I love albums. Perhaps this shows my age, I don’t feel very old, but some would say 31 is old… Whatever.
In this day of digital downloads, iTunes, and YouTube there is still nothing I love more that sitting down with a new CD (see I’m not that old, at least its not a vinyl record), pulling the book out and listening to something from beginning to end. There seems to be more artistry behind creating a collection of songs with a general theme, and crafting them in a manner to flow from one to the next before arriving at the end. But today we seem to be in an “Age of the Single.” Between iTunes’ charts to YouTube sensations, is there any room for a genuine album?
This is not the first Age of the Single… Take a look at the 50s and 60s. Labels put out tons of 45s; and often those singles would not be included on a band’s upcoming album, they were truly “a single” release. Only today, with illegal downloads have singles taken on a sightly negative connotation, because folks are often looking for a free single… In time the industry got away from singles as artists focused on creating larger works that listeners and fans wanted to purchase and have the experience of hearing. I believe we are again coming into a similar time. More and more artists are creating great cohesive albums, rather than a motley collection of songs they have recorded.
Where did this whole concept come from you ask? Well, Mr. Frank Sinatra is often credited with having the first one, or at least the first commercially viable album. It was his album In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, released in 1955. It is credited as the first true album because it has a central focus of love lost, longing, and even isolation. This includes the artwork: a lonely Frank on the cover smoking a cigarette in the middle of the night on a street corner. And it is a beautiful album. I got this record in college, and quite frankly I remember it put me in a funk for an entire weekend because I couldn’t tear myself away from it. The album was so beautiful, but so very sad.
Then the Beatles took it to another stratosphere with Sgt. Pepper’s, and other bands followed suit creating great albums.
Perhaps is was New Kids that killed albums, and the later Boy Bands and Rap-Rock scene combined with the advent of the internet and Napster, that put a dampen on artists’ drive to create great albums. Why go to all the trouble of writing and recording a good when folks are just going to download the hits? In fact when my band, The Redaction, had our last album mastered the mastering house gave us an “iTunes master;” masters of the songs without overlap and appropriate lead in/out for the digital download. Of course once a trend sets in, artists often seek to buck it, and now it seems artists are looking to create albums again. Why would musicians want to create albums when they can get by just making a few singles and filler? I believe that an artist who is truly worth their salt longs for the challenge, the scope to express…something. Even Schubert, the great composer of songs longed to write a “true” symphony (people with degrees often think Schubert was a superior writer of songs rather than symphonies, even his symphonies have “song-like” qualities instead of symphonic tendencies).
Some great albums of late:
Just a few years ago, OutKast made Speakerboxx/The Love Below (though it would have been historic had they cut it down to one disc). It was so good that it was the first hip-hop album to win the Album of the Year Grammy. John Mayer’s latest, Battle Studies, is also a great album. Clearly Mayer made an album about the trials of love and his life right now, and technically, he had a vision of instrumentation throughout the songs; creating a sonic theme as well. Within the Christian music scene I really appreciate MercyMe’s The Generous Mr. Lovewell. A concept album within the Christian music genre?! WHAT?! Not another praise and worship album… They really went for it and it works best as an album.
But an album that really made me stop and listen is Gungor’s Beautiful Things. A phenomenal album full of poetry, depth, and superior musicianship; it is just flat out awesome.
Man, I love albums.