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Is the Album Dead? Radiohead Abandons It for Single-Track MP3s

Radiohead's an interesting band—musically the guys seem to follow their own path to innovative sounds. And now they're also following their own path to publishing music, and ditching the album format in favor of single-track downloads.


Speaking with The Believer magazine, Radiohead's frontman Thom Yorke explained the band's thinking: "None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again." The band's last album, In Rainbows, was released in 2007 but the effort of making a successor apparently seems too much for the band, "It'll kill us." Yorke notes.

Hence the plan to ditch the idea of an album altogether, and an intention to release singles one at a time for paid download—like the most recent, Harry Patch, whose profits go to charity. It's a follow-on move to the way In Rainbows was released—for download via the band's site with a "pay what you like" sales pitch that worked very well for the band. It's also obviously a less straining way of creating music, and it frees the band up to follow its creative urges without trying to craft tracks with the consistent sound and feeling that album tracks usually have.

It's definitely a confirmation of the iTunes model of downloading single tracks, which the listener likes, too. That's where things get interesting with this news story. Because Apple is strongly rumored to have a whole new endeavor underway to revive the album as a digital content-added entity. It's codenamed Cocktail, and will see the traditional album re-crafted into a digital beast with movies and artwork, something akin to a DVD's bonus features. A separate but extremely similar effort, codenamed CMX, is also under construction by a group of record labels. And U2, arguably one of the biggest bands ever, made a very determined effort to show the album concept isn't dead with a strongly-branded physical box set release of their album No Line on the Horizon. In another move to rethink the album, Mariah Carey's upcoming Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel will be released with a CD booklet that functions as a magazine—with advertising.

So is the album, with its heritage stretching back through 78 RPM vinyl records packaged together into a collection, finally on its last legs or not? The answer is probably not—Radiohead's actions reflect an off-the-wall attitude that'll probably work well for that band alone. But the album as a concept is certainly going to evolve. Digital downloads and album-like wrappers like Cocktail mean that it'll turn into a different thing altogether—but with the same mission: To communicate the themed creative efforts of musicians in the same way that a curated collection of a painter's works does.

[via Wall Street Journal]