This is in response to a series of posts on MIL about the demise of the album. It was originally an impassioned email to my editor that ended up, well, like this:
The album’s grave-dancers would deny it, but I believe the album is music in its finest form. No one can resist the power of a catchy single or perfect pop song, but to sustain a listener’s attention for 35 to 70 minutes (or longer, with the prehistoric relic known as the double-album) is a work of art no less impressive than a compelling film or play. Although making comparisons between art forms is inherently suspect, I would even venture to say that a successful album is more impressive given that it can engage its audience only on an aural level and so must work that much harder to sustain listeners’ interest. As an added bonus, one can return to a rewarding album more often than a great film because, while it rewards close attention, it does not require it.
I also take issue with Brett McCallon’s dismissal of the hip-hop skit. While some acts have proven incapable of crafting a good skit (eg, Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and the Wu Tang Clan–except for when they’re sampling kung fu movies), there are a handful of groups that use their skits to build tension or provide listeners with a welcome respite from the lyric barrage. Nas’s lone skit on “Illmatic” opens the album and generates some energy before he tears into “NY State of Mind”. Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” uses the dialogue of a drug kingpin to similar effect before “22 Twos”, and features the turntable work of DJ Premier on the skit “Friend or Foe” (call it a very, very song if you want to quibble). OutKast’s “Aquemini” is bookended by two hilarious, self-referential skits that take place in a record store.
The real problem is that we’ve lost the record store…
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Picture credit: ecastro (via Flickr)