Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When CDs Ruled the World

Reviewing Black Ice for this week's batch o' CDs in what turns out to be my last go - I've been replaced by another source of reviews, which makes me feel like I've now got some sort of cred with the factory workers who watch their jobs get outsourced to southeast Asia - and it inspired some thoughts about album length in the age of CD domination.

Remember back in the mid to late 90s when CDs finally became the dominant format and companies that weren't staffed entirely by black metal nerds stopped putting out albums on cassettes? Perhaps freed from the constraints of a shorter medium, perhaps pushed to fill the whole 74 minutes to equalize the production costs, perhaps for some other reason that doesn't actually exist because I don't really have any scientific data on the subject, bands started putting out 15 track monstrosities stuffed with enough fluff to fill an army of pillows. In reaction, people start downloading mp3s, CD sales plummet, the record companies suffer and the music industry as we know it slowly sinks into the mire, replaced by a shining new paradigm of more sensical commerce.

I may have made the last part up.

As a child of the CD generation, I grew up with the idea of the more tracks the merrier. As time goes on however, my patience has begun to wear thin, either as a result of listening to shorter, tighter albums from the pre-CD days, or just the kind of crankiness one develops about the bullshit of others as one grows older. Either way, I've come to the conclusion that unless you're playing grind or hardcore or some other genre where "long" songs are the ones that last 30 seconds, you really shouldn't have more than 12 tracks on your album.

To bring it back to Black Ice: AC/DC's latest not only finds them running over the same well-tread ground (should we call that "Pulling a Slayer"? I think we should), but doing so over 15 tracks, which is about five tracks too many. "Rock 'N Roll Train," "Big Jack," "Spoilin' For A Fight," and the superb title track are all excellent inclusions; "Anything Goes" just takes the formula and gets repetitive. Part of this issue is undoubtedly Brendan O'Brien's fault for not forcing the band to keep things short and Back In Black-style sweet, but AC/DC are big boys: they should know better. It's album making 101, fellas: just because you can put the song on your record doesn't mean it needs to be there.

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