So Thom Yorke has come out and declared the album is dead. Well, if not dead it's certainly lying in intensive care with a cracked case and a terminal cache of scratches on the CD. Since the advent of iTunes, the trend has been that no one under 20 buys CDs any more. And why would they? The things get ripped straight onto computers and then what use are they? To load into your discman on the train? I'm afraid this, along with lying on your bed reading lyrics in six-point, is relegated to the '90s along with rollerblading and vienettas. Now we get an album cover gravatar and a tracklist destined to be corrupted by file sharing cowboys and DJ shuffle.
In the past singles have been used as an incentive to sell the album. Now, the concept of buying a CD single is laughable (they're $10, when a single song is $1.70). Instead, kids are happily breaking up albums like chocolate bars to get the no obligation songs they like. At best, they may grace the others with a thirty second audition. This is why songs need good hooks, for the iTunes preview.
Spare a thought for the poor musicians, who spend the best part of a year and tens of thousands of dollars painstakingly recording their six string super hits in 24-bit high definition, only to have it crudely crushed into an mp3 and listened to through flat earphones. Those of you who take music for granted should realise the audio quality of an mp3 compared to a CD is like going from a five course Indian banquet down to a sausage roll. Music isn't just about that awesome guitar riff or those pounding synth drums, it's about the texture of the high treble frequencies blending with the mid-level tones and the soothing sub-bass. Just think of the loud shirted, poor postured, questionably hygiened producer who has sat at the mixing desk labouring for months to ensure the song reaches your ears with just the right blend of equalisation. Every time you listen to your iPod, he cries. (More to do with his marriage but still...)
So, is our lord and saviour Thom Yorke correct in peering down from his post-EMI pedestal and declaring the album dead for us non-visionary plebs? Part of me says 'screw you dude.' I've waited my whole life to be able to make an album. To feel the electric rush of running a knife along the box and opening it up to see the ribbed canvas of a hundred identical spines glowing back at me. To lie in bed listening to my own ideas and sonic creations purring back through the cradle of compression and the gloss of mastering. I think of the hours I've dedicated to the finer details, like the right sequencing of tracks, and how that will ultimately be broken by someone who 'grabbed a heap of shit off a mate's iPod.'
Though the album may be dying, music itself is thriving. It's never been so accessible, and despite the file share explosion, there has been an apparent revival in young people buying vinyl. For now, it means that dads like me pushing thirty can proudly bang on about how great CDs were to a generation who can't quite hear because they're partially deaf, with a face full of sausage roll.
Justin performs as The Bedroom Philosopher and writes for Frankie, Jmag and The Big Issue www.bedroomphilosopher.com