The Dying Art of The Album
NPR recently released its list of 150 greatest albums made by women. Among the top twenty are Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and Patti Smith's Horses, with Blue (Joni Mitchell) sitting at the number one spot. One pop, one distinctly punk, one a folk masterpiece peppered with the tiniest hint of the experimental jazz sound its creator would develop over time. The femininity of the artists is not, however, the only thoroughfare between the albums on this list. Over half the albums chosen by NPR were released between 1970 and 1989. In the span of two decades – not a notably long time when you consider how long it takes to make an album from inception to final mastered piece – the majority of long-lasting, critically acclaimed albums were made.
One of the things I desperately miss about an album are the slow-burners. Not everything is supposed to be a hit single and I quite honestly, for much of my life, have measured an artists talent by the way they are able to fill up the negative space on an album. Take Rumours. How the hell are you supposed to follow "Dreams"? How does one get from "Go Your Own Way" to "The Chain"? Fleetwood's answer is simple: Christine McVie's melodically and lyrically stunning "Songbird". It's not a hit, and it doesn't have to be. McVie was so often dwarfed by the ethereal fairy-child that was Stevie Nicks circa 1977, all gypsy lace, bell sleeves and otherworldly growl. But on "Songbird", McVie is anything but forgotten; the heartbreaking track won't allow it. When I asked Ailbhe whether she felt pressure to make every single release a "banger" she said:
There is pressure to make everything a banger, but I think that's a longstanding pressure on anyone who starts to do well. You have to keep upping the game. There are songs I have [as an artist] that I just am not going to invest in because they aren't 'single material'.
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