Tales from the Jugular

The Death Of The Album

By: Eric Compton
Published: Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The Death Of The Album

The full-length album is dead.

There has been much speculation as to the future of the album as a whole and I will state on record that the album is now officially dead.

What is this about? How does it impact me? Will music continue?

This issue of "Tales From The Jugular" will open up some dialogue on the subject at hand, the death of the full-length album. In the 70s and early 80s the vinyl scene was a way of life for the mop-headed teen. Dust jackets, gatefold LPs, pops and white noise and of course, SHINY BLACK VINYL. Who remembers the original "Shout At The Devil" LP with its gatefold pentagram and the fold out photo of Vince and the boys looking mean as Hell? Or how about cutting open your first "Killers" record and smelling that smell...that smell that only YOU know...the forty-something music fan that knew what it felt like to carry out a heavy LP, shrink-wrapped and shiny and just waiting to pop for your RECORD PLAYER (note not the turn-table of today). The LP meant a full listening experience from beginning to end. You were going to get the intro and outro, the fade-out of a song and the mandatory "flip" at song four or five. As a whole you sit down and fully digested the album the way it was intended, a free flowing work of art that has a beginning and an end just the way the artist intended.

Later came the full length cassette which really continued the same type of listening session. It was very difficult at that time to fast-forward or reverse to the selection you wanted to hear. Most of the time I became just too lazy and absorbed the whole album from start to finish, years later utilizing the Sony invention of not even flipping the tape in my walkman (a small portable tape player that had headphones and hooked on your belt). The walkman had a continuous feature that allowed the luxury of no "tape flipping". Due to this the full-length listen was preserved. The late 80s and all of the 90s was the era of compact disc. This made it much easier to avoid a full listen by simply skipping to the track of choice. I still felt that the compact disc preserved the entire listening session because it finally made it available to listen to a DIGITAL version of the album in its complete sequence from start to finish. Artists began experimenting with the compact disc by adding extra content, bonus songs and at times strange sequencing. Bands like Danzig and Overkill added extra material to the very end of a recording by utilizing high track numbers such as 66 or 99. It made the album have an even broader range and an almost intimate listen.

The late 90s and the 00s welcomed in the digital era, which would become the portable age of music. iPods and MP3 players allow music fans to load their own content in whatever sequence or "mix" they would like. The digital era was THE "mix-tape" on steroids, myself taking tons of music and combining it as playlists ranging from exercise to night time to baby making. Seriously. I converted hundreds of discs, tapes and albums into digital format, stored them in iTunes and external hard drives and loaded whatever I felt like on my player, therefore completely butchering the music in a way that was not intended. So what would the artist think about this?

What does Metallica think if "Master Of Puppets" is absorbed without "Orion", the neat instrumental that helps create some atmosphere and space between the thrash assault of the full album?

What if I just "trim" off the horrible record player sound at the beginning of "Fast As A Shark"? Did Accept just intend to immediately melt your face or set you up for a little relaxation before the sonic explosion?

Perhaps Blind Guardian feels that individual tracks on "Nightfall In Middle Earth" should not be heard unless the spoken movie-like commentary between songs is fully digested first, a cinematic experience from beginning to end.

The list goes on and on and on. Let's say the "Foreplay" is stripped from Boston's self-title. How about removing the multiple filler from a Van Halen album? Doesn't the artist want you to hear the album the way they intended? Maybe "Foreplay" really is a sexual reference leading into the act's "Long Time". Obviously the band wanted you to hear that selection in sequence (both parts on one track by the way).

I removed all of the above from my digital versions. My Boston doesn't have the "Foreplay" portion. I chose not to keep "Orion" or the spoken passages on "Nightfall In Middle Earth". I have single-handedly edited, trimmed, deleted and...for lack of a better term...surgically operated on the band's art form because I could.

Artists have realized this and as Bob Dylan says, "The Times They Are A Changin'". I have noticed over the last two years that more and more bands are releasing singles, EPs and exclusive content that either comes well before an actual album or simply exists on its own with no full-length affiliation at all. We have now entered the age where the full-length album listen doesn't matter or just isn't preferred in the first place. I tend to download an album and hit three to six choice cuts and just ignore the rest unless it is a masterpiece...and let's face it most aren't. My drive to work and my daughter's school allows me four to five songs. That is, at most, ten songs I can hear in a day with my schedule. I want to concentrate that listening on songs I really like. Why waste that time hearing an intro or outro, a not-so-fantastic instrumental or spoken passage?

Bands can hit multiple store sites like iTunes, Zune, and Napster and allow fans to purchase one to all songs from an album. Furthermore most bands aren't creating or offering intros or filler tracks. It is "meat and potatoes" on each track simply because at the end of the day that song is worth a buck (the universal exchange rate works out to a buck a song). You see more and more acts releasing multiple singles well in advance of an actual album. Examples...

Killswitch Engage had tremendous success releasing their cover of Dio's "Holy Diver" in digital format. That song wasn't available on any album until a re-issue of "As Daylight Dies" almost a year later. The band made it a huge live hit, a promo video and of course the online purchase without an affiliation to an actual full-length album. Right now as we speak Bullet For My Valentine have released three online singles for their album "Fever" which isn't even set for release until April of 2010. The first single came out in February followed by two additional selections from the album in the form of pay-for-digital content. Huge acts like Metallica and Pearl Jam have ignored album affiliation and released bootleg live albums, songs and exclusive content without an actual record to back it with. You could look at the new heavy metal label stance where bands release one song from an album and then add an additional three to four non-album tracks. This is the old "single" theory from the 90s where a band like Megadeth would release "Symphony Of Destruction" with one non-album track and a few live choices. You could buy a single back then for about $4 bucks. Bands like U.D.O, Sonic Syndicate, Masterplan, Rage, Grave Digger and In Flames have all released album "teasers" in the form of exclusive content that can be purchased as a digital download well in advance of a physical full-length recording. There is no "full" listening session so to speak because you are experiencing individual songs with no long term thought or set-up. A song is a song. Period.

I think with all of the above happening the final step has been taken in the form of the Rockband Network. The company has made a fortune selling games and equipment to play with XBox, Wii and Playstation consoles. My family has several games related to Rockband including The Beatles, Rockband 1 and 2 as well as numerous downloads of my favorite songs. I've played mad skinsman and guitar virtuoso to Megadeth, Pat Benatar, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden just to name a few. Now the Rockband Network has opened its doors to allow any artist to upload digital content and share with music fans and gamers and earn up to thirty percent of the income. The bands can use authoring tools and a $100 membership to Microsoft's XNA Creators Club and create song content at about .99 to $2.99. Think about how many mainstream to underground acts will now upload digital and "exclusive" songs giving them full exposure to a global mass of listeners. For example you hear a Motorjesus tune, strut your stuff on the game and then hop on iTunes or Zune and grab it for a buck. You could have a one hit wonder making bucks without an actual record release. This is the actuality of today's digital age and the pay-for-song mindset that we are in, myself included. I've discovered lots of great oldies just playing the game so think about grabbing a few new artists and checking out tunes while you game it up. I would imagine in some cases these bands may even offer the music as a free download just to encourage ticket sales, web hits or to purchase the digital song online.

The possibilities are now endless for bands WITHOUT releasing one single record.

Welcome in the new age and a brand new day. The album is dead. The song...oh the song is very much alive.

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