Are music albums starting to contain fewer tracks? Is this better? Should I even write about this stuff? Yes, Maybe, No.
I’ve had a lot of time to think lately, so it was only a matter of time until I stumbled upon something fairly irrelevant but still made me wonder. I got onto thinking about music, and the length of the modern standard music album. This is partly because I was listening to the new Placebo album ‘Loud Like Love’ walking home from work, which is only ten tracks long. Fair enough, it lasts for an excellent 48 minutes, but is ten tracks really enough to truly satisfy a listener? I’m torn in all honesty, because fewer songs normally means a higher standard of quality as artists can be more focused and attentive when polishing an album. However, it does sometimes mean that there’s ‘something’ missing. I’ll use my favourite album of 2013, ‘The Earth Pushed Back’ by Have Mercy as an example, which contains ten tracks, three of which have been taken from a prior EP. It’s undoubtedly the best record I’ve heard this year thus far but every time I reach the final minute of closer ‘When I Sleep’ I find myself wishing there was another three tracks to follow it. You could argue that this is really what any good album should do – leave the listener wanting more. It’s more than that though; it feels like it’s over too soon, like it’s simply been cut short. Admittedly, it is an odd notion, to feel as though something so brilliant is incomplete but it’s also painfully true. People can argue that at the end of the day three songs isn’t a massive amount but, in perspective, that’s potentially another ten minutes of musical goodness that isn’t there. Maybe it’s because I take music so seriously, or because I was raised on Bowling For Soup albums but ten tracks doesn’t really cut it for me anymore.
Take Placebo’s last album 2009’s ‘Battle For The Sun’ (I only use Placebo because they’re in my head right now) which contained 13 tracks and lasted longer than ‘Loud Like Love’. There isn’t a massive difference in terms of quality between then and now but I prefer the older album. It seems richer; there’s more to enjoy, because there’s more songs. It seems like common sense, but if it is then why do artists release albums that contain fewer tracks than they used to? Maybe it’s because they feel pushed for time, or want to release new material regularly, or even laziness to an extent. It’s most likely a product of the times, but it still seems strange to me. In retrospect I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but I skim through the 2013 music albums in my iTunes and most peak at ten or eleven songs and then I skip back to 2007 or earlier and see more reach thirteen or fourteen tracks.
Then you’ve got the other end of the stick to consider – how many tracks is too many? I’ll use another of my favourite albums released this year, ‘Opposites’ by bearded Brits Biffy Clyro. Since its release in January, I’ve listened to it in its entirety in one sitting probably only four times, two of which were on long car journeys. Again, excellent album, but it doesn’t hold my attention all the way through. Taken in its two halves length isn’t really an issue. There just doesn’t seem to be as many ‘middle ground’ (14/15 track) albums being released anymore, and like most people I’d take an album with 14 tracks over ten. Obviously it depends massively on the genre. Hardcore albums are known to be shorter, whilst rock albums are a bit more drawn out. Metal albums are normally dynamic and expansive works (Deafheaven – ‘Sunbather’ being a good example), whilst pop albums tend to depend on the quality of the artist, and occasionally what they can get away with. ‘Joy Of Nothing’ by Foy Vance only spans ten tracks but it’s so good that it doesn’t really matter. In these cases more tracks could detract from the experience, or lead to repetition or boredom as was the case for me with ‘Opposites’.
Chances are I’m just overthinking the entire concept, and making myself sound clueless in my approach, but ‘shorter’ albums seem to be becoming more frequent than ‘long’ albums. I use inverted commas because, ultimately, it is a matter of perspective. This is just my take on how I see it, and it’s probably bullshit, but I wanted to write about something different, as insignificant as it may be.