With the dawning of the internet age: streaming, downloads, etc. listeners often consume their music randomly, in spurts, jumping from one artist to another. Whether it’s on Youtube, Spotify, or even in personalised MP3 collections, rarely does one artist’s work appear in order, as it was originally intended at publication. And rarely does a selection of the same artist even follow their previous track. With the ever-increasing rate of diversity in media consumption, and the lessening of attention spans, shuffling is becoming the norm. So it brings up the question, is the album dead? And what use did it have anyway?
As mentioned in one of my earlier posts about the art of playing vinyls, the way in which music is listened to has changed dramatically over the years. Yet there are, and most probably always will be, connoisseurs who value the process in all its richness. And surely to get a well-balanced opinion on this matter we must consider both their values and those at the forefront of progression. Even though modern developments are often taken to and become popular with the masses, plenty still also just turn out to be fads, with a return to the old methods occurring soon after.
One of the main arguments would be that the artist intended the songs to be played in that particular order. A lot of effort is put into track listings, to make sure that the album flows, from beginning to end. I mean, you wouldn’t start reading a book at a random chapter, would you? But then again, you might pick out a page of poetry at random, as I often do. But there are many albums where the songs lead into one another, for example: Abbey Road by The Beatles, or Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. It just doesn’t really work unless you listen to them back to back. And in the case of concept albums it is essential that they are played from start to finish, or you really aren’t going to experience the album as it should be.
Another point is that an album represents a point in an artist’s development. The songs belong together. As an artist myself I started making albums at around 14 years old. Much like Daniel Johnston, I then believed I could bypass all that making it bullshit and be a fully fledged pop star in my mind; I could just get on with things by myself, for my own entertainment. And it really helped my process. After finishing an album of songs, I could then review it and learn from the content, thus making the next one better. And so on. But I’m not sure how relevant this is to the consumer, unless they are a huge fan.
I doubt that the album is dead, or ever will be. It perhaps has less importance than it once did, although I think that this is partly due to the ever-growing abundance of music out there. And our modern attitude to media. And also to the digitising of physical ‘products’. But artists will continue to publish works in a collection, it’s just the natural thing to do. And those that want to will consume their works in this intended way. And those that won’t, won’t. In this constantly intellectually blossoming culture that most of us share, you can do anything in any which way that you want really, whether you’re a bit of a technophobe like myself, or passionate about the latest fads like plenty of others. So, I guess the answer is, it’s up to you…
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