Time to sound the death-of-the-album klaxon again
Another day, another death-of-the-album scare – but no-one seems to have told the artist
There are times when the world needs a public alert system to warn unsuspecting innocents about various ne’er-do-wells approaching or making eyebrow-raising pronouncements. You could have one every time Gerry Adams tweets about his teddy bear, for example, or when John Waters talks about the horrors of online media or every quarter when radio stations spin their JNLR figures (they’re always going up). Music fans and those who follow the music business beat should also have one when another death-of-the-album story appears. If we had one, it would be going off rather loudly and persistently at the moment.
The reason for the latest appearance of this perennial story is down to the latest US sales figures. They’re not pretty but, then again, sales figures in general have not been pretty for some time, if you take what passed for album sales in the 1980s as the norm that the industry wishes to return to. The current sales tallies haven’t been as bad in two decades, though it has to be noted that sales actually went up and down like a yoyo between then and now. Then, there’s also the not insignificant matter that we’re talking about people choosing between new releases from Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Fifth Harmony.
What’s fascinating about this latest outbreak of handwringing and navel-gazing is that, as always when this story rears its head, is that very little thought is given to the fact that artists are still making albums. As I wrote back in April, “the people who make the albums don’t seem to be reading from the same script. Few have asked the musicians if they’re ready to retire the album – and very few musicians have abandoned the format.”
New acts still want to make albums as artistic statements and established acts still see albums as the ideal format to present their music and you’ll find no argument from me or many other music fans on this score. As long as the acts keep on making albums, we’re going to keep on getting them. While there have been a few acts who’ve turned their back on the album – Ash most famously did so and haven’t released an album since 2007′s “Twilight of the Innocents” – the vast majority still exist in an album-tour-album-tour cycle. You could argue that it would suit many acts to break out of this, but most full-time acts persist with this because it makes sense somewhere along the line.
The album was born of technology – the long-playing disc came about thanks to the introduction of new vinyl discs which played for about twice as long as the then traditional 78 RPM discs – yet the many changes in technology which we’ve seen of late have not killed off the album. Even with the move to streaming and the single track currency which dominates that exchange, the album continues to dominate musicians’ discourse. Acts simply want to make an album and to take their sweet old time doing so. Even record labels, the ones who’re at the coalface when it comes to seeing the collapse in sales of the format, work to a schedule promoting albums.
So, what’s going to change, if anything? Are we forever doomed to hear that death-of-the-album klaxon once or twice a year when the latest tallies come in, while the artists merrily go about their business ignoring the doomsayers? I know there are a fair few artists who read OTR who may have some thoughts on this – artists who may well be recording or writing material for an album right now – so the floor is theirs.