On the Download

Is the online music store the Apple of digital music's eye? It should be.

Norah Jones made it through the same trench and came out on the other side with 10 million in sales, but what about the hundreds of other quality artists who have nothing but a tiny yet very devoted fan base? They're the ones likely to give up and stop making records. Who cares about Concept Albums, Rock Operas, Political Statements when you can't get someone to listen to one freaking song?

It's still not proven that digital music will supplant the hard copies. You can still come across a song by the Flaming Lips, decide you like it, download the entire thing, burn it and have what Wayne Coyne and the band wanted anyway. Not everyone will do that. But plenty of people will. Or maybe I'm just that naïve.

Eric Celeste: I'd like Patrick to address Zac's take on the glory of Kazaa, et al., because Patrick suddenly, for some reason, has found a conscience at the age of 40 and feels guilty about downloading music without paying for it. And he just bought a new iMac. (So...jealous.)

But I want to address Bobby W.'s point about how this piecemeal downloading destroys the concept of the album. Yes, unless I download all 11 songs (at a full-album discount of $9.99--another nice Apple touch) of the Lips' latest album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, then I won't experience their work the way they intended. And I haven't decided to do that. Ten bucks sounds a lot less affordable than a dollar on our salaries. But...

I still may indeed decide to download the entire album, which I probably would never have gotten around to purchasing. The ease of the Apple experience gives me the chance that this becomes a band I love, not just a few songs I dig.

I already have Pet Sounds in my digital jukebox, as well as all of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Mermaid Avenue and Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and a host of other complete albums. Music fans will always want albums from the canon. The music store is simply adding to my collection, not substituting for it. It is enhancing my love of music and the joy of, yes, discovery. It's how I found (and downloaded the entire debut album of) OK Go. And, yes, it's at least somewhat incumbent upon the act to capture my attention and make me want to listen to their entire work. No one gets a free ride in the cultural marketplace.

The album experience is somewhat overrated, mostly because of weed use on the part of all who decry its passing. We drunks like strapping an iPod to our arm and having several hundred singles at our fingertips.

Patrick Williams: I went out and bought a Mac this past weekend--no payments till January, and with any luck I'll be rich or dead by then--in part because of iTunes. So if it's a bad thing, I'll add it to my list of bad things I really like. Just one more thing to make me go blind, I guess.

What's that you say, Gramps? The album is dead? Thank God. The CD player and a remote control already mean I haven't had to sit through "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" since I sold my turntable. (Would I have bought Nashville Skyline or Blood on the Tracks if I could have bought singles from iTunes? Of course I would have. Give me credit for being smarter than that.)

I'm the oldest guy in the group here: You want the glory of the album? Let's talk about how much money I blew over the years replacing needles I broke from dropping the arm while trying to lift it over some cut I hated on an otherwise good record. And where was your mourning for the death of the single, brought about by CDs? Out of all my long-sold vinyl, the only piece I truly pine for is a 45 of Clarence Henry's "Ain't Got No Home," one of only two pieces of music that will actually force me to get out of my chair and dance my arrhythmic ass around the room.

As for the Art of the Sequence. Please. Yeah, Quadrophenia is a great album. So's Tommy. But they're also--loosely--narratives, and writers as talented as Townshend and singers as great as Daltrey aren't exactly falling off of trees.

But tell me, is there some story arc I'm missing in the Lips' Yoshimi...? Like the CD. Would have bought it anyway after hearing the title cut, but the truth is the arrangement on the disc is about mood, not a story arc, and frankly I'm a big enough boy now that with a catalog of singles to sort through and cheaply experiment with, plus a CD burner, I can put together my own mixes of great songs to match my own moods.

I average 50 bucks a month buying CDs. With iTunes, I can be choosier, spread that money around to more artists--I shunned Kazaa, etc. because I want to support the artists I like so they keep making albums--and sample a wider, better, more eclectic array of music. This is bad? Well, alrighty then. FedEx just delivered my DSL modem for the new Mac today, so I'll be spending the night wallowing in sin. As usual, I suppose, but with a much better soundtrack.

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