In a recent New York Times article, the headline "The Album, a Commodity in Disfavor" blares at you. Jeff Leeds documents the death of the album/CD, as the world moves to downloadable singles. Of course, there are exceptions - bands like Tool, and even last year's Red Hot Chili Peppers audacious double CD, Stadium Arcadium, which sold a whopping 2 millions units. (By today's standards, that's a lot.) Classic Rock, Jazz, and other genres have kept the album on life support, but the bottom line is that it's all about singles and ring tones, and not about albums.
You can blame this on technology, and the notion that too many albums contained too many bad songs. Of course, that's been the case for decades. But perhaps the other suspect in the album's death has been the record labels, adamant about releasing songs one painful single at a time. And in the process, virtually forcing radio not to jump to second and third tracks.
Think about a CD like Creed's My Own Prison, first released nearly a decade ago. As the songs were doled out one single at a time, it may have helped to sustain the album on the charts. However, in the process, radio stations looked bad when they proclaimed the new song from Creed, "What's This Life For," months after millions of fans bought the CD. Yes, this is stupid on radio's part - not being in touch with the audience. But how many radio stations would have been more than happy to expose multiple tracks on a hit CD, only to be told that doesn't fit the marketing strategy?
Today, it's not always easy to even get the so-called "full length" CD from labels. They're happier to just send out the single. And in the process, the entire project becomes minimized, smaller, and easier to ignore. Hey, if the single doesn't sound right, you just move on. Maybe that's what the Chili Peppers were thinking when they imagined Stadium.
In the meantime, the days of Tommy, Sgt. Pepper's, or even Don't Look Back are in the past. And now it's either downloading singles for a buck, simply stealing them, or hoping for a cool ring tone.
Their new come-on is a clever way to capitalize on consumers finding that song or two they like - a financial incentive to own the whole album. Of course, the iTunes model has been powerfully rowing in the opposite direction, so it will be fascinating to see if this "180" can gain any traction.
There aren't a whole lot of Tommy or Dark Side efforts these days. But who knows? Maybe you download an Amy Winehouse song you like or want the new Rush single, and now you have a little nudge toward the entire album.
It sure can't hurt.