With his new album Scorpion, Drake set all sorts of new records when it comes to music streaming. I’m not going to recap them all, but the one that stood out the most to me was that at one point it was being streamed 10 million times per hour on Spotify. Drake’s talent for writing melodic hits is undeniable, and Scorpion is likely to sit atop the streaming charts for weeks, but no matter how popular it remains, it will never get the critical love that Pusha T’s Daytona got just a few weeks ago.
There are many reasons for this, but one that doesn’t involve needing to get into the subjective nature of music is the fact that Daytona is just an easier listen. At 21 minutes long, Daytona breezes by, with only an unneeded Rick Ross cameo dragging any moment down. The short length of the record, part of a greater plan by Kanye West, meant that Pusha didn’t have to come up with 15 songs worth of verses, allowing him to keep his focus sharp, and the result is a record that is going to end up on many a “best of the year” list come December.
Kanye’s plan to release five records he produced, all with only seven tracks, in five weeks, was an ambitious one, and many would argue that the results weren’t great. Some would argue that Daytona was the only record worth a damn, others might argue that he went three for four, and everyone agrees that we’re better off pretending that Nas album didn’t come out. Still, the issue here was not the length of the records, and if Kanye’s influence is felt anywhere as a result of this experiment, let us hope that it is in encouraging artists to focus on shorter releases.
No one wants to acknowledge this, but most artists shouldn’t be putting out albums. Most artists are lucky to have three songs worth listening to, let alone 10 to 15. Luckily the industry has changed enough to where we’re not locked into buying records based on liking a single only to discover that one song was really all an artist had. Hate streaming if you’d like, but it is better than heading to the store to listen to an album on a pair of headphones of questionable cleanliness.
Albums have a mystique about them; to release one is to say, “I am a real artist.” But ask yourself, how many bad songs have been written since the rock and roll explosion? Millions, at least. Think of all the energy that has been wasted trying to fill up time on the back half of a vinyl or reach the 30-minute threshold so the label would put a record out. The phrase “deep cut” is often a charitable way to describe work that only existed so a band could get back out on the road.
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Shorter, more frequent releases might just be the thing to help rejuvenate a band’s career. Look at Nine Inch Nails; they’ve released three shorter works in the last 18 months, and the result is some of the best, most interesting work of their career. Not locking themselves into writing an entire album at once put them into situations that pushed them in creative directions they may not have considered under the traditional record release model; for example, having three different releases means writing three different opening tracks and three different closing tracks instead of one of each.
This kind of creative endeavor would work wonders for a band like Green Day. Billie Joe Armstrong clearly loves writing songs, and is very good at it—here is where I acknowledge that The Longshot record that came out earlier this year is quite fun—but their decision to release three full-length albums in one year was pretty much a disaster in 2012. Imagine if they moved forward with the same idea, but only focused on the five or six best songs of each release, taking the extra time to smooth out their edges.
Honestly, EPs and LPs are so outdated as concepts it’s stupid that we still refer to them. The industry would be much better off just calling everything “releases” (or whatever other creative marketing slogan someone wants to use). A ten-song Weezer album is always going to be shorter than a ten-song Coheed and Cambria release, so why pretend they’re the same thing anyway? Let the artists have the freedom to go short; odds are in most cases it’ll make for a better listening experience.