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The Art of the Album

Artists should focus on albums, not just singles.

Jack Lynch, Online Managing Editor

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In an age where a singer’s success is based on hits, likes and streams, one of the most important inventions in human history has been thrown to the wayside: albums.

A song is incredible. It can bring people to tears (“The Scientist” — Coldplay), inspire them (“Gonna Fly Now” — Bill Conti), bring back old memories of loved ones (Times Like These — Eden Project) or help you through a breakup (“I am a Rock” — Simon & Garfunkel). An album, at its best, is genre defining. Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak set a new standard for what hip-hop could be. The Beatles reinvented rock and roll as they continually redefined themselves through Abbey Road, Sgt. Peppers and Revolver. Nevermind set the stage for the alt-rock movements of the 90s and 2000s. Albums are things of beauty. They are a couch from cushions, a book from chapters, a movie from scenes. But they come from songs and, to an extent, singles.

The singles are the songs an artist puts most of their work into, but that shouldn’t be all of their work. Blink-182’s latest album California has three singles: “Bored to Death, “Rabbit Hole” and “No Future”. The album contains songs like Cynical and She’s Out of her Mind that stack up with their early hits. This is what artists should do. An album is like a book. J.K. Rowling didn’t pick just three chapters of Harry Potter to focus on, she wrote an entire series. Of course not all songs on an album are as good as some singles, but artists should focus on them anyway.

California is markedly different from Blink-182’s most successful album Enema of the State. The major difference is that California is an album of a few singles, while Enema is an album of connected songs. The transition between “Adam’s Song” and “All the Small Things” is a thing of beauty. The songs themselves are easily two of Blink-182’s greatest but the transition between them is underrated. This transition is simple. It ends the depressing yet hopeful “Adam’s Song” while also starting the fun of “All the Small Things” at the same time. Between the tracks on California there is no lead-in. Every song fades to nothing prior to the beginning of the next song. This doesn’t take anything away from the songs individually but it detracts from the album as a whole. Without the transitions the album is fractured, broken. It’s not an album, it’s a group of songs. And the transitions aren’t the only problem.

Arctic Monkeys’ AM  follows a similar style track-to-track without blending into itself. The songs are distinct. “R U Mine” and “One for the Road” feature the same dark and subdued style unique to AM while being distinct enough that they can be told apart in just a moment. Weezer’s new album Weezer (The White Albums) has recognizably different songs but they blend into each other. Not every song stands on its own. “Thank God for Girls” is very different compared to the rest of the album. It is also one of the singles. While one of the band’s greatest albums it falls victim to the same thing that so many modern albums do: the songs only stand out if they are singles. This is a problem for everyone. For the artists it means that the only work they are known for is the commercial success, not the deeply emotional and heartfelt track that they poured their soul into. They can lose what they truly love because a different track might make more money. For the fans it means fewer quality songs. Fans lose the wanderlust beauty on “Walcott” from Vampire Weekend’s eponymous album. They lose the rich deep history that singles only skim the top of.

Artists should focus on every piece of their album and they should make albums. Not just a singles and some filler in between, but fully fleshed out albums. If not for themselves, for their fans.

Below are 6 examples of  “complete” albums 

AM -Arctic Monkeys

Enema of the State -Blink-182

Funeral -Arcade Fire

Sam’s Town -The Killers

Modern Vampires of the City– Vampire Weekend

The Dark Side of the Moon -Pink Floyd

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The Art of the Album