Sunday, June 17, 2007

The End of the Album?

40 years after Sgt. Pepper effectively invented the album as a standalone entity, I read that Irish band Ash have buried it, their new album, their last, and from now on, just recording and releasing single tracks as downloads. Which effectively takes us back to before Sgt. Pepper. Remember even the Beatles and Stones early albums were just collections of songs, reordered for different markets in the UK and US, singles kept off (and Sgt. Pepper would have been a better record remember if it had included Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever!)Anyone with a liking for pre-Beatles pop (the wondrous Shangri-las, much of early Motown, even Elvis), has long been frustrated that the "long player" doesn't do justice to those talents and we are left with a ragbag of greatest hits. What Ash are doing, is admit that bands like them, with a good fan base, and that good British tradition of being a "great singles band", can now forget about recording a "London Calling" or a "Revolver" and concentrate on what they were good at. Formats have always influenced the creative side - the album itself - 20 minutes each side - was originally developed for classical music, to replace a stack of 78s, and it took a decade for its possibilities to be fully explored. Yet, the CD - with its 80 minute playing time bowdlerised this - and there was no longer a concern about which song was at the start and finish of each side. I've never been that keen on the CD as an artistic statement/format - even great albums of the last 10 years ("Californication" say, or "Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space") seem to run out of road after 50 minutes or so. But this is something else, taking us back to a pre-album era, single tracks, e.p.s., clusters of tracks. God knows where the wondrous 12" will be in this new culture, for instance, back to the clubs from which it came I guess. I'm not convinced that bands will go for the radical options that gave us - love it or loathe it - "Bohemian Rhapsody", more likely that those identikit 5 minute songs all with the same dynamic that you find on Coldplay albums will become the norm - after all who'd pay 79p for a 2 minute slice of pop? But the jury is still out - and we could say the album's been dead for a while, yet, and modern classics like my favourite of last year, Midlake's "Trials of Van Occupanther" comes from another era entirely, a CD that wants to be an old fashioned long player. I think only in dance and post-rock has the CD been really explored for what it can do - think Orbital's "Snivilisation" or Godspeed You Black Emperor "F#A#Infinity" for instance - and maybe bands like Radiohead, with their album dynamic being like a particularly intense live show - taking you up, bringing you down. I guess "Dark Side of the Moon" was meant for CD rather than the other way round. I've experimented with the Download EP - and realise I never really took to the CD album format at all - the 23 or so "Albums" I recorded between 1984 and 1998 were all on cassettes that you got to turn over; I've always liked to have 2 sides to my argument!

4 comments:

Richard said...

Can't see the post on Rushdie that has been on the rss feed - merely wanted to say that I agree entirely, though my own experience of reading Midnight's Children was that I couldn't really see what anyone saw in him.

Bournemouth Runner said...

Hmmm. I wrote that post last night, and then deleted this morning. I don't really think I'm qualified to talk about Salman Rushdie. Terrible writer, great agent provocateur that he is, and anything one writes about him will get interpreted wrongly.

Richard said...

I think the issues of freedom of expression for writers and the quality of Salman Rushdie's writing can and should be decoupled, which was rather what I'd interpreted you as saying.

Bournemouth Runner said...

You're absolutely right of course - the decoupling is the critical one, and probably Rushdie's received a disservice over the year's for not just being A.N. Other author. We all think we know Rushdie, because he's such a public figure, and therefore all have an opinion on him - and I've not read enough of him to say anything that isn't a bit of a knee jerk reaction (and I've been trying to stop doing that!)