June 01, 2021
Adapted from a New Statesman column, this collection of writers’ love letters to their most treasured albums soars when it ventures away from the canon
Long Players, edited by Tom Gatti review – a new spin on an old favourite
It must be about 20 years since I read my first article about “the death of the album”. Technology gave birth to it in 1948 with the launch of the 12-inch vinyl disc and technology was expected to kill it by unbundling the parts from the whole: Napster begat iTunes begat Spotify. Yet while sales nosedived, artists doubled down. Albums such as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly or Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City are every bit as substantial and satisfying as a 1970s opus, while the likes of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift have made the transition from hitmakers to album artists. No matter how many singles or EPs someone releases, fans on Social Media will still ask: “When is the album dropping?” It turns out that the basic concept of a coherent package of songs is far more resilient than the doomsayers imagined. Even when untethered from physical formats, it remains the narrative engine, the definitive statement, the main event.
Music journalism has fared less well, as unlimited streaming has made the consumer-guide function of album reviews redundant. Yet thoughtful writing about classic albums thrives in places such as Pitchfork’s Sunday Review series and Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 imprint, serving the same purpose as sleevenote essays. The question they answer is not: “What should I buy?” but: “What am I missing?”
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