Has The Music Industry Put The Double Album Out Of Its Misery?

The Guardian today reports on the possible end of the double album, as highlighted by Robert Smith’s unwillingness to take a paycut to release a second disc along with this month’s 4:13 Dream. The question that came to mind: Should anyone care?

The Cure have dipped into double-album territory before, and the “light” 4:13 Dream apparently has a “dark” counterpoint in the can So why weren’t the two records released as one double album?

Robert Smith recently told me the rather shocking factors behind the release strategy. Basically, Geffen were only prepared to pay them royalties equivalent to a single album, even if the album was priced as a double. In effect the label were penalising the band for wanting to give their fans more music for less. Smith insisted he didn’t care about making any more money but the principle was paramount; he was furious at the idea of a major label conning him out of making the record he wanted. So he held back the second half of the album for six months and one day later, the earliest moment that his contract permitted. The concept would be intact, it would just be up to the fan to Sellotape the two “episodes” together.

While Mark Beaumont might be shocked–shocked, I say–over the label’s cheapskatery with the legendary Robert Smith, double albums have most recently have been priced at either the single album pricepoint or a slightly elevated album-and-a-half price, so it wouldn’t make much sense to pay Smith a doubled royalty rate. At this point, it’s a wonder artists are getting paid for one album at this point, to be honest.

Still, the larger question is whether these “double the music, double the fun” releases are a good idea anyway, or just labels catering to the artistic indulgences of those temporarily lacking the ability to edit. The entire nature of the album is likely disintegrating before our eyes, with artists just as likely to release tracks in batches before getting into two-hour territory. But when double albums have come out in recent years, practically all of them could have been hacked down to a seventy-minute opus, or in the case of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium, possibly just not released at all. Speakerboxx/The Love Below was a nature of the two artists in one group dynamic of Outkast at the time, so they have an excuse, but otherwise, can we just declare a moratorium on the concept? Sure, it would have been unfair to ask Judas Priest to hack down their 102 minute opus on the life of Nostradamus, but even Kate Bush, whose 2005 album Aerial was her first since 1993, could have hacked down eight minutes of music to squeeze things on to a single sliver of plastic. Even you, Patrick Wolf. If you’re a new-ish artist whose options are “retire from music” or “release a double album collaborating with Alec Empire”, it might be a good idea to rethink your career.

Is the music industry calling time on the double album? [Guardian Music Blog]