A few years back, I wrote a blog about Slow Food. It was kind of an odd topic, given that this is a blog about being a Duran Duran fan. While you can read the blog here, it was about the convenience factor of MP3’s versus vinyl. I thought about that post as I wrote this one today.
What is an album, anyway?
I don’t quite remember the date I wrote that blog (I should have looked and didn’t), but here we are in 2020, and while vinyl has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence, it isn’t as though one can carry vinyl along with them and play them. Streaming has become much more popular since the time I wrote that post. Using my own kids as the example, they almost never buy music.
Read that last sentence again. My three kids (I have a 23-year old daughter, a 20-year old son, and my youngest girl is 11) almost never buy music. They all stream. No one buys a thing, besides the premium subscriptions to whatever streaming service used, of course. I try not to think about that very often, because it makes my heart and head hurt. No liner notes? What about the album covers? No comforting hiss as the needle connects with the vinyl groove?? What?? Everything is played on a phone or a computer, streamed through a Sonos speaker (an obvious plug for my husband’s company!), or whatever-you-prefer.
Essentially, this means that for the sake of argument, kids today don’t really know what it means to have a cohesive, seamless album. To them, it is a collection of songs, and that’s at BEST. Many times, it isn’t even that. It’s one song. Maybe they put it into a playlist, maybe they just do a shuffle of a variety of artists/bands they like.
What do you mean, a collection of songs?
This is incredibly different this is from my own listening habits. Even when I stream, it is rare that I don’t listen to a full album at a time. I don’t like the idea of jumping around, particularly when we’re talking about *gasp* listening to more than one artist at a time. I like hearing a full album from one artist – start to finish – and then moving on. Maybe I’ve just got a raging case of OCD!
The thing is, I believe each album tells a story. It’s up to the listener to get it – but it’s there to consume. At the very least, each album is a snapshot of that period in time. I like that. To me, Paper Gods, for example, is a tale of the band’s career from their beginnings to 2015. Seven and the Ragged Tiger as another example, is about dealing with fame and success. When I listen to those albums (and the others as well), I think about the lyrics, the music, and what the band may have been trying to communicate at the time. For me, that’s a huge part of the listening experience.
As much as I feel like my way – consuming the album as the artist intended – is right, there are many other people who like the idea of an album just being a collection of songs. Sometimes, the song order needs a good tweaking. Maybe the album order really has no purpose other than how it ended up on the record! Perhaps the album order isn’t as much about telling a story as placement for commercial purpose. I’m sure that somewhere, there’s a study proving that most people only listen to the first 3 songs on each side of an album, and that the front (A) side is listened to twice as often as the B side. I’m not surprised.
I want the fairy tale
My problem, is that I still want to believe in the fairy tale. I want to believe that every album has a story, that the band still loves making music for the artful sake of it. Tours are done because they enjoy playing live, and that they do the meet and greets with fans because they like them. I want to still believe they play where they want, and that business has little to do with it. How cute, right?
Cognitively though, I know that money drives most every decision they make, because it must. Someone has to be thinking about the bottom line, am I right? Writing this blog for close to a decade hasn’t always made it easy to believe in the romance of fandom. I know, for example, that after forty years, a lot of this is just the “grind” to them. They didn’t sell-out, they’ve been doing business! A band does things like put out five versions of an album, or releases concert dates like a coffee drip because it makes them money. They don’t announce dates because they want the same diehard fans to be able to travel from show-to-show. In actuality, they don’t care who is the seats as long as there’s a warm body in them. Even so, from time to time, I still want that fandom fairy tale. No, I don’t just want it, I need it. So for me, the album becomes a story that only a fan would completely understand.
With all of that in mind, there’s nothing wrong with seeing an album as a simple collection of songs. After all, once the band has finished their writing, recording, engineering and mixing, and the album has been mastered and finally released – it is no longer theirs. It is their gift, or their work, for those who wish to consume it. Their blood, sweat, laughter, and tears ends up in our ears, to have and hold. To listen, reimagine, and rearrange. It then becomes our own story, the way we wish to hear it. I can’t fault anyone for going the extra mile between skipping a song – which lets face it – we all tend to do from time to time, and rearranging an album. The way you listen to Duran Duran isn’t a determining factor of fandom.
I do wonder though, how many people out there really listen to an album as it is originally released, and how many like to change it up? I don’t mean putting entire albums into a massive playlist and hitting ‘shuffle’, I mean single albums. Do you listen to them ‘as is’, or have you created your own version? Why or why not? Drop me a line and let me know!