by Keidra Chaney
Music critics have lamented the “death of the album” for at least the past decade, pointing the finger of blame at everything under the sun: file sharing, streaming services like Spotify, The Kids These Days, the advent of CD’s, the rise of hip-hop, major labels, globalization, The Kids These Days, the economic slowdown, and The Kids These Days. All of this may be accurate. Especially The Kids These Days, and their twerking. They’re awful.
“The US music industry, the world’s largest market, has experienced a drop in album sales from 800m in 2002 to 316m a decade later. But industry analysts say that long-term trend doesn’t account for a sudden drop-off. It seems that the 10-song, artist-statement format that originated with the advent of the 33⅓ long player in the late 1940s could itself be nearing the end of the line…
“The album is dying in front of our very eyes,” industry commentator Bob Lefsetz wrote. “Everybody’s interested in the single, and no one’s got time to sit and hear your hour-plus statement.”
This may indeed be the case, the album is dead and the single is king. But I’m going to throw out a possibly unpopular opinion here: is the death of the album necessarily a bad thing for popular music?
For what it’s worth, I’m an album enthusiast and a rock music fan, and rock music one of the few genres where the traditional album format has some level of economic viability and cultural significance. I can point to at least five rock albums that have been released this year as favorites of mine. But these albums (list forthcoming here on TLF in another post) are the exception to the rule. I can mostly point to standout singles, rather than albums in most cases.
While many music fans can point to a full-length album they’ve purchased and enjoyed in recent memory, how many of us can point to an album that we listen to in its entirety, as a singular artistic statement? In an era of musical oversaturation and a scarcity of time and attention maybe a 10-song format – for any popular musical artist – is overstaying its welcome. At this point, one exceptional single is going to have more cultural staying power than any full-length album, even if that album is fantastic. So, why not retire the album format as the standard for popular artists and leave albums, as an ad-hoc artistic statement within genres (rock, jazz, blues) where they are more likely to be supported?
So is there a middle ground between singles and full-length albums? Of course! It’s time to bring back the EP. In some genres, the EP never really went away. K-pop groups continually release EP’s in lieu of full-length releases and many indie rock bands release EP’s instead of albums (or split singles with other bands) out of economic necessity.
For example, between releasing EP’s and live albums, some major K-pop groups have technically only released one album in their language of origin, including 2NE1 and 4Minute. By having shorter release schedules, the groups stay in the public eye in the way that Western album release schedules don’t currently support.
From the perspective of the listener, EP’s make more sense as well. Many of us may say we enjoy a full-length album, but in reality only listen to about half of a full-length album’s tracks regularly. An EP just cuts the fat. All killer, no filler, as Sum 41 inaccurately proclaimed. As a listener, I could easily see myself spending more money on more EP’s, knowing I’m more likely to get my money’s worth because I enjoy 100% of a release rather than just half.
Either way, I’m ready to stop hearing about the death of the album and just let it die; it’s time to stop looking to the LP as the standard of musical expression. Maybe the death of the album is a blessing in disguise for the industry as a whole.