The future of the LP
Although there has not yet been any official confirmation from the band, fansites and message boards are buzzing with the apparent news that Radiohead are on the verge of releasing an EP of new material.
Fansite At Ease published the leaked track a few days ago along with some coded hints at an imminent release. The song sounds genuine (an experiment in instrumental Krautrock with Yorke’s recognisable voice entering towards the end) but we do not know for certain when it will officially see the light of day.
Whether or not the ‘Wall of Ice’ EP will materialise, Radiohead seem certain to push the boundaries of the musical establishment again by ditching the album in favour of a shorter format.
Recent interviews suggest Radiohead’s latest creative output will end up on shorter EPs, with Jonny Greenwood adding that “no one knows how to release music any more, including us”. With more bands releasing their albums in unconventional downloadable formats, there is no real reason to be restricted by the old needs of CDs and LPs.
In some ways, this is a shame. However, when the album dies it will only die commercially and the achievements of recording artists over the last 50 years will live on no matter what they’re being played on.
The iPod doesn’t stop people listening to albums, it simply makes playing a greater variety of songs easier and more appealing. While the album’s death at the hands of the internet might seem like the end of the world to some ageing rock fans, two things should be considered.
One is that classic albums will live on in the form they were meant to be appreciated, just as people still listen to classical symphonies or Elvis Presley singles. Secondly, artists should be putting out music in a current and relevant format in order to get their sound over to the listener in a natural way.
Perhaps new bands will feel less pressured into filling out their material with album tracks. As well as favouring bands, customers won’t have to pay $10 for a few tracks they like and several they don’t.
As the success of Spotify has shown, customers don’t mind not owning the music they listen to when there is almost always internet access to allow streaming. With the trend of people hearing music buffered by advertising messages increasing, shorter releases seem to make sense in the 21st century.
The artistic quality of whatever replaces the album won’t necessarily be lower. Just compare the great albums coming out in the late 60s and early 70s with today’s efforts. The albums of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young weren’t just great because they were recorded by geniuses (although that helps), they were great because they were put out on a relevant and fresh format.
In reality, little had changed in the way the music industry operated in the last 50 years until quite recently. Maybe it’s time for a change.