Every few months or so, you'll see several articles laying out the latest raw data showing that music sales are down again, with digital downloads heading lower and with CD numbers taking the worst hit. The ultimate outcome is uncertain, but the general consensus seems to be that we're heading back toward consumption of music as single tracks, with the album being the latest casualty of 'progress.'
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not lamenting the future of my music consumption, because I'll be purchasing albums for as long as they're made — and I'm actually fairly certain that they won't be vanishing any time soon. No, what makes me a little sad is the idea that we don't need them, that the concept is outdated, and that the return to singles-only is a good thing.
What makes the album a superior delivery package? Mostly, it's the ability to tell a story that's greater than any individual song. Any upper-echelon jazz or classic rock record will provide a good example: "Tomorrow Never Knows"? Great song. Revolver? Stunning album. "All Blues"? Terrific Miles Davis composition. Kind Of Blue? Phenomenal album. Part of this story I refer to is the one created by the listener. This goes beyond mere nostalgia to include individual interpretations. What a single song means to a person can't be discounted, but an entire suite of songs has that much more weight. There have been so many times when I've heard somebody say that this or that album "got them through" a particular period. A song can do that too, it's just not as common.
There are all sorts of other items that I could serve up, but most of them are meaningless to the singles consumer. Things like cover art and lyric sheets. Yeah, nobody cares, I know. I also know that this things can be provided online for easy download. In that case, it's me who doesn't care.
But there's one other thing that the album can do that's not easily replaced and that is the phenomenon of the 'perfect album.' This is when the story is so good, so intense, so…right, that you can't imagine any individual song existing separately from its collection. Yes, there can be 'hits' from the album, but they don't rise above the host collection: "Won't Get Fooled Again" – The Who/Who's Next, "Badlands" – Bruce Springsteen/Darkness On The Edge Of Town, "Peg" – Steely Dan/Aja, "Steppin' Out" – Joe Jackson/Night and Day. Though "Steppin' Out" is a great song, it is enhanced by being a part of the same record that includes "Breaking Us In Two" and the moving "A Slow Song."
The music-writer cliché here would be "major artistic statement." There's a lot of truth in that. Maybe the album will be resigned to being thought of as just another artifact of the history of recorded music. Yes, things change. Progress can't be stopped. It's just that I'm pretty sure that some of our forward motion might actually set us back.
I dunno…maybe it's just me.Powered by Sidelines