Sunday, 13 November 2016

I've started so I'll finish

I find cooking one of the most enjoyable things in life, and as long as I'm not being subjected to the restrictions imposed by whatever diet the wife is currently enslaved by, I can spend hours creating something that will be wolfed down in ten minutes flat without feeling like I've wasted my time.
This evening I was allowed the freedom to create my signature lasagne in all its waistline-expanding glory, so I set myself up with the usual things necessary for a session in the kitchen - namely a large glass of red wine (major abstinence fail, but I've resigned myself to it) and the iPod and Bose bluetooth speaker to provide the musical accompaniment.

Having started off with a Madonna compilation to satisfy the eighties urge, I switched to INXS's fantastic 'X' album. Once it started, I was along for the ride. With no loss of enthusiasm and no desire to change to something different until the last track had finished, I lost myself singing along and dancing around the kitchen leaving assorted splodges of ragu and bechamel sauce in my wake.
While everyone has their own particular favourites, that album has to be one of my personal all-time greats.
One of the things I love about it is the fact that it's one of those albums I can listen to from start to finish without getting bored, and that's something that seems to be pretty hard to come by these days.

Back in the days of vinyl records, an artist was restricted to around 45 to 50 minutes within which to fit an album, which meant they had to be fairly picky about the tracks to be included.
As a result, it was generally pretty easy to listen through the whole album without wanting to miss out anything. Okay, there might be one duff track from time to time that spoiled the experience, but on the whole you could put on an album and listen from start to finish with no interruption apart from turning the LP over halfway through.

When CDs came along we were blessed with a far cleaner sound, free from the characteristic hisses and pops associated with vinyl. Purists still argue to this day that vinyl is superior to CD, and they may have a point, although the hardware required to provide that level of reproduction is beyond the pockets of most people.
The CD also gave artists 80 minutes of potential play time, which although useful for compilations, meant that they felt obliged (or the record companies pushed them into doing so) to fill the available space. What this meant was that instead of putting out an album with seven or eight great tracks, they were padding it out with sub-standard stuff just so they had the requisite twelve to fifteen tracks.
What this means is that the most important function that CD players provided us with over and above turntables became the 'forward skip' button.
Now, instead of sitting down with your eyes closed and immersing yourself in an album for three quarters of an hour, you sit with your thumb hovering over the remote, poised to jump past the next crappy infill track.

Listening to that INXS album got me thinking. How many albums can you truly sit through from start to finish and enjoy every single track without skipping a single one?
And how many of those were released since the late eighties when CDs were becoming the dominant format?
Apart from the album mentioned above, such albums in my own collection include the following:

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
Supertramp - Breakfast in America
Marillion - Misplaced Childhood
Enigma - MCMXC AD
Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
Depeche Mode - Violator
Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
U2 - The Joshua Tree
Roxy Music - Avalon
Michael Jackson - Thriller

While some of these were released since the rise of the CD, the rest come from the days when vinyl was king.
I also have many albums that came out before the CD, but have been re-released with 'bonus extra tracks', which without fail roughly translates as 'stuff that was too crappy to make it on to any album, but we can't resist filling that bit of empty space on the disc'.
These include Ultravox's 'Vienna' and 'The Pleasure Principle' by Gary Numan.
It's hardly surprising then, that younger generations have grown up without the pleasure of listening to a whole album to the exclusion of all other distractions.
They're living in a world where music has become nothing more than aural wallpaper; a disposable commodity that's here today and gone tomorrow, or as soon as something newer and just as mundane and uninspiring arrives on Spotify.
That's not to say that good music is no longer being made - it's just harder to find, and harder still to find an entire album you like rather than just picking out a couple of decent tracks and ignoring the rest.