Tales from the Jugular
The Death Of The Album
By: Eric ComptonThe Death Of The Album
Published: Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The full-length album is dead. << back >>
There has been much speculation as to the future of the album as a whole and I will state
on record that the album is now officially dead.
What is this about? How does it impact me? Will music continue?
This issue of "Tales From The Jugular" will open up some dialogue on the subject
at hand, the death of the full-length album. In the 70s and early 80s the vinyl scene was
a way of life for the mop-headed teen. Dust jackets, gatefold LPs, pops and white noise
and of course, SHINY BLACK VINYL. Who remembers the original "Shout At The
Devil" LP with its gatefold pentagram and the fold out photo of Vince and the boys
looking mean as Hell? Or how about cutting open your first "Killers" record and
smelling that smell...that smell that only YOU know...the forty-something music fan that
knew what it felt like to carry out a heavy LP, shrink-wrapped and shiny and just waiting
to pop for your RECORD PLAYER (note not the turn-table of today). The LP meant a full
listening experience from beginning to end. You were going to get the intro and outro, the
fade-out of a song and the mandatory "flip" at song four or five. As a whole you
sit down and fully digested the album the way it was intended, a free flowing work of art
that has a beginning and an end just the way the artist intended.
Later came the full length cassette which really continued the same type of listening
session. It was very difficult at that time to fast-forward or reverse to the selection
you wanted to hear. Most of the time I became just too lazy and absorbed the whole album
from start to finish, years later utilizing the Sony invention of not even flipping the
tape in my walkman (a small portable tape player that had headphones and hooked on your
belt). The walkman had a continuous feature that allowed the luxury of no "tape
flipping". Due to this the full-length listen was preserved. The late 80s and all of
the 90s was the era of compact disc. This made it much easier to avoid a full listen by
simply skipping to the track of choice. I still felt that the compact disc preserved the
entire listening session because it finally made it available to listen to a DIGITAL
version of the album in its complete sequence from start to finish. Artists began
experimenting with the compact disc by adding extra content, bonus songs and at times
strange sequencing. Bands like Danzig and Overkill added extra material to the very end of
a recording by utilizing high track numbers such as 66 or 99. It made the album have an
even broader range and an almost intimate listen.
The late 90s and the 00s welcomed in the digital era, which would become the portable age
of music. iPods and MP3 players allow music fans to load their own content in whatever
sequence or "mix" they would like. The digital era was THE "mix-tape"
on steroids, myself taking tons of music and combining it as playlists ranging from
exercise to night time to baby making. Seriously. I converted hundreds of discs, tapes and
albums into digital format, stored them in iTunes and external hard drives and loaded
whatever I felt like on my player, therefore completely butchering the music in a way that
was not intended. So what would the artist think about this?
What does Metallica think if "Master Of Puppets" is absorbed without
"Orion", the neat instrumental that helps create some atmosphere and space
between the thrash assault of the full album?
What if I just "trim" off the horrible record player sound at the beginning of
"Fast As A Shark"? Did Accept just intend to immediately melt your face or set
you up for a little relaxation before the sonic explosion?
Perhaps Blind Guardian feels that individual tracks on "Nightfall In Middle
Earth" should not be heard unless the spoken movie-like commentary between songs is
fully digested first, a cinematic experience from beginning to end.
The list goes on and on and on. Let's say the "Foreplay" is stripped from
Boston's self-title. How about removing the multiple filler from a Van Halen album?
Doesn't the artist want you to hear the album the way they intended? Maybe
"Foreplay" really is a sexual reference leading into the act's "Long
Time". Obviously the band wanted you to hear that selection in sequence (both parts
on one track by the way).
I removed all of the above from my digital versions. My Boston doesn't have the
"Foreplay" portion. I chose not to keep "Orion" or the spoken passages
on "Nightfall In Middle Earth". I have single-handedly edited, trimmed, deleted
and...for lack of a better term...surgically operated on the band's art form because I
Artists have realized this and as Bob Dylan says, "The Times They Are A
Changin'". I have noticed over the last two years that more and more bands are
releasing singles, EPs and exclusive content that either comes well before an actual album
or simply exists on its own with no full-length affiliation at all. We have now entered
the age where the full-length album listen doesn't matter or just isn't preferred in the
first place. I tend to download an album and hit three to six choice cuts and just ignore
the rest unless it is a masterpiece...and let's face it most aren't. My drive to work and
my daughter's school allows me four to five songs. That is, at most, ten songs I can hear
in a day with my schedule. I want to concentrate that listening on songs I really like.
Why waste that time hearing an intro or outro, a not-so-fantastic instrumental or spoken
Bands can hit multiple store sites like iTunes, Zune, and Napster and allow fans to
purchase one to all songs from an album. Furthermore most bands aren't creating or
offering intros or filler tracks. It is "meat and potatoes" on each track simply
because at the end of the day that song is worth a buck (the universal exchange rate works
out to a buck a song). You see more and more acts releasing multiple singles well in
advance of an actual album. Examples...
Killswitch Engage had tremendous success releasing their cover of Dio's "Holy
Diver" in digital format. That song wasn't available on any album until a re-issue of
"As Daylight Dies" almost a year later. The band made it a huge live hit, a
promo video and of course the online purchase without an affiliation to an actual
full-length album. Right now as we speak Bullet For My Valentine have released three
online singles for their album "Fever" which isn't even set for release until
April of 2010. The first single came out in February followed by two additional selections
from the album in the form of pay-for-digital content. Huge acts like Metallica and Pearl
Jam have ignored album affiliation and released bootleg live albums, songs and exclusive
content without an actual record to back it with. You could look at the new heavy metal
label stance where bands release one song from an album and then add an additional three
to four non-album tracks. This is the old "single" theory from the 90s where a
band like Megadeth would release "Symphony Of Destruction" with one non-album
track and a few live choices. You could buy a single back then for about $4 bucks. Bands
like U.D.O, Sonic Syndicate, Masterplan, Rage, Grave Digger and In Flames have all
released album "teasers" in the form of exclusive content that can be purchased
as a digital download well in advance of a physical full-length recording. There is no
"full" listening session so to speak because you are experiencing individual
songs with no long term thought or set-up. A song is a song. Period.
I think with all of the above happening the final step has been taken in the form of the
Rockband Network. The company has made a fortune selling games and equipment to play with
XBox, Wii and Playstation consoles. My family has several games related to Rockband
including The Beatles, Rockband 1 and 2 as well as numerous downloads of my favorite
songs. I've played mad skinsman and guitar virtuoso to Megadeth, Pat Benatar, Judas Priest
and Iron Maiden just to name a few. Now the Rockband Network has opened its doors to allow
any artist to upload digital content and share with music fans and gamers and earn up to
thirty percent of the income. The bands can use authoring tools and a $100 membership to
Microsoft's XNA Creators Club and create song content at about .99 to $2.99. Think about
how many mainstream to underground acts will now upload digital and "exclusive"
songs giving them full exposure to a global mass of listeners. For example you hear a
Motorjesus tune, strut your stuff on the game and then hop on iTunes or Zune and grab it
for a buck. You could have a one hit wonder making bucks without an actual record release.
This is the actuality of today's digital age and the pay-for-song mindset that we are in,
myself included. I've discovered lots of great oldies just playing the game so think about
grabbing a few new artists and checking out tunes while you game it up. I would imagine in
some cases these bands may even offer the music as a free download just to encourage
ticket sales, web hits or to purchase the digital song online.
The possibilities are now endless for bands WITHOUT releasing one single record.
Welcome in the new age and a brand new day. The album is dead. The song...oh the song is
very much alive.
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