iTunes vs. the Album

Billy Corgan is the latest to blame those darn kids with their iPods for killing the album:

In a Q&A with the Chicago Tribune, Corgan said the tepid reception of last year’s comeback album “Zeitgeist,” makes it the last effort the band will produce in album format. Chicago Trib: So “Zeitgeist” was the last album? Corgan: “We’re done with that. There is no point. People don’t even listen to it all. They put it on their iPod, they drag over the two singles and skip over the rest,” said Corgan. “The listening patterns have changed, so why are we killing ourselves to do albums, to create balance and do the arty track to set up the single? It’s done.”

This is supposed to be conventional wisdom, but I don’t buy it at all. I still listen to complete albums, especially when I get a new one. And while I shuffle sometimes, I don’t do it all the time.

It is true that I am an album person though: my favorite bands are bands that put a lot of thought into putting together a cohesive album that’s strong from front-to-back. That’s not true of most pop music, sure, but was it ever? In my experience, there are now (and always have been) music fans who buy complete albums and really get into the experience, and casual music listeners, who have always bought albums just to get to the singles and whose interest in music just floats along with the popular trends. iTunes makes life easier for the latter group…but as a card-carrying member of the “Albums First!” crowd, I think digital music has been pretty good for me, too.

I didn’t listen to the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zeitgeist,” but I doubt the switch from CDs to mp3s had anything to do with its relative lack of success. That isn’t meant to be a dig at the Pumpkins either: every year, far more great albums are released than become big hits, and at the same time a large proportion of what’s popular know will be nothing but the butt of jokes in 10 years. It’s just the way it goes, in any era.

Update: How did I fail to notice the irony that Corgan is blaming the Zeitgeist for the failure of “Zeitgeist”?