In the last few day’s I’ve seen several articles about the death of pop music from The Guardian and Russia Today to name two. For me this is part of a wider trend which encompases all aspects of society from the constant growth expected from major companies to the need for sports teams to always be going a step further than they did before. In the world after the internet has become mainstream it is possible to find almost anything you can think of and, to carry on using music as a primary example, that means that the entire history of recorded music is now concurrant and available. If people ask the question ‘what is the best decade in the history of popular music?’ there is no question that from now on it will always be the present.
I need to clarify that point, I don’t necessarily mean that the chart singles of today are better than the chart singles of yesturday but the ones from yesturday are still available. The internet allows communities to become smaller and more specific. Metal has shown that if you really like a particular song by a favorite band, say The Beatle’s Helter Skelter, start your band and you can play with those concepts and drive music to a heavier place. To me the early Black Sabbath Records sound like an extrapolation of Helter Skelter in many ways and then again, for example., you also have the rise of the grunge sound in the early 90s as an example two friends, Kurt Cobain and Dylan Carlson took very similar concepts in very different directions with Carlson even borrowing Sabbath’s original name for his band Earth. You later see SunnO))) form as an Earth cover band which today sount nothing alike, comparing Earth’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light releases with SunnO)))’s Monolith’s and Dimensions, although ostencibly the same genre, is basically pointless.
Music builds on the shoulders of the people before and it’s never been more the case. Pop music has gone from being the only music which was available, to the only music you hear regularly and finally on to being the music which people who don’t really like music listen to. If you have an even passing interest in listening to music you look past Mumford and Sons you’ll find an entire rabbit warren of (significantly better) indie rock and folk rock just waiting to be discovered and pretty soon you’ll be at Beautiful Days or an ATP and you’ll have left pop behind for an altogether more interesting experiance. If you hear a sound you like on an album today you can take that sound for your own band and extrapolate it as a musician or as a listener you can follow that sound back through the last century of musical output and uncover whole worlds. You can do all that by spending half an hour on wikipedia and youtube.
So I’m saying yeah, the pop album is dead, or if not dead obsolete for music fans. The mainstream can run with their 99p singles on iTunes, some songs are meant to be enjoyed for 2 minutes in isolation. Some songs are meant to pound away seeminly endlesly at night clubs, some songs only work in a field with a huge crowd but some songs are placed in a precise order for particular reasons. I’ll end with the example of Ayreon’s 2013 album The Theory of Everything; 42 sections over 4 tracks on 2 CDs designed specifically to ape the format of the LP and to enforce the album as a concept. It’s both a throwback to the 70s, even featuring Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Steve Hakett as guest musicians, but it’s also something new, a new sound distinct from Arjen’s older work. When I got the album I cleared a block of an hour and a half to listen to it on my good headphones and to read along with the booklet, to explore the story find meaning in the melodies. The Theory of Everything proves to me that the album is alive and well it just doesn’t care if it’s on Radio 1.