Once upon a time the album format ruled the music business, particularly in the seventies and then again with the CD boom of the late eighties early nineties. However, with the changing landscape of the digital age, singles or individual downloads, legal or otherwise, were the preferred method of consumption for the internet generation. In a somewhat surprising twist it appears that vinyl is making a comeback, and also with the save to device features of streaming platforms being at their most efficient when downloading the whole album, the good old long player format is once again at the fore with all its pros and cons.
The case in favour is basically one of context, artists don’t decide running orders lightly – ever make a playlist? – this shit is important and the combination of songs can make or break a track. For instance, Blur‘s ‘Song 2’ only works as track 2, preferably right after ‘Beetlebum’. I mean can you imagine listening to GnR’s Appetite for Destruction and ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ not being followed by ‘It’s So Easy’? Also, the fact that each track is normally intended as part of the ebb and flow of the album’s mood makes each and every song important – at least in the eyes of the artist.
Which brings us to the downside – filler. Unfortunately, not every track on every album can be a classic and sometimes artists stamp their feet and hang on to tracks they have a real personal thing for, but just don’t always strike a chord with the listener. So stuff gets included that maybe would be better left on the studio floor and we start reaching for the skip button, something more complicated for vinyl junkies, but easy as pie for streamers and CD & Mp3 listeners. How many twelve track albums have you heard that would be all killer if they were cut to nine or ten? Then there’s the one hit wonders who build albums around that one awesome track and just don’t have the songs to merit a full LP. You ever buy an album for that one song?
Whatever the case may be, every now and again the lack of patience that has us reaching for fast forward, or the “I love that one killer track” mentality, or even the greatest hits approach, means that certain less well known tracks don’t necessarily get their dues. Sometimes the filler can be killer, check out these low fliers….
Oasis’ debut album, ‘Definitely Maybe is a certified classic and has a lot of very strong songs. ‘Live Forever’, ‘Supersonic’, Cigarettes and Alcohol’ and ‘Slide Away’ all have an enduring popularity, but one song that is often overlooked and was never given enough runs on stage was the mighty ‘Columbia’. Ok, it’s not exactly pushing any boundaries lyrically speaking but it’s got hooks and is just so damn loud. The guitar sound is gigantic and it builds and builds, layer upon layer, lick upon lick as the hypnotic rhythm rolls along in mesmerising fashion; it is surely one of their most unique songs – mad for it.
1991’s ‘Screamadelica’ is a classic album of indie acid house that came about after Andrew Weatherall had deftly deconstructed Primal Scream‘s ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ into the dance floor hand waver and top twenty hit ‘Loaded’. The album is overflowing with dance beats, chill out music and house piano lines that neatly capture the pervading drug culture on (and off) the UK’s dance floors. The album is famous for the aforementioned ‘Loaded’, the uplifting gospel of ‘Movin’ On Up’, the ultra chill of ‘Higher Than The Sun’ (and its dub symphony on side four), floor filler ‘Don’t Fight It Feel It’ and the monumental ‘Come Together’. But hang on a minute, what’s that tucked away half way through side three of the vinyl? A ballad? Yep, and it’s one of the Scream’s most underrated songs. ‘Damaged’ owes a lot stylistically to ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’, the song which prompted the whole thing, and is a piano based acoustic strum of summer love featuring sublime guitar work from Robert ‘Throb’ Young, who also did the vocals on ‘Slip Inside this House’, literally impersonating Bobby Gillespie, who was too wasted to sing. ‘Damaged’ stands up as a quite beautiful song, very much in the vein of their regular indie rock style, and is deserving of way more recognition than it gets.
Buried on side seven of the ridiculously overblown ‘Use Your Illusions’, ‘Locomotive’ is one of the most criminally overlooked Guns n Roses songs. The song ebbs and flows through Axl’s story telling and is jam packed with time changes as they drop in all kinds of twists and turns; musically speaking it’s a superbly arranged track, with the piano break in the finale accompanied by understated soloing to provide a classy finish.
‘Hatful of Hollow’ (‘Louder Than Bombs’ in the U.S.A, albeit with a slightly different track listing) is a compilation album of tracks The Smiths recorded for sessions at the BBC, besides a couple of singles. While not exactly a greatest hits album it does feature slightly altered versions of a number of their most famous tracks like ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’, ‘Hand in Glove’ and ‘This Charming Man’, but wait, what’s that little gem nestling at mid-album? It’s a song that was only ever recorded for a Peel session in September of 1983 – This Night Has Opened My Eyes’. I’m no Smiths aficionado, but this track has everything that made them great; laid back guitar melody, disturbing lyrics and a subtly twisted pop aesthetic, only it finds Morrissey delivering a beautifully understated vocal while Johnny Marr‘s guitar lines meander along atmospherically; sublime.
Elbow‘s universally acclaimed, million selling, Mercury Music Prize winning album ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is one of the most important records of the last ten years and is filled with many a beautiful moment. With Guy Garvey‘s thoughtful lyrics and the band’s intricately woven musical tapestry it’s a record that is nothing short of superb. The stand out tracks like the massive Grounds for Divorce, ‘The Bones of You’ and ‘One Day Like This’ in all its glory tend to steal all the thunder, yet it’s the rich textures and the subtle details that make this such a fine album and one of the less obvious tracks that repeated listens reveal to be quite stunning is ‘Weather To Fly’. Featuring one of Garvey´s most measured yet brilliant vocals, a delicate piano melody and gorgeous lilting orchestration that takes on a whole new dimension on the Abbey Road version with the BBC Concert Orchestra, it is a song of restrained beauty that is sorely underrated.