Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Give albums a chance

By Evan Gaudette

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(Andrew Mager/ Flickr)

Jidenna, famed for his hit single “Classic Man,” dropped his debut album “The Chief,” on Friday. A rap-sung effort highlighting his versatility with heavy tribal and animal imagery, it is the work of an artist with potential for great things. I wouldn’t call it a textbook concept album, but it’s something close: a complete work with consistent, reoccurring production themes and some sort of discernable, overarching message. A few tracks have potential to blow up as singles and Spotify nerds should definitely add “Trampoline” to their pre-gaming playlists immediately, but few people will ever discover the songs their musically-inclined friends haven’t shown them, and they’ll almost certainly never hear these songs in their intended order.

That’s sad! It’s a brilliant time to be a fan of music: we have access to virtually every album ever made, it’s never been easier to make a playlist, and music has never been more affordable. But we’ve lost some of the artistry that music used to have. Not every album deserves to be listened to in order but many improve when they are. “The Chief” is a current example, but take a smash hit like “Formation” for example. Beyoncé’s lead single for her album “Lemonade” is a joy ride of unabashed Black feminism and definitely the most famous song off of the project. It stands tall on its own. It stands taller as a triumphant finish to a 40-minute drama of infidelity, love and Black pride.

Imagine a world where all media was treated in the way we treat music in the singles era. What if the hit single off of “Pulp Fiction” was the scene where John Travolta and Uma Thurman compete in the dance-off and that’s all of the movie you ever saw? Every day for, maybe, the first three months after the movie is released you sit and watch that scene, out of context, until you’ve moved on to the next hit single off of the next big movie.

Obviously, comparing music to movies is not a perfect metaphor, but it is an apt one, showing how singles diminish both the emotion and meaning of the art. Every college student has heard “Swimming Pools (Drank)” with the lyrics, “Pass out (drank)/ Wake up (drank)/ Faded (drank)/ Faded (drank).” It’s a common party tune for obvious reasons. Outside of “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City”, its album home, it loses all context. No longer one act of a play describing the perils, sorrows and prides of Compton, California, the song becomes just another song to drink to. While, admittedly, it is a great party song, it loses its intentions and impact as a part of something greater when it is exclusively consumed as an individual work of art.

This isn’t a complete condemnation of our current societal music-listening practices. It’s romantic to think of the days (though I never lived them) when an artist would drop an album and fans would flock to buy it and spend their after-school days lying next to a record player, taking it all in to discuss with their friends the next day. The modern system of being able to listen to whatever you’d like whenever you’d like is an obviously superior model. While pop radio has continued to box us into a particular product more and more, streaming has offered music fans ways to explore their tastes like never before.

We shouldn’t forget about albums, though. Many of us won’t have the time, attention span or will to bang out five albums a week, but an occasional exercise in listening to music the way it was intended could do great things for a generation that has never really experienced music as a story.

The emotion of the music will hit harder, old songs we’ve overplayed may be reborn when reintroduced to their natural habitat, and new meaning will appear through context. Besides that, album listeners are participants in a massive event; there is a sort of binding human feeling of anticipating and listening to a great album with millions of others across the world. “Lemonade,” “The Life of Pablo,” “Coloring Book” and “A Moon Shaped Pool” gave us a chance in 2016 to experience art in unison with people we may never know.

So just give it a try. Pick one of your favorite singles, go to the gym and blast through the whole album.  Or look up when one of your favorite artists is coming out with a new project, talk about it with your friends, get excited and listen to it together one night. It can’t hurt to try something new.

Evan Gaudette is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]


2 Responses to “Give albums a chance”

  1. George on February 22nd, 2017 5:24 pm

    Man, I remember waiting for albums/cassettes/CDs to come out, then flocking to the store to get them. Then wearing them out and having to get another copy not too long after. Your points are very well made. So many great albums that paint a picture or tell a story. Many artists used to build their albums around themes and then save the outtakes for B-sides. Now, it’s all artists can do to have one hit song. It’s a real shame.

    U2 are a bunch of old men now, but if you go back to their albums one by one, from Unforgettable Fire through to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, what a tapestry of songs! Same goes for hundreds of great artists of the past, in every genre. Great music never goes out of style…pick up some of those albums and really listen. It could change how and why you listen to music.

    Great article!

  2. David Fitzgerald on February 22nd, 2017 6:28 pm

    thank you Evan Gaudette

    “It’s a brilliant time to be a fan of music: we have access to virtually every album ever made, it’s never been easier to make a playlist, and music has never been more affordable. But we’ve lost some of the artistry that music used to have.”


    to begin way too obviously, no year such as 2016 or 2017 can compare to the entire history of recorded music

    in this history, there is a significant turning point with the later albums of the Beatles

    but it’s not the Beatles who should take primary attention, but the bands that came shortly after them

    these bands, inspired by the Beatles, created many sensational albums

    one example is the band Yes and their albums from 1970 to 1977:
    the Yes Album
    Close To The Edge
    Going For The One

    from the opening minutes of the Yes Album, there is heard the “artistry that music used to have”

    5 highly skilled musicians composing and playing music of great originality

    I would call this music amazing and exhilarating and glorious and sublime

    but that might build expectations too high

    still, I would say the 70’s are the years to find the greatest of “albums”

    Yes is certainly not for everyone; their music may be too deep and complex for modern audiences

    and the lyrics have heady themes of the insignificance of humanity in the face of infinite space and time

    but it might be beneficial to college age listeners to ask some gray haired people to give their opinion of what the greatest albums are

    I’m fairly certain that the best albums are not from last year or this year

    thanks for your column

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