In our streaming world, full albums are not what they once were. Life on shuffle is a great way to mix things up, but society absolutely still needs full albums. Here’s why.
It’s me. I’m society.
This is an incredibly personal topic for me, and I realize that the sentiments that will follow don’t apply to everyone. It all depends on how you actually listen to music. If you just listen to the newest popular songs that come out, you’ll have an endless stream of tracks to enjoy at any time, in any order, and that’s great for you. It doesn’t work for me.
If music is just going to be my background noise for working or playing or whatever I’m doing, then a playlist of random tracks is much more feasible. But if I really want to dig deep into the aural expressions of my favorite artists, then I absolutely must sit down with a full album. It may seem like an archaic way of listening to music for some, but for others, this is the way.
For some artists, any given single may actually be a great representation of who they are and what they sound like. For many others, however, any single cross-section of their music is not an accurate depiction of the breadth of their sound.
Some tracks may stand great on their own, but others won’t make any sense at all without the context that a full album provides. Imagine listening to a power ballad and thinking that’s all that band does, when the band in question is, say, Metallica. You’d have no idea what they’re really capable of, and what the song really means within the context of the album that it’s on.
Additionally, without full albums, we’d lose the art of the interlude. Whether it’s a beautiful chorale that lies smack dab in the middle of a metal album or a skit on a rap album, transitional tracks are among the best parts of listening to a record in its entirety, but have no place otherwise. We can’t lose them.
I have to resist the urge to dive too deep into this, the nerdiest of points I could make. Concept albums are such incredible displays of creativity and the synergy of music and storytelling. Many of my favorite albums of all time are concept albums.
They’re so emotionally and intellectually engrossing when done right. A collection of otherwise unrelated tracks is great, but when each song comes together to form a gripping narrative, it bonds the listener with the album in ways that are otherwise unattainable.
Concept albums are risky, though. They are at peril of descending into corny and convoluted territory. Pulling off a truly great story in musical form requires a deft hand, but if we lose full albums, artists will lose the ability to try, and that’s really sad to me.
Put on your fedoras and whip out your beard oil, because we’re driving through hipster country. Vinyl records are one of the only enduring pillars of the music industry, even if they have been resurrected by douchebags in coffee shops.
Collecting vinyl records is a hobby that’s a bit too rich for my blood, but I support it wholeheartedly in theory. I’d love to be able to amass a collection of my favorite albums, pull one off the shelf, place the needle, and be whisked away by the wonderful sounds contained therein, all while I appreciate the visual feast that has been carefully curated for me in the gatefold.
Sure, vinyl singles do exist as well, but beyond the novelty of collection, what’s the point? Putting a record on just for one song just seems like such a pain in the ass. You’d have to keep getting up every few minutes just to switch to a new song. That’s not a problem if you’ve got a full album, though.
Album Of The Year
Everyone loves a top ten, right? How else do we validate our own opinions? While you certainly can count down the best songs of the year, it’s just not the same. Ranking individual tracks instead of entire albums feels less artful somehow. You’re not a real critic if you’re assessing individuals’ songs only. You need the albums. You need Anthony Fantano.
Year-end lists are such a great way to discover new music, and while you can do just that with individual tracks, once again it’s just not the same. Any artist can write one single banger, but to come out with an entire album that’s great from start to finish? Now that’s something worth celebrating.
There’s a reason hasitleaked.com still exists. The months of buildup in between the announcement and release of a new album is one of the best parts. With every new single that gets put out in the lead-up to the full album fills you with so many emotions. The highs and lows of waiting for the newest output from your favorite band are some of the best parts of being a music fan.
Imagine if an artist posted on social media that they’d be putting out one new song three months from now. They’d come across as completely insane. No, the hype only works for full albums. What’s great is that they get the best of both worlds. You get to enjoy a few new tracks on their own ahead of the entire package. That’s how it should be.
The Best Songs Aren’t Singles
This may be a bit of a hot take, but with few exceptions, a band’s best songs are never their singles. Generally speaking, the singles are the most commercial and least artistic songs in a band’s catalog. Depending on what you listen for, that might be exactly what you want. You only want straight-forward, catchy songs to sing and dance to, and that’s great.
If you’re like me and many others, however, that just doesn’t work. It’s the deep cuts on the albums that really showcase the full range of expression. You really get to know your favorite artists better with these tracks. They tend to be the most experimental and personal songs penned by the band. If streaming revolutionizes the industry in such a way that full albums disappear, we may never get to experience these different sides of the musicians that fill our lives with such joy and understanding.