Death of the Record?

Matteo discusses if it's the end of the road for albums as we know them...

Vinyl lovers, maybe it’s time to come to terms with the demise of ‘traditional ways’ to listen to music. With an increasing number of mainstream artists shirking from conventional long-plays, we may just be on the brink of the death of the record.

Black Eyed Peas’ comeback single ‘Street Livin’’, minus the unfortunate absence of Fergie, was a fantastic return to form – catchy, message-motivated and (praise the Lord!) composed with actual instruments, the track evoked memories of the band’s glory days while still managing to sound fresh and modern. This could have been from the more relaxed, quasi-reggae records Behind the Front or Bridging the Gap.

Unfortunately, fans were left disappointed when will.i.am announced that the Peas will not be working on a new record, announcing that “A record is so limited to the kind of things we want to do”. The band’s frontman also stated that 2017’s big records – those released by Miley Cyrus, Katie Perry and Taylor Swift – simply “came and went”.

Of course, Black Eyed Peas weren’t the first group in recent memory to voice their disenchantment with the traditional LP format. After releasing 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams – which came just a year after their poorly-received Ghost Stories – Coldplay’s Chris Martin stated he would “be very surprised if there was another conventional Coldplay album”.

“Some artists who are still releasing records are finding new ways to do so”

That doesn’t mean Martin and co. are giving up music quite yet, though. Since then, they have released the Kaleidoscope EP which, while also acting as a ‘companion piece’ to A Head Full of Dreams, allowed the famously-experimental band to play around with sounds even they might not necessarily want on a ‘conventional Coldplay album’, such as the chart-dominating synth-pop of ‘Something Just Like This’.

Some artists who are still releasing records are finding new ways to do so. Kanye West’s phenomenal The Life of Pablo remains, two years later, online-exclusive, with West re-engineering the final product long after its initial release. Indeed, the hip-hop chameleon had previously announced plans to release a ridiculously-titled follow-up, Turbo Grafx 16, in the same year, but since then the project has apparently been dropped, with no word on when Kanye will – if he ever does – release a new cohesive body of songs.

“Artists seeking new ways to release music is by no means a bad thing”

While some ‘traditional’ music fans might mourn the day when the LP finally meets its inevitable demise, artists seeking new ways to release music is by no means a bad thing. Electronically releasing chiefly singles and EPs might even help to resurrect, ironically, another mini-art form the rise of digital music ironically seemed to squash stone-dead – the B-side.

These tracks were often not excluded from records’ track-listings due to their inferior quality (indeed, Oasis has a reputation for releasing B-sides often far superior to their album tracks), but because they didn’t seem to fit in with the ‘vision’ of the record. Instead, they’d be slapped onto the end of singles. But as streaming services have rendered the purchase of physical singles a Massive Waste of Money™, these often experimental/acoustic/quirky outtakes have all but disappeared from the current musical landscape.

“There is still an appetite out there for the traditional record”

That is not to say that all musicians are turning away from the album as an art form. Dua Lipa has managed to shift 1.2 million copies of her eponymous debut on the back of instant club classics such as ‘New Rules’, proving that there is still an appetite out there for the traditional record.

By shirking the traditional album format, artists will be able to release their best songs and avoid all the fluff and filler often crammed into LPs simply to make them abide by the laws of a ‘traditional record’. It seems, though, some artists are already learning from this – Drake’s More Life (which contains two more songs than the already overly-bloated Views) was branded as a mix-tape rather than a record, a collection of songs which can be dipped in and out of rather than created with the intention of being listened to in a certain order.

So, while the record doesn’t seem to be showing any sign of biting the dust just yet – even this year audiences are anticipating massive releases from bands such as Arctic Monkeys and The 1975 – the experimentation necessitated by the exponential popularity of streaming services has led some artists to reconsider the best ways of releasing their music and realising their visions. This guarantees a much more interesting and diversified music landscape than one which an over-saturation of traditional LPs allows.

Matteo Everett

Featured image courtesy of Isobel Sheene. 

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