That’s an idea put forth by the Wall Street Journal, spinning off from a blog post where one Mark Cuban wondered if bands shouldn’t be “serializing” their songs, releasing them digitally one-by-one over the course of a year rather than in one 10- or 15-song chunk available in stores. Mr. Cuban doesn’t seem particularly concerned if the album itself lives or dies, especially if it can’t survive in the climate of martial law declared by the new model, but Jason Fry of the WSJ (who also outs himself a “song guy”) wonders if the “serialization” model can actually extend the life of the album just a little longer.
Album fans, take heart: Dispensing with the album as a consumer item doesn’t necessarily mean tossing it aside as an art form. Do today’s readers think less of Charles Dickens’ novels because they first appeared as serials? Radiohead is an album-oriented band, but wouldn’t its recent experiment with “In Rainbows” have generated as much or even more buzz if the songs had appeared over time? Would fans of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” “The Wall” or “American Idiot” think less of those albums if the first journey through their component songs had taken weeks or months?
It’s an interesting idea, even if the Dickens analogy doesn’t quite work–as any album-as-novel analogy never quite works–because despite the serialization, each installment was integral to understanding, let alone enjoying, the whole. Whereas even with the most Dickensian concept albums, songs can always be enjoyed in isolation, meaning once you take away the (implied) imposition that comes with the album form, the art still becomes nominal, something the listener can take part in if they so choose. The end result, then, seems to be same as pundits have been predicting for the last few years: as the audience that grew up on the album as it’s understood dies out, the format itself will become an ever-shrinking, vestigial art practiced by throwbacks and holdouts ignoring that MP3s have long-since-obliterated any sense of obligation on listeners’ parts to keep the songs they think suck, the art form doomed to a (very slow) death once playlists made it possible to self-edit an album without having to wear our your skip button or nudge the stylus ahead every few songs.
Beyond The Album [WSJ]