I was watching the BBC's new Culture Show the other night, which is a real curate's egg of a programme - some good parts like Robert Hughes on MOMA and some really poor, like the report on the Contemporary Arts Society where the presenter seemed amazed to discover that there were arts galleries outside London - but it was one of the more average stories - on downloaded music and the changes to the singles chart it's causing - that got me thinking.
It's interesting that downloading - and the emphasis it places on single tracks, rather than entire albums - is effectively sending the music industry back 40 years to when the single was king, and albums - when they were released at all - were just two or three hit singles with a bunch of other filler put on to bulk it out to 30 minutes or so (40 if you were lucky). It wasn't until Pet Sounds, Sergeant Pepper and the like that making an album in itself became an aspiration for artists.
What disappoints me is not that pop acts are abandoning the album - after all, the world isn't crying out for more pointless covers and filler from the latest poppets to trickle off the music industry's production line - but that the supposedly serious music press are encouraging this as well with magazines like Q now, as well as rating albums as a whole, suggesting which tracks are worth getting, effectively encouraging listeners to ignore the concept of an album as a single entity and breaking it down into just a collection of tracks. I'm not denying that there are some albums that would benefit from having the crud taken off them, but I think this trend is starting to discourage artists from trying to produce good albums - after all, what's the incentive when no matter how good you make it some heathen reviewer is going to ignore your carefully created track order, forget the effort you've made to have tracks balance each other and dismiss your attempts to create a theme just to list the two or three songs on it he likes?