Saturday, April 17, 2010

Not Just Nostalgia

There was plenty of irony in the nostalgia that Malcolm Mclaren's sad death brought out. The punk generation are, unfortunately, now the most nostalgic generation. Old bands who weren't even that good in the first place, are still touring their small back catalogues. Maclaren was no fan of nostalgia, but his death brought out the nostalgic - it was punk rock, the Pistols, Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and "Buffalo Gals" which filled his obituary, not the stuff of his last 25 years.

Today is Record Store Day, which is the indie rock equivalent of the Farmers market. This year it seems to have gone up a notch, with national news coverage. Pleasingly though it has a heady nostalgia for vinyl, rather than CDs (or god forbid, downloads), the USP of Record Store Day is new releases on the medium. I love vinyl, but don't fetishise it. After all, the majority of LPs, 7"s and 12"s I've got aren't particularly the works of art one would hope for. My Bowie albums are the cheap mid-price 80s reissues; the average major label 7" picture cover is far from being a thing of beauty. It is only with scarcity that vinyl has returned to it's early 70s heyday; with a premium price, hand-crafted sleeves, and thicker vinyl.

The NME asked "will we ever feel nostalgic for the compact disc?" after all, we can rip a CD-R for 10p or so, they're disposable coasters. I've more CDs than LPs now; after all I bought my first ("Brotherhood" by New Order) in the mid-80s, an "early adopter." In those days the CD-rack was in the hi-fi shop not the record store, apart from in the bigger shops. I'd actually craved a CD player for the year before I could afford one because of some of the CDs that were being released. There was the Durutti Column's CD only compilation "Valuable Passages", the extra tracks of the Cure's "Staring at the sea - the singles". Getting a £10.99 CD home and finding it had the 35 minutes or so of a vinyl album felt like a real disappointment. Before they were ubiquitous they did appear modern, futuristic - but the 5" CD single, the poor remastering of old albums, and the million sales or more for the diabolical "Brothers in Arms" took away any sense of cool. My favourite band were the Cocteau Twins, and the first of their albums I bought on CD rather than vinyl was 1988's "Blue Bell Knoll". The sound quality, particularly for such ethereal music, as well as the convenience was what I liked about the CD - and still do.

Yet, I can't help but thinking that because the CD is just a container - it's hard to love the medium. Yet, maybe, as everything becomes a download, we remember the first time we bought a particular album on CD. As albums became more bloated in length, the vinyl wasn't long enough to hold them - and if you're a vinyl fetishist these days you can be paying twice or more the cost for that format rather than the CD - and with double CD compilations and the like, you need a virtual boxset to fit all the tracks in. I can't say that I've ever been a fan of the CD-single, though I've hundred of those as well, though I do feel that with the download, I'll  miss the passing of the six remixes or whatever. But I do miss the 12" (or 10") single. The E.P. or extended mix seems a great little format that has drifted into irrelevance. I've got loads of 12" records from the early 80s which see a band expanding their repertoire with longer tracks (such as Psychic TV's "Unclean" or Unknown Cases' "Masimbabele") or with carefully crafted E.P.s.

Truth is, just as its sometimes revealing to re-read poetry in the format in which it originally appeared rather than in the selected or collected, its also important to see how great music first came into my life. You'd hear a track once or twice on the radio, and unless you then went out and bought it, it would become just a memory. I can't imagine that many of the Record Store Day special editions will be for much more than the collector, but I do hope that one or two offer something more than just nostalgia.

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