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Long Live the Full-Length Album

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The era of the original rock star coincided with the age of the full-length album. Old school rockers à la The Doors understood the perfect album would lead to fame and fortune. Bands and producers would spend hours track listing the band's best songs to offer a complete package of musical greatness (or not-so-greatness).

Music connoisseurs know the only way to judge any musician is by absorbing an entire album over a period of time. A full-length album reveals secrets that singles can only hint at. The order of songs on a full-length album can undo in a single listen the efforts of any marketing department.

In an era of digital music trading, the pop star, singles, and publicity, the full-length album should remain the backbone of the music industry.

Vocal performance tends to overshadow the performance of individual musicians in rock music. By listening to the album repeatedly, the listener can move past the vocalist's contribution and focus on individual instruments throughout the album. This process helps the listener to identify superior (or inferior) musicianship in band members. Focusing on a single instrument throughout the album can give the listener an idea of the consistency of a musician's performance, which would be a clear indication of his talent.

The structure of an album is as important as the structure of songs, especially in progressive rock. One can easily tell when the artist didn't put much thought into the order of the tracks. Songs with similar licks or structures should ideally not follow one another on an album. The same goes for songs with similar lyrical themes.

Beirut's The Flying Club Cup is a modern example of how a good album is put together. A short introduction in A Call to Arms grabs the attention before flowing flawlessly into Nantes. The band retains a sense of continuity through very definite timing structures, which they accentuate with instruments like the accordion, trumpet, and a variety of drums. The lyrical theme changes with each song, but the album as a whole has a hopeful melancholic feel. The band communicates the essence of who they are musically through the album as whole.

The relevance of an artist, the merit of a musician, and the longevity of a group is established in a full-length album. In the age of the iPod we can only hope that some artists have what it takes to produce the stuff of legends.

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  • Greg Barbrick

    I completely agree with you. The so-called “classics” such as Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, Whats Goin’ On… work not only collections of great songs, but as full-length “statements” as well.

    It is unfortunate that this concept seems to have been abandoned.

  • profjohn

    Add Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to the list, too.

  • Bob

    I completely agree. The album, or collection, of tunes/compositions as an art form seems to be dead. An ‘Album’ should contain a common theme connecting the songs in a way that it is obvious that they belong together, but not so obvious that it sounds like the writer just re-wrote the same song over and over again. May I suggest that you add Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” and The Tunesmith’s Apprentice – “Anonymity” to your list.