There have been studies done in recent years that show people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter; many people believe that the abundance of technology in the modern world is to blame for this.
When everything is right at our fingertips, we can access answers and information instantly, and almost as instantly, we can forget it, because we expended almost no energy finding it. There are often concerns in the entertainment industry about whether or not people will be able to pay attention to things that take a lot of time. For example, when was the last time that you saw a new movie come out that was longer than two and a half hours? There were actually some film studio concerns about the new Star Wars movie being so long and whether or not people would pay attention for more than two hours.
This same issue of short attention spans also comes into play in the music industry. There is a very large portion of music listeners who do not (and sometimes cannot) listen to albums in full. In fact, there are people who have the habit of switching songs before they’re over, and moving on to a new song or artist before one song has even run its course.
There’s no way to say that one way of listening to music is better than another. It’s all preference and people absorb music in different ways. However, this is not how I personally like to enjoy music. One of my favorite things about listening to music is discovering an album that is enjoyable all the way through.
Any musician can have one good song, that’s what a one-hit wonder is. What’s infinitely more impressive and fulfilling to me is finding a musician that can produce an album that’s good all the way through. Weak tracks happen, and are almost inevitable. It’s hard to come across an album where every song is fantastic. That kind of thing only happens a few times a year, and those albums usually go on to become classics.
There are many albums that I would personally consider as modern day classics, and all of them are fantastic, front to back. The experience of listening to an album all the way through, and enveloping yourself in the world created by the album, is an experience you won’t really get from listening to singular songs.
If we look at an album like “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” by The Smashing Pumpkins, which is a 28 song double album, it is hard to find a single bad track. At two hours long, it is definitely hard to digest that whole album in one sitting, but it is doable, because there are so many enjoyable songs on it. This album is more than just its singles, notably “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “1979,” to name a couple.
Let’s look at an album of a different nature. “Pure Heroine” by Lorde is an incredibly complete and interesting album in its entirety. Nearly half the album was released as singles or given music videos, and despite the airplay that those singles got, they function as integral pieces to an entire album when listened to as a whole.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar was almost unanimously labeled as the album of year in 2015 on hundreds of lists, and is an incredible journey in its one hour twenty minute run time. It’s actually hard to pick out a song from that album to stand on its own, because each song is like a support beam holding up a towering building; you weaken the structure of the whole by pulling out a singular piece. That’s really the nature of a great album. The songs alone are good, but together, they form a strong work of art that stands the test of time.
Next time you’re listening to music and might be shuffling around through different artists and songs, give listening to a full album a try. There are a lot of things that you might be missing by pulling out pieces of a whole.