Friday, 26 October 2012

Coldplay and a dollop of Marmite

After much deliberation I have decided that the word that applies here is ‘Marmite’.  It always interests me how words extend their meaning over time and Marmite, despite being a trademark, is one of them.  These days it refers not only to that sticky black stuff that you spread on toast, but also to an attitude towards certain things.  If an object or concept is ‘Marmite’ it is generally understood to divide opinion into those that love and those that hate – there is no half-way house.

Which brings us inexorably to Coldplay and the problem that I have been wrestling with.  Whilst I can readily appreciate that Coldplay could be quite properly described as a Marmite band, this does not quite help with my dilemma.  You see, I’ve gone down a level and have found that it is not the band per se as much as each individual song that is Marmite.  It’s the only explanation.  For some time now, I have found that I am cherry picking about half a dozen of their songs from their catalogue.  These are the songs that I find utterly uplifting yet I reject all their remaining material as dross.

Let’s not be coy.  Those on the list are the likes of ‘Speed of Sound’, ‘Paradise’, ‘Clocks’, ‘Yellow’ and ‘The Scientist’ and maybe one or two more and they sit in a playlist on my ipod as shining examples of modern pop.  But that’s where it stops as far as Coldplay is concerned as I’ve never really got on with the remainder of any of their albums despite owning them all.  In all my years of music obsessive-ness, I’ve never known a band that splits my allegiance on a song by song level to such a degree.  It’s a bit un-nerving and if at the next social function anyone asks me whether I like Coldplay, I’m not sure what I’m going to say.  I’ll probably open and close my mouth a few times like a beached fish and fail miserably to construct any sort of reasoned argument.

I suppose that when it comes down to it, I find Coldplay a bit, well, boring in the way that their fiercest critics propound and that would explain my antipathy to most of their output.  Yet, somehow, when their style works, it works spectacularly well as in the list above.  It seems that they tread a very fine line and the spark that lifts them above it is a rare and splendid thing.  Perhaps it is just as well that it is an infrequent occurrence as it makes the results something to be savoured.

It just pains me to think that I bought all those albums just for a handful of songs.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Death of an Album

News has filtered down that for the first time ever; the Number One Chart Album has sold less than 10,000 copies.  No doubt obituaries for the album-as-we-know-it are currently being dusted off in readiness that this figure falls further and the album dies a horrible death.  In this instant gratification pick-n-mix age, I suppose this was inevitable.

In the natural world everything works to a rhythm and it seems that the journey of the album falls into this instinctive path.  Back in the early days, albums of songs were just that – a collection of 78 rpm discs that housed musical selections.  When the 33 rpm long player emerged, nothing much changed as its contents still represented little more than a collection of unrelated songs – a selection of singles on one disc, if you like.

It was not until the mid-sixties that the album started to take on a life of its own and become a cohesive whole.  Musicians started to believe that an album was a single piece of art, not to be broken down into its constituent parts but viewed as a whole, like a painting or sculpture. Songs linked by concept or theme started to appear, collages with no gaps between songs or single side pieces.  This reached its zenith in the 70s with the prog-rock giants and whilst the format took a bit of a battering from Punk and the new wave, it still staggered on into the 80s and beyond.  During this period, albums had an identity, a time and place and a huge artwork cover to proclaim it (and don’t they look so BIG now?).  Digital files have none of this.

Today, we have almost turned full circle and the nominal ‘album’ has returned to its origins, being little more than a collection of singles.  This state of unrelatedness is an ideal format for the world of cherry picking through digital downloads as there is no reason why individual songs should not be separated from the rest.  But if this is a purposely engineered state, why release an album at all?  Why not just release a stream of singles to be bought individually, with a suitable discount for buying more than one at a time?

I remember that The Pink Floyd challenged iTunes hoping to forbid the sale of individual songs off their albums.  To them you needed to buy ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ in its entirety, not just bits of it.  It looks like they failed as Amazon are doing just that.  Progress eh?

RIP The Album.