Double album: Two words that can send a shiver down any music lovers spine.
But Two = Better, Right?
It’s that time when your favourite artist or band reaches a high point of creativity in their music endeavours. They feel the only way to share that with you is by giving you two (or sometimes more, if it’s been a particularly fruitful period) records full of musical goodness. Well, that’s how they perceive it at least.
There has been many an article written about the curse of the double album. I’m not treading new ground here, however, it’s an issue that’s going to be a sore one for me in 2019. There may have been a time where the naive youngster in me couldn’t wait to hear two albums’ worth of music from one of my favourite artists. Now, the very mention of this concept causes my eyes to roll, the dread and disappointment begins to develop, often before I’ve heard what’s being offered up.
So you ask, what has caused his sudden resurgence in negativity towards the double album? Well, we’re barely into 2019 and two long awaited albums from bands, whose music I still enjoy, have been announced as being the double album. Music I had been looking forward to hearing has now got this tainted shadow of “the double” lingering in my mind.
Culprit number one are Foals. I think the Oxford five piece are one of the best bands this country has to offer. To date, they have made consistent albums. None of them classics of their time but nonetheless, always enjoyable affairs. They are a band who have been progressing nicely and have been on the path to Glastonbury headliner for awhile now.
Their latest album “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost” is due out in March. Well, Part One is. You see, Foals have taken the move of releasing the album in two volumes. It gives listeners the chance to fully consume Part One before the release of Part Two later in the year. Even so, this is still the dreaded double album being given a bit of breathing room. Now think back to the comments I made previously: Foals have never made a truly classic record. They have made albums with lots of great songs but not one you instantly remember. So the concept of two good, but not great, albums released in the space of a year doesn’t entice me.
There is an argument to be had here. If Part One doesn’t cut it, there’s still Part Two to redeem, although as track records go, Part One tends to be the resting place of what the band consider the best tracks and Part Two are the ones that “form the piece”. I’m expecting to love maybe most of Part One, and love a third of Part Two. Hang on a minute, I think I’m onto something here. I’ll come back to this…
A Big Ask.
Culprit number two is Vampire Weekend. I do enjoy this band’s music but in small doses. The long wait between records has taken them out of my cycle for a long time, so I’m perhaps not as excited about this as I would be with the Foals record. I’m always keen to hear what they produce though. I wasn’t keen to hear that they would be releasing a double album consisting of 18 songs.
For some people that might be a joy and I’m sorry I’m being negative about it. For me personally, a Vampire Weekend album really outstays its welcome after 10 songs. Keeping that preppy indie college Paul Simon tribute act routine over nearly double the amount of songs seems like a daunting listen to me.
The Double As The Turning Point
The double album can be a big ask even for your most loyal fans. A few years ago, Arcade Fire (one of my all-time favourite bands) released their fourth album “Reflektor”. I was a bit naive then about double albums and the concept of two albums’ worth of music from this band, after waiting years for a record, was exciting.
Then the record arrived and well, it was just ok. In fact it wasn’t just ok, it was the beginning of the end of the band for me. There was too much to consume, too many ideas used up here and that resulted in a follow up record which was, to put it bluntly, terrible. My partner is a huge Biffy Clyro fan and was looking forward to the release of their double album “Opposites” but she found herself in the same position as me with the Arcade Fire album. It had great moments but largely, was overlong and a bit bland.
So I mentioned earlier I was onto something… and it’s what I just talked about. Excess. When a band hits that “creative peak” where they feel a double album is needed should, in fact, be the moment when they truly take time to evaluate their work. Realistically, people don’t have time to consume 18 songs on their commute to their job.
The maximum of 12 songs should be enough for any album. Instead of putting Part One and Part Two out, condense it into one solid piece, take your time, release a few singles off both parts first and get the vibe of the record. Your great burst of ideas in the studio might not be what people want to hear. A bit of constraint wouldn’t go amiss. I’m preaching here as this has been said many a time: it’s a shame to see two good bands potentially fall down the rabbit hole of mediocre albums because of a shoddy double.
You could probably argue against my point of view that one of the most famous double albums of all time “The Beatles” (yes, I’m calling it by its proper name) didn’t jeopardise later albums by the Fab Four. You would be right but it does prove the theory of constraint.
There is a lot of rubbish on “The Beatles”, for example “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” (the worst song of all time), “Revolution 9” and whatever nursery rhyme Ringo sang on the record this time. If you cut all that out, there is a solid 12 track album, maybe even one their best. I’m being a bit controversial to prove a point, as I do love the record but it is a hell of a task to take it all in one sitting. It doesn’t have a cohesive feel or sound: just a stack of great ideas they had but couldn’t agree to cut.
Making a Statement
Wrapping up, it disappoints me that bands feel the double album is the route to take. Coming in at the midpoint of a career, it often feels the time where no one had the balls to tell the band “no” and as such, we will always have these musical beasts attack us. I fully understand that bands want to be creative and share all this music with their fans. Whatever happened to keeping the alright tracks as B-sides? Short and snappy is how I like my music, you’ve got 20 new tracks. That’s great, now give me the 12 best ones.
A final note, the title of the new Foals record screams “We have a statement to make” but does it really need the 20 odd songs you’ve put out to make it?
Foals release two albums this year. Vampire Weekend release one album but it’s two.