People keep asking this question lately, or so it seems. Again. “Is rock dead?” is another one currently en vogue. Again. I’m assuming it’s because we’re still, amazingly, in January and entertainment / music writers have got bugger-all else to write about besides the annual whinge over the BBC Sound of 2011 list.
No, the album isn’t dead. In fact, Sunday-night listening clubs where people gather together to listen to classic 70s rock on vinyl via massive speakers the way God intended are attracting attention in the press. Rock may be absent from the singles charts but it’s alive and kicking, same as ever, in stadiums and 45-minute cohesive artistic statements pressed into vinyl grooves or burnt in binary code into tiny plastic and aluminium sandwiches. Rock loves albums, albums love rock.
Of course every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, and the virtual, 21st century, poptimist, internet-native version of hairy blokes listening to Led Zeppelin II in the back rooms of nightclubs is the online listening room, where you login to an old-fashioned (ha!) chatroom, add an MP3 from your harddrive to the room’s playlist, and share it over the optical-cable ether and whatever crappy laptop speakers they’re listening on with the other occupants. A natural evolution, I guess, or perhaps some kind of unholy union, from regular chartrooms and such social music services as last.fm and Spotify.
Are these two phenomena related, perhaps? A move back towards a social consumption of music after the best part of a decade of white earbuds blocking out as much of the outside world as possible? Perhaps. Certainly I’ve been talking with a friend about setting up some kind of record club, where we gather every few weeks to play each other records, concentrate on them, talk about them, expose each other to stuff outside our usual comfort zones. My wife and I share music to an extent but we know each other and our respective tastes so well, and there are so many other things in our lives together, from cats to cooking to gas bills to whatever, that it sometimes seems impossible to sit and share some music in that kind of indulgent way. Even tonight, while she’s away on work and I’m sitting on the sofa writing this post on the iPad and listening to old Orbital albums, I’m not being as indulgent with my listening as I could be. As immersive. I’m writing. I chose something familiar and without vocals deliberately to act as sensual backdrop to another activity.
But anyway, going back to my thread a little, as much as I love albums, and I do, a lot, albums do not always equal rock, not for me. Not for many, I suspect. My two favourites from 2010 were ostensibly dance records, and the last week has seen me gorging on jazz long players. Nor are albums the only way I consume music; a random retweet of something Rio Ferdinand, of all people, posted on Twitter today inspired me to buy a single song as an MP3 (or M4A, if we’re being technical) from iTunes. I’ve spent early mornings for the last week listening to a playlist of singles from the 1990s, getting friends to send me individual tracks by artists I don’t own albums or physical singles by to flesh-out the list a little. I spent Christmas with a giant playlist of singles. I maintain a massive playlist of b-sides, individual songs I love that have almost no context at all. Sometimes, and get the freaky weirdness and audacity of this, I put an actual CD single in the Rega and just play ONE SONG before changing it for another CD. I imagine that I am very far from rare amongst music fans in loving both albums and individual songs.
Imagine your own pithy closing line about the album being alive and well and living in the front bedroom.