The online and digital revolution in music has obtained a lot of benefits – it’s hard to imagine how cool it is to carry thousands of songs round on a iPod or smartphone, or stream music videos seamlessly from the Web. But I can’t help thinking there have been some losses in the process. And I’m not just referring to the demise of the CD – sad though that may be.
It seems to me we’ve also lost that particular piece of artistry called the “concept album.” When vinyl started to disappear in the 1980s, the idea that you played an LP from start to end went with it. A CD can be just as much a random access device as a linear one. So away went the thought of a long playing record as a body of work put together with a purpose. Musical appreciation of a rock group became as vacuous as a “Greatest Hits” LP.
As an example of my thesis, I present the Moody Blues’ 1971 masterwork “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.” You have to listen to the tracks in order – especially note the way the Mellotron tour de force “Procession” (Desolation…Creation…Communication) segues seamlessly into the Top 10 powerhouse “The Story in Your Eyes,” and then reappears in “One More Time to Live.”
The great Philip Travers sleeve art that went with the LP was diminished when it appeared on a CD and probably has been forgotten if you just put a few tracks on your MP3 player.
I note the revival of vinyl in some quarters and while I am no fan of the “click and pop” of LP records, I do hope that the folks who have rediscovered the turntable will also rediscover the concept album and the way to experience it properly.
By the way, there is at least one way to “play through” an album on line and that is with Spotify. You can look up any album by the Moodies there and stream it start to finish. So maybe we haven’t lost as much as I originally thought.