form.
There are beacons of hope for the old LP though. Adele’s massive success with 21, which on the last count had sold over 26 million copies, shows that people still want to buy albums. Say what you will about her as a person, but her amazing voice and song-writing skills deserve the success they received. The album was almost faultless, with a single theme spawning a variety of fantastic songs about love, loss, anger and regret. It’s what an album should be. Even last year, one of my favourite bands, Passion Pit, released their sophomore album Gossamer to huge critical acclaim. Again, a single theme of coping with troubles was coupled with great melodies and lyrics produced something much more than the sum of its individual parts. A song alone can’t convey an idea nearly as much as an album with different perspectives can.
I understand why people prefer to have individual tracks, and listen to all their music in an indefinite order – I do it too. But I still buy albums when I can, and listen to them in their correct way now and again. There’s something about the overall story, the rise and fall and rise of the mood in the songs, that can’t really be matched by anything else. So my message is simply, if you find yourself getting a few tracks from an artists’ album, get the full thing and enjoy it. Each song will matter much more to you than you’d think.