The Last Album

Yesterday I read that British dance duo Groove Armada were bringing out their last album (interview in Dutch). They clarified that they would continue to publish new music but only in single or EP formats.

“The album has no future. […]
People mostly only buy singles online […]
Writing 12 songs shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it cost us years off our lives.”
– Tom Findlay

All quite true. I hardly even listen to albums anymore; with a digital library, I set play to random or occasionally make a short playlist of a favourite artist.

And yet only a few years ago, the album was still the predominate music format. One of the reasons, IMHO, why downloading took off, was not simply getting something for free, but having the freedom to choose what you want without getting one hit and 11 dross. For writing 12 songs that hang together is an extremely difficult thing, but once done, and if it’s well done, it can become a timeless treasure.

Thinking about favourite albums, first albums seem to stand out; maybe because they capture the original spirit and energy of the group before they get too self-conscious and rehearsed, or sculpted into a corporate package deal.

Is this it? – The Strokes
Hatful of Hollow – The Smiths (not actually their first album, but still …)
“Banana” – Velvet Underground with Nico
The Doors – The Doors
Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (the first album Van knew about)
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
I – Led Zeppelin
Grace – Jeff Buckley
Dummy – Portishead
77 – Talking Heads
Endtroducing – DJ Shadow

Mmmm … something of a pattern here. All white boys (apart from Nico, who sings lower than most men, and Beth Gibbons in Portishead).

Let’s try

Catch a Fire album cover
Marley & the Wailers' debut album (for a major)

Catch a Fire – Bob Marley and the Wailers

Curtis Mayfield's debut solo album
Curtis Mayfield's debut solo album

Curtis – Curtis Mayfield

Blue Lines by Massive Attack
Massive's debut album

Blue Lines – Massive Attack

Jorge Ben (1963)
Too cool for a stool

Samba Esquema Novo – Jorge Ben

Maria Bethania (1965)
A treasured vinyl

Maria Bethania – Maria Bethania

Googling around other “best debut albums”, I see that the lists are remarkably similar. I think that’s a reflection of the voters’ similar backgrounds and ages rather than a comment on the quality of the music; many musicians I love, such as Salif Keita, Soulwax, Garnett Mimms or Machito, I just don’t associate with particular albums.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how the number of entries tails off very rapidly after the punk/New Wave period. There seems to have been a golden period for top-class albums around 1965-1985.

Any more original or unusual suggestions?