I love great albums. There is something about going to a record store, picking out a CD (I am too cheap to buy the vinyl setup) and getting home and listening to the album from start to finish. In every album I have ever purchased there is a noticeable single. Maybe two or three, but what makes the album great is the ability to fill in the gaps with solid tracks.
However, “Now, That’s What I Call Music” has killed this. The blame is not entirely the fault of this type of compilation album, but this type of thing is a major cause. The world wants the single. Now CD’s pick up the songs to add in such a way that makes sense. They take the top 5 Pop singles, top 5 Hot Urban singles, and the top 5 family friendly rock singles, throw a couple up and comers, then package it with a lot of bright colors and people will pay for it.
I will never blame anyone for finding a formula for success and capitalizing (except Nickelback, that is just an abomination). On the other hand, the business of finding the radio single has changed the culture of music. There was a day not too long ago where people would wait and countdown for the next album from an artist. Now the business of Now, iTunes, Google Play have all changed to where purchasing the single is just as easy. It is effortless and easy to use one of these platforms to get your favorite songs and just your favorite songs.
To say I am not guilty of this would be a lie. I can look at my own Google Play purchase receipts and find singles all over it. However, I still remember a time in my own life where I would wait for the next Barenaked Ladies album or I would wait on the second single before I made any purchase. Alien Ant Farm taught me that lesson at an early age.
Now, I buy singles because I have been continually burnt on the albums I bought for so long. I use Spotify to check for things that I truly like on the whole rather than take it on face value that this will be a solid overall album. Awolnation’s album Megalithic Symphony came out three years ago with very little fanfare, but has turned into one of the most solid ALBUMS in years. Looking at the track listing and listening through nothing feels like fluff to fill an album. Macklemore and Kendrick Lamar both released albums last year that were the same way with “The Heist” and “good kid, M.A.A.D. city.”
However, for every decent album I can think of there are about five more that were responsible for a radio single or two and then a bunch of contrived tracks that did little to nothing to improve the album. I was very impressed recently with the single “Come With Me Now” from Kongos. It has a solid melody and a catchy chorus, but when I tried to listen to the album in its entirety I was less than pleased. Also, my like for “The Language” by Drake is borderline masochistic, but we all have guilty pleasures. Trying to listen to a Drake album beyond the singles though should be some sort of POW punishment.
Trying to maintain the balance is tough for artists and I understand this. It is imperative to have the radio single to fight the clutter that is modern music. Everyone with a computer and a $200 mic can put together a track. However, the artistic integrity that used to come with putting together the next great album just doesn’t seem to exist any longer.
The best albums tend to be the debut albums or the one that people had their entire life to write. Those that get put together by labels to make money tend to be just that. Put together to make money. There are two singles and then there is a bunch of filler. If this is the case, just release the singles to the internet and make your money $1 at a time and stop feeding me filler for an album that not only will I not enjoy, I will not listen to.