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Unlike perhaps a majority of people from my generation, (the MTV or post MTV generation I guess you can call it) I'm a major supporter of the album. I don't think it's because I'm so attached to some of my favorite albums, like Dark Side of the Moon and Abby Road, or even just because my "lucK" with computers over the years has been less than stellar, that I'm partial to collecting and referring to music in terms of albums. Instead, I think it is because an album can be so much more than just a collection of songs, and so I view it as a piece of artwork in itself.
I've written before about how I consider albums to be a snapshot of music in a sense, with the real deal being the live performance, and I mentioned briefly that an album can be a fantastic bit of art in itself. This idea of an album as art, whether directly intentional or not is a big part about why I choose to listen to an album in it's entirety more often than single tracks.
Some albums just lend themselves to complete album listens. The afore mentioned Dark Side of the Moon is a good example. On this legendary album, the songs are stitched together almost like movements of a symphony, creating a complete work. This lends itself to the concept of an album as art quite easily, but I think it applies for less fluid albums as well. Let's look at Nevermind the Bullocks from the Sex Pistols. Another legendary album, but entirely different in just about every way from DSOTM. This album is minimalist almost to extremes, with straight forward recording and just basic tracks, no interweaving or anything. Still, even the order of the tracks creates that snapshot of the music. If we rearranged the songs on this album, it would sound quite different, producing a subtly different effect when listened to all the way through that would really be a new musical snapshot, taking the soungs out of their original context.
The same is true of best of collections, singles and downloaded mp3s. Each of these takes the songs out of their original context, the album, and puts them in a new context... on there own or as part of a singles collection. Sometimes the effect can be subtle and others quite drastic in how the song is perceived. I will almost exclusively choose an entire album over a single track and in most cases, best of collections as well, despite it being far more expensive to build a collection of music this way. These days though, it seems like everyone is pushing for singles, box sets of all the singles from say... 1979... and other methods that just remove the song from it's original snapshot and context.
Another often disregarded and thrown aside part of the album these days art the artwork and liner notes. It's probably only music junkies like me who do this, but I regularly sit and read the liner notes from my music collection while listening to the album and so would never opt for a format where they were not included. You can really learn a lot about the context of the album, the atmosphere of the recording, the band's mindset at the time and the music itself by reading through the lyrics, the other liner notes (thank yous etc), and by looking at the album art chosen to represent the music. Still, album art is also not as big of a focus as it was during the times of legendary album covers like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Led Zeppelin IV, and The Wall. For these albums, the artwork is an integral part and cannot be separated because they're so identifiable. I feel the same way about album art for modern albums as well. Whether intentional or not, that artwork is an integral part of the entire album, snapshot and musical context from that particular time period.
I feel the order of the tracks, the album art, liner notes etc, all combine together to make sort of a multimedia project that is a piece of art itself, separate from the actual songwriting. In recent years this has also come to include DVD extras, which I think are great as another piece of the contextual puzzle, as well. As a music collector, it is these snapshots of context that I collect, not just the actual music, and that is why I like to purchase albums whenever possible.
I called this post "Why We Need to Save the Album... or... Why the Album Will Never Die" because surrounding this issue of the album, there is a debate going on as to whether the days of the album are numbered. The viewpoint that some of the digital community holds is that the album will eventually be phased out because of new digital technology and distribution. If this occurs it would be a tragedy to me to lose the artwork, and context of owning an album entirely.
I do believe music will soon become become revolutionized unlike anyone predicts, by the Internet, but I don't think that this will necessarily mean the death of the album. Instead, I'm torn between these two viewpoints.
1) The album is disappearing and needs to be saved before this art form disappears to be replaced by straight digital singles.
2) The album as an art form will never disappear because of all the parts that go into making them more than just music and indispensable to true fans.
There are plenty of people who appreciate and respect the idea behind a well crafted album and how it can be much more than just a collection of songs. Certainly some of these people will be forming bands and by some sort of magic, these bands will be the ones that release true artwork-esque albums and hence the album will always exist as an art form in some way. At the same time, I also believe that the success, the corporate world and mainstream culture are powerful things and if these large swatches of society move permanently away from albums as an art form, we may not see many bands still putting together complete albums, in stead voting in favor of just releasing singles digitally.
I don't know if it was just because I view music in terms of albums, or because subconsciously I am a little more afraid of albums as art disappearing entirely than I let on, that has led me to write this post, but I know I will always support albums as art and collect the complete artistic package.
If you're a fan of the album as an art form with artwork, liner notes, a specific track order etc, like I am, whether you believe the album will eventually disappear or not, get out there and support the idea of albums as an art form too, just in case they are an endangered species.
If not, maybe go take a listen to a few entire albums by a band, read the liner notes, take a look through the artwork and see how that favorite song of yours fits into the context, time period and overall artistic statement by that band.
Either lets save the album from extinction, or remind ourselves why it will never go extinct.