The death of albums

Over at Nepenthe Island, Kevin is distressed over the potential death of the album as a carrier for music (with the industry seemingly gearing up for singles-on-demand as the new paradigm):

But Apple czar Steve Jobs recently said "the album is obsolete." I believe he's interested in obviating the writing and recording of a full-length album as a form of expression, in favor of single track releases. How can I put this other than to say "that would suck"? I don't want to see the album become extinct, and I was surprised to read this from Jobs.

Not only could the death of the album eliminate all those wonderful non-single tracks that are so great to discover, it would eventually do away with the concept album concept. It would do away with music that makes you think the way only a full-length, cohesive effort can. It would dumb down music.

While I myself am not as much a fan of the concept album as my buddy Matt, I can see where the idea has merit, and I do like albums that have a good theme (even if not expressly concept albums). I've also found the delight of finding the "single-worthy" song buried on an album (with those songs sometimes becoming singles anyway). The problem I have with most modern albums is that most of the tracks on them are, well, crap.

Too many times I've gotten the "radio song & filler" album, where you have the one popular track that everyone likes, and then the rest of the album is completely different (see Evanescence or Michelle Branch's first album). Sometimes that's good, but for me, usually not. And I think that's the real reason why album-oriented music is going the way of the dodo (or at least declining), is that 90% of it is crappy filler, and I think a lot of bands dont have much to say or sing about aside from maybe 3 songs per effort, yet they stretch things out to fill up 10 tracks (on average).

If the compulsion to make an album is dropped, a lot of really bad music won't be made anymore, which I think is a good thing. Those that have something to say, either thematically or as a concept, will still release albums, or at least sets. I see the movement towards single-track consumption more of a "weeding out the garden" or separating the chaff from the wheat. Those with something to say will still say it, but the bad stuff won't be bothered with anymore. At least, thats what I hope.

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I agree to some extent with

I agree to some extent with Kevin. Now, groups like 'N Sync whose only purpose is to get as high up Casey Kasem's Top 40 chart can just throw out a few tailor-made singles once in a while. But I would completely miss the album format if they all went to the graveyard. With most albums I get, it usually turns out that my favorite track is something OTHER than the released single(s), if there are even any single releases at all. There are about a half-dozen tracks that are better than Thank You on Dido's release a few years ago. And I couldn't even imagine (for example) The Cure releasing only Fascination Street and Lovesong as radio singles in the 80s, without getting the sublime 'rest of' the album Disintegration.

Generally, I've been pretty lucky on not buying a CD for one song and winding up hating the rest. Normally I read the reviews or listen to the 30-second snippets on Amazon to find out if I'll have a good chance of enjoying the rest of disc.

Of course you're right in

Of course you're right in that a lot of times what the A&R folk think are singles often aren't even the 3rd best song on the album, but more often than not, in my experience, most songs are mediocre, with only 1 or 2 on any given album being worthy of extended play.

Doug, that's precisely what

Doug, that's precisely what I was getting at. It would be a shame if the album format died out as a viable product unit, but I think Jobs is wrong to forecast its wholesale demise. There are just groups that make whole albums because that's the best way to express what it is they meant to express.

And Disintegration is a perfect example. Sounds trite now, but that album really changed my life (it fits the mold of the "concept album concept" writ large as I wrote about). Part of its artistry and ability to affect me was that it was long, and had great variety (relatively-speaking), and had classic track sequencing.

And what I love about music these days is getting a new album I've barely heard anything from and just diving in and letting the songs take their course.

Finally, consider "Electioneering" from OK Computer. I wouldn't stick that on a singles compilation--it's abrasive and annoying. But when I listen to that album, I don't skip that track. I like to hear the whole disc in its entirety, as the artists intended. I guess that's what I'm getting at with all the "concept album" talk.

Brian, you've just been listening to the wrong stuff. ;o)

I'm kidding, but that's not been my general experience with my favorite material. I don't think Built to Spill has ever recorded a bad song, for instance (although The Cure has recorded whole albums full of bad songs).

I freely admit that my

I freely admit that my musical tastes can be (at times) as picky as my culinary tastes, which can be unfortunate.

A lot of the time, though, its a matter of mood. If I don't have time for a slow album (which is most of the time), there are a number of songs that in other cases I would enjoy, but skip over.

But really, in the land of the Top 40 folk, should one really encourage these fools to record an entire album of crap, when one or two singles will do?

No, you're absolutely right

No, you're absolutely right on that last point!

Personally, I don't like the

Personally, I don't like the entire concept of the 'album'. Very few albums IMO have any coherence or theme to them. They are usually 1 or 2 good singles + fillers. I judge a single by itself; I rarely judge albums. In other words, I rarely say to myself, "Man, what a great album" but I frequently say to myself, "Man, what a great song". Further, I can't stand listening to the same artist for more than 20 minutes maximum. This is likely because I grew up listening to FM radio, and making mix tapes of songs I would hear on the radio. I also don't like the fade-out, gap, next single sequence between singles, and prefer jumping from one song to the next.

I think the record companies really dropped the ball in clinging to the album model of releasing music. With electronic distribution, the middle man is becoming unnecessary.

I also think Kevin is overstating the threat of the disappearance of the less-popular but more-artistic singles that you don't hear on top 40 radio stations but fill-out the concept album. I think that the opposite might even happen with decreased distribution/production costs; but it'll be much like blogs are now - you'll have to search hard for the gems that are not that popular.

We seem to come from totally

We seem to come from totally opposite ends of the spectrum. I generally judge entire albums, and not the released single. It depends on the artist, of course, but many times the "filler" is the best and most interesting part of the CD for me. :)