It has been more than a few years since music industry observers have predicted the end of the album. The full-length album format is often deemed bulky, and goes against today’s constant strive for personalization. Album sales are declining even if music consumption is at an all-time high. Case in point: TuneCore, an independent digital music distributer, confirmed that about 40% of its 2009 sales revenue came from single-track downloads, 57% from streams, and 2.3% from albums. This stings crafty musicians everywhere. Why bother building a musical road-trip if listeners are only going to purchase (nay, download!) the high-speed driving while omitting the rest stops? Certainly, some songs need more than a seconds-long iTunes preview to be fully appreciated. Maybe increased musical freedom of choice has made us all a little too skip-happy. Years ago, one had to press "fast forward" for an indefinite amount of time to skip a song, during which the frantic whirring gears produced the only sound to be heard. The height of inefficiency, as I recall, and a process that caused many muted song beginnings. Thanks to poor access to immediate customization, one simply had to listen to the whole album in its intended order. This resulted in me grudgingly listening to that damn song.
You know, that song. The one that doesn’t fit on the album. The one that has you thinking: what were they thinking? I am not referring to the albums that were clearly vehicles for two or three singles. Innumerable complete albums have that song, lodged in the middle somewhere, that miserable song. Perhaps it is a boring ballad in an otherwise fast-paced record; perhaps it is an experimental track tucked between conventional tunes. It is the song we skip. We do not even deign give it another chance. With my iTunes on shuffle, I have inadvertently listened to seemingly unknown songs before realizing they were simply part of my habitual skipping patterns. To be permanently hushed: a sad musical fate if there ever was one! Should we force ourselves to listen to that song a little more? I have tried to enjoy that song, yet seldom succeeded. The screechiness of Le Robot Sexy (Malajube, Le Compte Complet) still has not won me over, and neither has the sheer boredom of A Man Needs a Maid (Neil Young, Harvest). While Genesis’ Selling England By the Pound is one of my favorite albums, I still despise After the Ordeal… I simply call it “The shitty-song-sung-by-Phil-Collins”. Then again, maybe these artists crafted their album with care and expected listeners to pause and be surprised by that song... maybe?
As personalization of music consumption increases, many (fig.1: myself) do not bother to leave that song on their iPod. It just disturbs an otherwise seamless listening experience, unheard of in the long-gone cassette era. With the trendy return of vinyl records, shall we also live through the return of that song?