Key Notes - an Irish music blog by Steven O'Rourke

Key Notes blog

Why We Must Save The Album

Aug 14

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Friday, August 14, 2009  RssIcon

Key Notes argues that we should do our best to save the physical album.

The way people listen to music has changed, with the advent of the download the emphasis has reverted to single tracks. It hasn't helped that most people have forgotten how to make a decent album. I'm constantly disappointed with records I buy. - Tim Wheeler - Ash

None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again - Thom Yorke - Radiohead

I think a lot. It comes with the territory when you spend the majority of your days with just a dog with a personality disorder for company.  Recently I've been thinking a lot about the album as a format and, inspired by Aidan's thread on the subject earlier this week, I decided it was about time I blogged about it. 

To understand why I feel the way I do about the album it is important to understand that I see music the same way I see art or literature and it is my contention that the realisation of an idea - as opposed to greed or, worse still, a hunger for fame - should be the main driving force behind the creation of art. It is for this reason that I would hate to see the death of the album as a format.  Singles might well be the lifeblood of music, but long players are its soul. 

Maybe it's just me but you build relationships with an album in a way you can't with singles.  To put it in very earthy terms, singles might well be worth a quickie every now and then on her mates couch but something in the back of your mind tells you that an album is probably worth getting to know a little better first.  As I write this blog I'm listening to one of my favourite ever albums, Elliot Smith's eponymous sophomore album.  It took me many listens to fall in love with this record, it certainly wasn't love at first listen, but there were enough individual songs on it that I liked to keep me coming back for more and now there isn't a song on it I don't like or, more importantly, feel the album would be better off without.  Elliott Smith is just one of many albums that I feel this way about.

It's not just about the music of course.  I love the feeling of buying a new album.  I love getting it home and struggling to take it out of its plastic packaging.  I love trying to peel off the price sticker without leaving any residue on the case.  I love checking out the artwork and reading the lyrics.  I love studying the sleeve notes and discovering that someone I know 'in real life' was involved in someway or was thanked by the band.  I love reorganising my entire CD/Record collection to some new filing system I've thought of in the pub (alpha-geographical is still my favourite).  I love the whole multi-sensory experience you get from owning an album on CD or Vinyl Record.  Compare that to 'right click, play'.  It's just not the same.

Of course, not every album makes me feel this way, but that's a matter of taste isn't it? I'm absolutely sure that there isn't an album on the market today that someone, somewhere, doesn't feel the same way as I do about Elliott Smith, Clouds Taste Metallic or Deserter's Songs.  I know I'm being terribly idealistic, but shouldn't great music, like all great art, be idealistic.  Is it too much to ask for bands to put more emphasis on making music than making profit?  Don't kill the album for the sake of keeping Steve Jobs in black polo necks.  There is a place for singles, there always has been and there always will be.  The prominence of downloads has altered our perspective but, as blogs haven't killed novels or Banksy hasn't stopped people attending art galleries, their place should be alongside the physical album, not instead of it.

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3 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Why We Must Save The Album

But Video killed the Radio Star

By kavanelli on   Friday, August 14, 2009
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Re: Why We Must Save The Album

So this is my fault? ;D

I'd agree with Tim Wheeler (a man who can write great singles): more often that not I feel ripped off by albums. Acts seem to feel obliged to make albums almost as soon as they form; it's the wrong mentality. The value of albums has been debased by long-players that are nothing more than EPs watered out to fill 35 minutes.

And your argument about the pleasure of buying hard-copy albums is fairly tenuous. You get pleasure from the physical qualities CDs, which has no absolutely connection to getting pleasure from the content of CDs.

By aidan on   Friday, August 14, 2009
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Re: Why We Must Save The Album

I Blame Cultural Imperialism. When kids are saturated with Radio 1/MTV/American Idol they know no other way. I can't stand the wee Blades on Bebo who have Journey's 'Don't Stop believing' on their Video Box. It represents everything that was bad about 80's Chart Music.

People say Sheep follow the herd, but coming from a Farming Background I know that Cows are even more Populist.

Fortunately I've got a Digital Radio and can listen to 6 Music. :)

By Desmond Devlin on   Friday, August 14, 2009