Lately, I've been listening to The Friendship Onion, the podcast by Dom Monaghan and Billy Boyd. Yes, Merri and Pippin from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Besides being hilarious, they often talk about music and which records they're listening to while being prepped for the shoot.
I realized once again how dramatically the way we listen to music has changed in the last 20 years. And it made me a bit sad.
The Downfall of the Album
I was born in 1990, when the music business was still flourishing. Everybody threw out their vinyl collections and bought everything on these shiny new compact discs. What a time to be alive.
Albums made still a lot of money and defined the listening experience. I've described in a previous episode how certain records like Eric Clapton's Unplugged or Paul Simon's stunning Graceland somewhat coined my taste and personality.
The first CD I bought with my own money was the debut album by Lil Bow Wow. Remember That's My Name? "Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay." Arguably not the smartest buy in history.
However, we were heading in a different direction. We all had some sort of compilation CDs at home. Bravo Hits, The Dome, or Boom. They resembled today's playlist ecosystem. Many of us listened to the charts on public radio and taped the songs we loved.
Paired with the discovery on MTV or VIVA, we were destined to be a playlist generation.
The internet came along. Albums were expensive. 20 Swiss francs per CD. Naturally, we took to P2Ps like Limewire, eMule, or Napster. And the rise of MP3 players, with Apple's iPod and iTunes at the helm, the album died slowly and silently.
The Tinder of Music
Jumping to 2021, the album is as irrelevant as never before. Playlists and their curators are the tastemakers. They decide over the success or failure of a new song. Everything is playlisted. And yes, I'm part of that environment with Weekly5.
No doubt, playlists, like mixtapes, serve a function. They are excellent to discover artists from a particular genre. Or they provide the perfect backdrop to a specific mood. However, if you're looking at music as a form of art rather than a convenience, one must mourn the death of the album.
Playlists are the Tinder of music. You skip through the songs, and maybe you'll hear something you like.
On the other hand, an album is more like an actual date. You listen closely; you're engaged for an extended amount of time. There's a surprise element because you never know what's ahead. And ultimately, you're bonding deeply with an artist's work.
Enjoy the Depth
Admittedly, this is entirely subjective; my most profound connections with musicians stem from listening to their albums in their entirety. I've discovered The Cure with The Head On The Door, The Beauty of Gemina with A Stranger to Tears, Adna with Run, Lucifer, or the White Lies with Ritual. And there are countless other examples.
Albums are like paintings, and each song is a stroke with a pencil. Looking at the individual colours might bear a beauty, but looking at the whole work holds a different kind of admiration. Only albums truly reflect all facets the musicians might have to offer. It's required to truly grasp an artist.
The album always conveys a message itself; it's a meter for the band's state, and – in its best cases – also of society.
So, here's my plea for you: If you discover artists within the Weekly5's collection, take a break and listen to an album of them. You'll find a new appreciation for their work.
Now, I'm curious what you think about playlists and albums. Do you still listen to entire albums? Or are you a complete playlist person? Share your thoughts in a comment. Or reply to this newsletter, and let me know how you listen to music.
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All the best,