Elvis Costello once said: ‘you have twenty years to write your first album and six months to write your second one’.
It appears that some artists didn’t get the memo.
As September approaches, I already feel safe in calling 2017 ‘the year of the comeback album’. We have been graced with records ranging from the sophomore efforts of HAIM and Lorde to the return of established acts such as Arcade Fire, Gorillaz, the xx and many more. I couldn’t even finish this article without Taylor Swift teasing her first album since 2014. While this is a time to rejoice and celebrate the return of some of the finest acts around, it also poses the question of what exactly took them all so long.
There has always seemed to be an unspoken rule that the average artist’s album cycle lasts between 1-3 years, and yet many of the artists who have dominated the charts this year have taken upwards of four years to release new music. To compare, very unfairly, to the biggest artists of the 60’s; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, James Brown and many more all prolifically recorded and released historic albums – often consecutively and alongside touring – within the space of a few short years. Comparatively, there are a hell of a lot more musicians active right now, meaning we are never at risk of going without our favourites, and it speaks to the change in the times that artists can spend so long inactive and still come back to find relevancy.
We live in “The Digital Age”, in speech marks for emphasis, where infinite hours of music are at our fingertips and the barriers between artist and fan have been erased as major labels struggle to justify their existence. Some acts have embraced the opportunity to be as prolific as possible: BROCKHAMPTON are blessing us with two albums in one year, and some expected the same of Kendrick Lamar. Why have others not? In this one writer’s opinion, the answer may lie outside of music altogether, at least in the case of new blood such as Lorde or HAIM. Both have found themselves sharing social circles with the likes of Rihanna and Taylor Swift, thereby making the transition from mere ‘musician’ into ‘celebrity’ with perceived responsibilities outside of releasing music.
On the other, less mundane, hand, there’s the possibility that these artists no longer feel the need to release music to a deadline or to crank out music at a constant rate, but to save it for the best possible moment where it can deliver the biggest impact. This worked wonders in the case of Lorde and Arcade Fire, with both delivering albums simultaneously filled with summer bangers and commentary on the minutiae of modern life. Four years of accrued hype and anticipation served to place each album on a pedestal (for better or for worse) and ensure they were heard above the noise of thousands of other artists.
Maybe I’m reading into it all a bit too much, but since it seems that most critical attention this year has been paid to the return of established artists after periods of hiatus then I feel we need to approach the reasons behind this trend and question if it represents the new status quo. Obviously, these people owe us nothing, and are free to release music at a rate that suits them. But if this is the new norm then it suggests a change in the rate and way we listen to the music of our favourite artists.
I, for one, question whether the album as it exists now can survive these longer waits: 4 years for 40 minutes of music seems more than a little anticlimactic and often sets expectations a little too high, and so it follows that the standard format of releasing music may be due a rethink sometime soon.
Words by Luke Charnley
Words by HQ