Album or iPod?
There was a time when I’d bring home a cellophane-wrapped album from one of my favorite bands. Trembling with excitement for the experience to come, I would unwrap the LP and place it upon the turntable, looking at the graphical artwork on the album cover and in the artistically-rendered liner notes, reading the poetry or insider-information provided there. Then I’d listen to the album in its entirety…reading the lyrics, listening to the transitions between songs, the artistry of how the songs weaved together flawlessly to create the total listening experience.
Is the rock album a thing of the past? Not if bands like Porcupine Tree have their way. Steven Wilson, the band’s leader, said in a recent AP story, “When rock 'n' roll was born in the '50s, it was all about the two-minute pop song, and the album was just that single with some filler. Then we had the 'Sgt. Pepper' era, when the album became more important than the single. But then MTV came along and took everything back 20 years to just being about the pop single again.”
He’s right. And now, with the advent of the iPod, listeners are encouraged to download singles from their favorite artists, put them in playlists of their own choosing, and listen to a completely customized, individualistic set of songs, with the (eeeeyuck!) choice to shuffle those songs in a haphazard way. This is different than the communal experience of listening with some close friends to an artistically formed album that the artist has crafted as such—not just as a compilation of single songs, but as a total listening experience.
In the AP interview, Porcupine Tree’s Wilson adds, “For too long rock has suffered from lack of focus on the music, as well as turning its back on album structure, which can fuse a batch of songs into something greater than their own sum. There are so many people out there who mourn the loss of that great album era.”
Stop and think about that a moment...Granted, there are a lot of great bands today. But how many put the effort onto creating "album structure" and attempt to create a total album that is "something greater" than the sum of the individual songs? That is the beauty of albums.
Wilson has another take on what the iPod will do to bands in the future: "The iPod-and-download culture means that bands that really live or die by their next hit single are suffering more than the bands that make (proper) albums. Bands that offer just a couple of hit singles and a lot of filler — you can download them from iTunes, 99 cents."
Porcupine Tree’s latest album, "Deadwing" entered the Billboard magazine "Top 200" chart a few weeks back at number 132, and nabbed fourth place on its Alternative New Artist roster.
Maybe, just maybe, bands of a new era of the progressive rock genre like Porcupine Tree can bring on an album renaissance.