Friday, July 31, 2009

Better as a Single: Introduction

“It would have been better as a single.” That’s the classic critical riposte to the double album. Any time an artist releases a studio double, someone somewhere will immediately talk about how it has filler and would have been more effective a release if the filler had been trimmed away.

Personally, I love the comment: it is, ultimately, as meaningless a comment as it is an obviously true one. If you take any collection of works, be it music or anything else, the average quality would be improved by pruning out the items of lower quality: the Louvre would have a higher average rate of quality per painting if it were half its size, right? I mean, inarguably that’s true, even if it’s not quite the point. Each double album would be better as a single album, each single album better as an EP, each EP better as a 7” single, each single better as a ringtone…

The interesting thing about double albums is the polarizing effect they have on the critic. By and large critics will tell you they disapprove of double albums, yet a good many of those greatest critical darlings that regularly top best-of lists are doubles. On Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 best albums of all-time, for example, the top six are all single albums, but then back to back the next four, numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10, are all doubles. Critically reviled? Clearly not.

Yet at the same time, most of those albums that critics would put on worst lists are also doubles: examples of ambition gone wild, egos unchecked, etc. etc. Both Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder are cases in point: in both cases, both their most critically lauded and their most derided albums are doubles. 

Generally, I have to agree with the criticism. Most of the time, an album has little to say that can’t be said in 40 minutes, really. Most double albums really are guilty of too much ambition and too much bloat. Most really do become better albums when shaved down to half their lengths. The purpose of this blog is, every now and then, to show exactly how by re-envisioning some of the most well-known bloated double-length albums as svelte singles: removing the flab and revealing the muscle, so to speak. Generally this serves either to puncture the inflated ego of over-exalted classics or to do the silk-purse-sow’s-ear treatment on some of the most strongly condemned releases. In either case, sit back and enjoy the results of this SlimFast take on records great and not-so-great.

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