Can the music album survive in our time of carelessness?

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How would we have listened to The Dark Side of the Moon or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band if those albums had been released today? Just as video was believed to have killed the radio star when the MTV era began in the 1980s, the era of music streaming would have killed the very idea of ​​the album that takes the listener on a journey. thematic, sound or narrative. If that sounds like too esoteric an issue to bother, consider a recent Twitter exchange about the shuffle feature and what it says about our Attention Deficit Time.

British singer-songwriter Adele, who recently released her fourth studio album 30, responded to news that Spotify was removing the shuffle button as the default option on albums, thanking the music streaming giant for its “listen”. She tweeted: “We don’t create albums so carefully and haven’t thought through our song list for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories should be heard as we intended. Whether or not Spotify took this step at Adele’s explicit request – the company responded to its tweet with “only for you” – does not matter. What this exchange highlights is that despite having all types of music, from all over the world, at our fingertips, we have forgotten how to really listen to – and interact with – music. What we do instead is go back and forth between songs, looking for the dopamine hit that comes with each new track. The fact that Spotify counts 30 seconds of playing each song in a single stream is in itself a damning indicator of our unstable listening habits.

Requiems for the music album – one of the greatest artistic concepts of the 20th century – had started being written early when the iPod, with a shuffle feature that gave priority to singles over albums. , has turned the industry upside down. With Adele’s hindsight and Spotify’s assent, I hope these requiems don’t need to be played anytime soon.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on November 25, 2021 under the title “Just hit play”.


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