Sound Bites: Tour de Farce

 
 

In the second instalment of Sound Bites, Stephen Connolly questions the value of the album today

The recognition of the album as an art form has undergone a pitifully drawn-out demise; its long-winded death-cries filling the world’s ears before being silenced with a shake of the iPod Shuffle. Friends of the long-player have stood by its bedside for over twenty years; heads bowed, wiping his feverish ridged brow and  occasionally turning him, both to ease its ulcerating bed sores and to hear a bit of side three before his final gasp. It seems that so long as his whoreish diminutive niece, the mp3 file offers herself to strangers gratis and his traitor brother, the compact disc bears his privates without shame by the roadside, almost no one cares enough to come sit on old grandpa 45 rpm’s sodden lap and be regaled by his meandering instrumentals and hissing. Aye, the album has disintegrated into edible chunks of late, its panoramic unity of vision now more like what flies see with their unnerving compound eyes.

Regardless, in the past years the albums heavy eyelids have fluttered open briefly, in light of the renaissance that is the increasing practice of figures of rock music performing their ‘classic’ albums in their entirety for sentimental fans to fawn over. Bowie is credited by many as kicking the latest spate off, performing his Low album in its entirety in 2002 across Europe and the U.S. Soon followed countless others- Roger Waters has been lugging The Wall’s polystyrene bricks across the universe for years now, Lou Reed has had ladies retching into their handbags with his insistence on inflicting Berlin on the masses, Suede sucked their cheeks in for histrionic run-throughs of their first three records over a year ago, while Paul Simon reasserted his perverse desire to be referred to as ‘Al’ this summer while playing Graceland to a packed O2 arena and  Peter Hook continues alone to cart the weary Joy Division long players Closer and Unknown Pleasures and New Order’s first two releases around the country like malnourished nomadic fairground freaks. First pick from the Quality Street tin however goes to the disconcerting brother duo Sparks, who in 2008 played their twenty-one albums on consecutive nights to beaming acclaim in the London’s Islington Academy and Shepherd’s Bush Empire. But, like all things before we lend our support to them, we ought to stop and pose the age-old question to ourselves: One second, is this a bit mad?

Is this indulgence in its purest, refined state? The sequencing of an album surely has to meet different requirements than that of a concert set list surely- what of excitedly theorising amongst the auditorium crowd over the next song to be played, as you inhale the farts of thousands? Isn’t there a reason why groups with only one record to promote don’t do this very thing? Surely some of the dearest albums to us have their shit bits, can any album actually live up to Sum 41’s famous (and mendacious, incidentally) boast of All Killer, No Filler? And is the album’s demise timely: by exercising our option to skip the more tiresome stretches of a group’s work are we more empowered and discerning as consumers, driving the creative types to kill the filler and ehm, up the killer? And Bowie’s Low has almost zero words on its second side, and those that do feature are in an entirely fictitious language. Is this what we want in a concert?

At some stage in the mid-sixties The Beatles (probably) pioneered the concept of the album being itself of standalone value, not necessarily an appendage of a tour; an art form, begging over analysis. The initial playings of the said albums being drowned by the sonorous roar of Rolling Stone’s writers sharpening pencils and beating their pigeon chests with priggish fervour, their existences suddenly miraculously justified. Before this, when everything was black and white however, album functioned as a showcase of a band’s powers, a crude chronicle of a tour and an effort to drum up attention to their endless concerts and a form of merchandise- the lads would simply meet up in a recording suite and rattle off their latest set list before hitting the road again to earn their real money. Doesn’t that make this seem a bit odd? Or is it another example of the bizarre cyclical path pop music so often takes?

Maybe we shouldn’t over-think this; Roger Waters certainly isn’t. No, Roger Waters, is gathering his earnings with a pitchfork after another evening yodelling his one and a half hour narcissistic meditation on his own narcissism, to a stadium that sold- out like hot Philosopher’s Stones.

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