Is the Album Dead?

Just before Christmas, I took up the offer that Spotify had been nagging me with for about half a year of three months free ‘premium’. I did it because I’d been asked to put provide the background music for the office Christmas party and didn’t really want my awesome Christmas playlist (sans Do They Know it’s Xmas – as requested) to be interrupted by truly shitty adverts. 

My intention was to just cancel Premium and go back to the free, ad-supported, version before I had to start paying the monthly fee. 

But I’ve changed my mind. Why? One word. Albums. 

Let me explain. 

I mostly use Spotify on my phone, either with earphones when out on my lunchtime stroll or walking the dog in the evenings or at the weekend or to stream a playlist through my car’s stereo while driving. And for these purposes, a few adverts dotted here and there and a playlist on shuffle is just fine. It’s like listening to the radio. 

But then I realised that you don’t have to use shuffle on your phone with Premium (it’s mandatory on the ad-supported version). Which means that I could, if I wanted to, listen to a playlist or, more importantly, an album all the way through in the right order. 

And what a realisation that was! 

I’ve had my current car for two years now and it doesn’t have a CD player. CD players are pretty much obsolete these days—or so I’m told. So when I realised I could play an album in the order that the artist intended, I did just that. The past couple of weeks I’ve been listening to some ‘classic’ albums—by which I mean, albums released when I was growing up and during my twenties. 

I still can’t get over the fact that (What’s the Story) Morning Glory is considered a classic album. It’s contemporary to me God-Damn It! 

And listening to some of these great (and merely just ‘good’) albums, got me thinking… 

Is the album as I knew it growing up, dead? Are fan curated “playlists” the new album? Do albums matter anymore? 

I suppose I first have to define what I mean by an “album”. To me there were always two types of album—the single artist album and the compilation, like the Now that’s What I call Music series. 

I think it’s fair to say that compilation albums are pretty much obsolete in the streaming music age, replaced by playlists, curated by artists, fans, the streaming service or even automatically based on your listening history. 

What about are single artist albums? Are they still a ‘thing’? Do the youth of today ever listen to a new album all the way through? 

An album as I knew it, was a collection of about a dozen or so songs, maybe a few less, maybe a few more, all of a similar style and perhaps with a common theme. And an artist may well produce two albums that were different enough that a track from one would feel out of place on another. Madonna is a good example of this. A track like Express Yourself while fitting the style of Like a Prayer, would have felt out of place on the “Music from and inspired by the film Dick Tracy” album that followed it, I’m Breathless. 

A great album isn’t just a collection of songs that contains one or two hits though. The best albums, when listened to as the artist intended, almost tell a story. They certainly take you on an emotional journey. 

And are we missing out on some really great tracks that aren’t “singles” if the album is dying? Tracks like, for example, Me and my Monkey, from Robbie Williams’ Escapology, is a really great song, but at just over seven minutes long it was never going to be played on the radio and so is most definitely an ‘album track’ rather than a “single”. If albums die thanks to the ease of access to hits that the likes of Spotify provides, does that mean we’ll get fewer tracks like Monkey? 

I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting old, but I can’t think of a truly great album of recent times. Not an album that was made to be listened to from beginning to end, without skipping, and was better because of it. Am I wrong? If so, which album should I play next on my commute tomorrow?  

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