Can we still properly *anticipate* a new release in the digital age?

The year was 1986. The boy was a young Softsynth. Erasure’s debut Wonderland had rocked his world and he heard “Sometimes” and then “It Doesn’t Have to be Like That” via Rock Over London (so, so cheesy but so so important to his musical development), and the anticipation of the second album, The Circus had him in a veritable tizzy. Upon finally buying the album it was listened to non-stop and was declared his favourite album of all time (a status that lasted maybe six months, but still…). The countdown, the lucky catching of the lead-off single on the radio, it all added up to something so exciting, that it resembled the final weeks before Christmas, which a still-younger version of that same boy lovingly counted down by crossing off days in a pocket calendar. The routine would repeat itself over and over in the following years as the musical palette grew, waiting expectantly for new cassette releases by Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, O.M.D., I Start Counting, the first sounds of a lead single were like throwing a drop or two of water to a man dying of thirst. To a hard, hard core music geek there was nothing more visceral.

We were reminded of those days when we noticed the newest Erasure single, “When I Start (To Break it All Down)” is on Soundcloud (as are new tracks from the forthcoming, and long anticipated Huski album – yay!), and when we cued up the former we got a little jolt of excitement in anticipation. Now contextually relevant is the fact that this blogger has not been particularly passionate about Erasure in a very long time. We own every album Vince ‘n Andy have pushed out but recent output, Nightbird aside, has been wanting and something less than exciting. And yet for all that – the jolt, the shivery anticipation was there. Was it the awesome cover art that is evocative of earlier Erasure albums? Was it the sense that they’re due for a great album again? No idea, but it was definitely there. Turns out the song is pretty darn good and a nice taste of what could be a nifty little album (ditto the Huski, btw). But the shiver went away pretty quickly. No knock on the song, it’s more fun than anything from their last album, but it’s just, “oh, new Erasure track. Pretty good. When’s the album out again?” and then back to whatever else we were doing. What’s up with that?

It’s a number of things: digital music is a far less tangible beast, it’s not the trip to the record store to bring back a shiny, smooth CD (or cassette – see 1986) to then pour over, it’s just tinny music through the computer. It’s also a download (and leak) culture where release dates don’t mean what they used to. We often get reviewer copies of albums in advance, sure, but we’ve seen albums leaked out months before a street date; person A may get it months before person B – it’s no longer a shared experience. We heard the last Depeche Mode album in its entirety, song leak by song leak over a period of weeks before the thing was due to be released officially. The whole thing felt anti-climactic, drawn out and a little sad, a far cry from the gnashed teeth over the wait for Music For the Masses once upon a time.

We celebrate the digital age. Every CD this blogger owns is in a box waiting for a yard sale to be got rid of, every song we own is in ye olde iTunes folder, the purchase of the first generation iPod shuffle so many years ago now, was revolutionary to the way we listen to music and was the catalyst for a rebirth in our interest in music again. Downloading and a virtual world has meant we can listen, and own songs by small, obscure, but terrific bands from every corner of the world in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. We are neither Luddites, nor so old that change is inherently scary but full admission: the new release just ain’t what it used to be and it’s very much a feeling that’s been lost to the ages and one that sorely missed.

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3 Responses to “Can we still properly *anticipate* a new release in the digital age?”

  1. Agreed. I generally only listen to an album (and the tracks almost never in their intended order) until it falls off the Recently Added list. If nothing’s struck me in those two weeks, it falls into the great Shuffle Abyss, perhaps never to be heard again.
    I almost never keep a favorite song for more than a day or too, not like the days when I listened to my “Shake the Disease” 12″ single repeatedly for months.

  2. I do my best to not listen to leaks, especially low quality mp3s. I want my first full listen to be something special. I still pop that CD in the player and sit in front of the stereo for that experience. Of course, I can’t do that all the time, so lately it’s been in the car CD changer where I can play some volume (no kiddies to wake).
    The access to the knowledge that a new CD is due that the internet provides is awesome. Access to fans (like SoftSynth) it provides is great. MP3s, not so much. Having a huge library of MP3s IS fun, but for the best sound I much prefer CDs. There’s always something new to hear, sometimes TOO much. I do hope the new Erasure is not all autotune. Ugh.

  3. I still listen to my Shake The Disease 12″ repeatedly! This is a very succinct summary of what being a music fan in the 21st century is like. So many things are better now—access to information, obscure bands and obscure music videos to name just a few. But the whole leak culture thing and the domination of lossy digital formats without tangible sleeves to pore over is sad. I still haven’t gotten over the demise of the SACD.

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