Friday, May 20, 2011

Tell them what time it is!

I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine who was complaining about the reissue of Fear of a Black Planet on vinyl. His exact words were “I can’t believe they released it as a single record again.” He’s right. A vinyl record fits about 20 minutes per side but any album longer than that requires the music to be compressed making it sound tinny and pinched. Black Planet, at just over an hour, has never really been that enjoyable to listen to on LP. Other notabvle offenders from the 80's was the original pressing of The Joshua Tree which was fifty minutes long.

When I was a kid, tapes and records had about eight songs on them and I didn’t think about it twice. The recent release of Radiohead’s King of Limbs was met with the derision because it was too short (instead of it being lame) but in 1987, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at a thirty-three minute record (coincidentally, Sleigh Bells debut album clocks in at thirty-two minutes and I don’t feel bad about that at all). I always think of that Bob Mould self titled record (1995) where the final minute and a half of the record is the sound of a needle bumping until someone takes it off. That additional time takes the record to thirty-nine minutes which is the ideal time for a vinyl record (I’ve never found that record on vinyl so if someone can hook me up, much appreciated). I guess Bob was making a statement about cds and vinyl or maybe he just thought it sounded cool.

I guess my questions is this: have we been conditioned to expect too much music and have artists been robbed of making a concise statement? This was brought home to me when I read an interview with Kate Bush on Pitchfork where she says:

Pitchfork: The Red Shoes came out in 1993, the heyday of the compact disc. Were you recording specifically for that format?

KB: Yeah, that's absolutely right. It probably was my first album that was specifically a CD as opposed to vinyl. Red Shoes was a bit long-- which was also a part of this whole problem with the change from vinyl to CD. I think that put a lot of strain on artists, actually. With CDs, you suddenly didn't want to let people down so you tried to give them as much as possible for their money. [laughs]

When you love an album it’s natural to desire more and more music but I’m not sure that necessarily makes it better. You see it with a number of re-issues that feature songs from the recording sessions that were originally left off the record. Most of the time, those bonus tracks at the end of the album add nothing and are just annoying because the natural conclusion to the album is ruined.

So what’s better, an album featuring lot’s of music but having poorer quality control or an album that is short but near perfect (although I am yet to find a perfect album)? I know a lot of albums that could be tightened up but is that to their detriment as well? With digital, the length of an album is limitless really but is more music a good thing? I don’t know the answers but I wish when they re-released vinyl records they would make them doubles if it goes over 45 minutes… Just sayin'...


1 comment:

  1. Oh, you do not want to get me started on audiophile music, reissues and compression. Suffice it to say that I would much prefer a single released in 1980, to a download-only release of 7000 songs on a thumb drive, set loose on the world in 2011.
    Yes, re-release classic stuff- but they always have to remaster it, and that almost always involves compressing the shit out of it. The way I try to explain this to my non sound engineer friends is that it's something like playing a movie from 1980, colour corrected and digitally enhanced so's it'll play on yer plasma TV. Sure, the blacks are really black, and the reds are really red, but all those shadows, all the little flickers of light and sound that happen in the real world, and were recorded in the original film? Gone. You simply lose those details. It's like an animated version of the original. If they left it alone, some of the blacks would be grey, and some of the reds would be pink, but all the details would be restored.
    So, something like Fear of a Black Planet? It was mixed to be either a cassette or multiple releases. But, next to no one has a cassette deck (except me. I've got two) so of course they'll put it out on Vinyl- but it wasn't mixed for that. The way I see it, if they have to re-release it, put it out as a series of downloads, and a CD. Don't bother trying to "reproduce" it. It just won't translate well, no matter what you do.