ASHES TO ASH'S IDEA
Irish indie band Ash have backtracked on plans to abandon releasing albums. Steve Beauchampé, who reckons reports of the demise of the LP album are somewhat premature, isn’t at all surprised.
Video did not kill the radio star, as Chris Moyles’ accountant or Ken Bruce’s bank manager can testify. It didn’t kill cinema either, home taping did not kill music and none of us have ever seen a paperless office.
Technology changes the way we work, rest and play, but the claims made for it are often overblown and less fundamental than predicted. And so it is with the long playing album. I’ve read repeatedly over the last few years that the idea of musicians offering for sale a collection of their recent work as a single entity will soon be as outdated as 8-track cartridges, Betamax video tape or fax machines.
Yet to date, of artists who might be described as being other than at the margins of public consciousness, only Irish band Ash have eschewed the album format - until last week! Following the release of their Twilight Of The Innocents album in 2007, the band announced that henceforth they would produce only singles (or at least individual tracks), primarily available for download. But earlier this month Ash announced that following a year-long programme of releasing internet only singles - a process they are just beginning - the best of them would be made available on an LP album.
Now there may be certain artists and specific genres who have never released albums and don’t plan to start now, but I’m unaware of them (though admittedly my knowledge of dance music, where 12in vinyl singles remain a potent format, is virtually nil). However, amongst western rock, pop, jazz, soul and classical culture - to name just a few genres - the album remains the format of choice for an artist to get their music out. How it’s accessed - whether via the fast dwindling number of record stores or other physical retail outlets, purchased Online and posted to your home, downloaded (even if selectively) from websites legal or illegal, swapped, ripped or borrowed - matters not, fact is that the album remains at the core of the both the musical production and listening experience, even if we skip or shuffle the tracks.
And there’s every indication that it will be so for a long time yet. Because it’s a wonderful format. If the single offers us a chapter or short story then the album is the whole book, a body of work that says “this is where I/we were at, with these musicians and this producer and in this creative space at this specific time.”
Then there’s the commercial imperitives. Take away the album and you take away a major route to publicity. An album brings reviews, interviews, requests for live sessions. If you’ve got a new album to play tracks from (or even your ‘Best Of’ compilation to promote), Jools may book you for Later, Radio 1, 6 Music or Kerrang may get you in for a 30-minute feature. But they generally won’t if your new material consists of a couple of digitised singles, not when everyone else in an ultra-competitive market is offering something more substantial.
And if you’ve no album to have reviewed by the wide range of magazines, newspapers and websites that undertake such tasks, if you’ve no physical product that can be seen, held and passed around (even if it’s a downloaded copy with poorly printed artwork and liner notes), then you may well not get noticed, discussed, argued over, and your hard work may go largely to waste.
The internet provides artists with the chance as never before to offer stand alone tracks, remixes, session or live numbers. It’s fantastic! Fans have never had it so good, as a staggering variety of musicians offer a wider selection of work than ever before - be it long deleted obscurities, unreleased alternate takes or vintage live shows captured by some enthusiast in the crowd with a hand held mic.
Yet the excitement and the anticipation of a new album - a whacking great collection of new material no less - just can’t be matched by the trickling out of tracks new or old over a period of months (the modern day equivalent of acquiring singles and EPs but devoid of the fun of going to the record store and showing your friends the actual artefact).
And album sales, in all their technological guises, are holding up pretty well. They may have peaked, but until somebody devises a more efficient, comprehensive and satisfying way of showcasing where the collective artistic capabilities of a musician, or group of musicians, are at a particular point, the album will continue to form a significant part of how most of us will experience, relate and celebrate the work of our favourite artists - and the mechanism by which those artists will convey that work to us.
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Today's edition of The Stirrer edited by Steve Beauchampé
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