Tuesday 18 January 2011

Bullshit detector

Just under a year ago I had a personal rant in a notebook about Guy Garvey of Elbow getting all precious about people downloading individual tracks from Seldom Seen Kid. At the time I thought about posting about it here but then got over it. Then today a similar rant raged through my head as I read an article on the BBC News website about a record club that believes albums have to be listened to in their entirety, as the artist intended. No skipping, no playing just one track, no playing out of order! They are proudly anti-download.

I felt the blood pressure rising. So in response, and as a cathartic act, I felt I had to post about such bullshit. Stop reading now if you are not in the mood for an opinionated rant.

So, first up, I've dug out my notebook from a year ago and here's what I wrote on 27 March 2010:
"Some may care that Elbow spent two hours in the studio arguing about whether the gap between tracks should be three seconds or two and a half. Fine, they can listen to the CD in its entirety. But there are a couple of tracks on Seldom Seen Kid that I really got into walking to work, a walk that is decidedly shorter than the album length. I kept repeating these tracks to concentrate on different aspects of the songs; the rhythm, the lyrics, the bass, the vocal intonation, etc… just as people have different learning styles, I believe people have different listening styles as well and it is up to the individual to decide how they listen to something. I'm a lover of the portable stereo, as it used to be called. From the age of 15 I don't think I've been anywhere without a walkman, minidisc or within the last 6 years, several generations of iPod. I used to love mix tapes, compilation CDs for the car and now shuffle and personal playlists. That is my choice."

But back to now:
I'm so tired of artists being so precious about their work. Let it go. People who know me well will agree this is a bit of a bug bear of mine, but what got me today with the article on the BBC News website was that it wasn't just the ego filled artist vomiting such pretensions, but pedantic listeners unleashing their fascistic world view of what constitutes an artistic experience, as if they have the right to make that call. For a start the argument is full of holes—artists don't write and record songs in the order they present them on a record, nor do they play a record live from start to finish (excepting the recent trend of 'classic' albums being performed in the whole as an obvious cash cow for ideas defunct performers to milk). Are these music Nazis really telling me that The Clash's Sandinista! isn't a better record when edited down to about 14 tracks? Or that The Beatles White Album isn't a far superior record without Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da confined to the trash? Is there really a Squarepusher CD that works from start to finish? (Leave it Roki!)

No artist or fan has the right to dictate how a work is consumed once it has been unleashed on the world. I've bought the license to listen to it, it is mine now. If a band wants to retain total control over their commodity then they shouldn't release it. Pompous precious fucking artists and their ego massaging hangers on really piss me off.

Right, that's got that out of my system.

BBC News Anti-shuffle brigade


Chris Bright said...

I agree with the base idea of the grouping but it would entirely depend on the album and people your with I feel, Im also an avid one track ipod user but there is still a sense of excitement clambering through a whole album piece with someone else. Surely side changes on vinyl is a cue for a cheeky ciggy or drink top up though!

Steven Ball said...

even Pink Floyd have given up on that one:
but then they're way more interesting than Elbow ;)

Dubdog said...


Anonymous said...

And then after all that artistic integrity, the record label will release a version with some outtakes, and a single and a couple of extra tracks with different mixes, just like they were flogging a commercial product to turn a fast buck ...

Dubdog said...

Funny that.

Anonymous said...

An artist can say that the album should be listened to in it's entirety, but in this digital age of being able to buy the odd track off an album, that just cannot be impressed on people. The artist will still release singles to promote the album, which goes against their argument anyway since it's a song on its own - much like shuffle.
One way for them to get around the problem is to release their material as a single track, which most recently has been done by Linkin Park with their 'A Thousand Suns: The Full Experience' alongside the standard release. They suggest that the album should be listened to all the way through, and that's an way to force people do it, but the option is still there to select single tracks.
Another way is that if an album has a story thread throughout it, a listener may be more inclined to listen from start to end, rather than just a collection of songs that work just as well in any order.
Personally I prefer to listen to albums in full, only on the odd occasion hitting shuffle, though I'm not one for believing that an album must be listened to that way or be forced into it.
[/my two cents].

Unknown said...

Linking in with Scott's comment about being in the digital age...

Surely if they really want one to listen to the whole album at once they should just release in a retro cassette tape format. That way, one would assume that the listener will not spend time rewinding or fast-forwarding to a specific song; and thus listen to the whole album at once.