Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Albums Still Matter, Dammit!

I still buy albums.

That's right, you heard me! I am still a member of the ever-decreasing group of law-abiding music purchasing peeps who will gladly part ways with hard-earned cash in order to obtain an album of their choosing.

Now, let's get one thing straight - I'm not trying to talk myself up here. I simply feel the need to clarify this fact before diving directly into why I love the album format as much as I do. It would mean far less for me to sit here and profess my undying dedication to long players while simultaneously downloading the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album from Pirate Bay, would it not?

Now, If I'm being completely honest, the choice to not download really has S.F.A to do with the illegality of it all. At the end of the day, comes down to one thing, and one thing only -  to my personal preference to own the whole, complete package. A CD or Record full of great tunes simply feels incomplete without the booklet, artwork, linear notes, production credits, lyrics, etc etc etc. I'm a hopeless geek for the stuff.

Exceptions do, however, need to be made from time to time, with the main and most glaring example being those all too regular occurrences where no store in this crummy city has the good sense to stock the album I'm after. When these circumstances do arise, my impatience will often get the better of me, with itunes inevitably being my next port of call.

So, why am I still such a spaz for LP's ? It's simple, really - because I respect any band or artist who can, with the right selection of songs and sequencing, create a piece of work that flows, thrills, confronts, entertains, astounds, stuns and, in some cases, changes the listener. An album can take you on amazing journey; through a diverse array of moods, sounds and feelings.

Taking this into consideration, the gross argument that albums are a dated, dying format is one I'm more than willing to fight against.

My total and utter devotion to music began early(ish), even though, initially, a lot of the stuff I heard coming through the tiny, crackling speakers of my brother's double cassette player was... well, bad. In addition to the  crappy compilation tapes, I was also subjected to far more Bon Jovi than any mere mortal should ever have to endure. It wasn't all dire, though - there was also quite a bit of Springsteen floating around in the mix as well. I guess sometimes, you've just gotta take the good New Jersey artists with the really, really bad....

Once I hit my teens, as if right on cue, the musical landscape began to transform, and the long-overdue death of over-blown, ego-fueled hair metal cleared the way for another wave of music that turned the industry on it's big, fat, ugly head. With this welcome change, I was finally able to begin experiencing a different world; a world beyond the "Young Guns 2" soundtrack.

My own musical leanings came into sharp focus soon after, when a friend, whose tastes were developing at a slightly more accelerated rate than my own, lent me an album that had been released the previous year by a band with one of the oddest fucking names I had ever heard -  Smashing Pumpkins. The back cover of what I soon learnt was their second album, Siamese Dream, also revealed a wealth of oddly titled songs: "Geek USA", "Mayonnaise" and "Silverfuck" among them.

Placing the disk in the tray and turning the volume up to a level that I prayed would be acceptable to my death-metal obsessed younger brother living in the room next to mine, I waited with mild curiosity as the first track kicked off.

First came the drums...

Next, a brief, almost misleadingly gentle guitar part...

And then, finally -  loud, glorious, distortion!

And that was that. Barely a minute into "Cherub Rock", I was changed for good. For the next 62 minutes and 17 seconds, I experienced what could be best described as a musical awakening. The flood gates had opened, and what was up to that point a moderate enjoyment / passing interest in music suddenly transformed into total obsession.

Given the timing of this "awakening" (early - mid nineties), the avenues for discovering bands and seeking out their discographies were way-the-fuck limited in comparison to this glorious day and age in which we all now live. Usually, finding music was either through a) recommendations from friends; b) hearing a song on one of the two decent radio stations in existence at that time, or c) catching a film clip on "Rage" (once I saw Weezer playing at Arnold's Drive-in Chicken Stand under the amazing direction of Spike Jonze, they had a fan in me for life).

Back in my day (sadly, I think I have now reached the age where I can genuinely say that straight-faced), whenever a new album by a great band was unleashed on the world, it was something of an event. Perhaps it was because one had to try harder, travel longer, and put in way more goddamn effort to seek out the music. There was a helluva lot more involved than simply clicking a button on a mouse or touching the screen of your goddamn smart phone. You actually had to leave your house! Sometimes, you had to pre-order shit! You may have even had to drive to another goddamn City, because the shitty local stores for some reason failed to ever have the album you desired on the shelves come release day.

The situation was so horrendous that I would occasionally suggest to my girlfriend at the time that that we take a random trip out of town for a "romantic days out in the city". Except they weren't really random at all.... It was no coincidence that these city trips always fell on days when hard-to-get new albums were due to hit the shelves (she never did cotton on to the fact that these "random" trips always fell on a Monday, which at that point in time was the traditional record release day in Australia).

Now, it's a different world. Everything is immediate. There are no delays. No waiting. Hell, you can get stuff before release day, and not pay for it either. Due to this, a certain appreciation has been lost when to comes to the long player, or music in general.

You only have to turn on the radio to see what really matters to the general public nowadays -  compare, if you will, the popularity of the two main annual Triple J listener polls - the Hottest 100 and the Top 10 Albums of the Year. It goes without saying how popular both voting in and listening to the Hottest 100 has become in this country over the last ten years; It's a nation-wide tradition at this point. In comparison, how much is mentioned about the year-end album poll?  I don't know, but I'm sure if presented with the question, many would answer with "what album poll?"

To push the knife in just that little bit further, certain artists are now jumping on the "death of the album" bandwagon as well - the past couple of years alone have seen both Ian Astbury and Billy Corgan come out and proclaim the format dead. This is disappointing to say the least, especially considering Billy is one of the reasons I an ongoing passion for LP's in the first place!

Fuck all this noise, though. Fuck popularity, fuck trends, and fuck (some) artists - albums should be fought for and defended until the end of time, because a great album can stick with you for life: Anytime I hear Siamese Dream, I am taken back to the cold autumn day in which I first heard it. Listening to Foo Fighter's The Colour and The Shape, I'm instantly transported back to the Saturday afternoon I made the purchase, and to later that night, where, in my parents absence,  I was involved in a killer make out session in the family lounge room with my high school girlfriend, which lasted from the first track "Doll" all the way through to "New Way Home".

Albums - important ones, both new and old - can continue to resonate. Albums can conjure up feelings, both good and bad. Albums can transport you to important, pivotal moments from your past. Albums can define the present. Albums can push and motivate you to move forward, inspiring you face the future.

Albums still matter, dammit. Albums will always matter.

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