Just how gargantuan can the album format become as the streaming age enters its Jurassic era?

Haven’t you heard? The album is dead.

Kids these days don’t have the patience to listen to anything that lasts longer than a Vine. The future belongs to EPs/one-off singles/audible GIFS/novelty greetings card jingles. The industry model is changing and artists need to, like, get with the times man...

Thankfully 2018 saw the long-awaited death of this, the most tepid of hot takes since prehistoric man first raised a primitive stone tool to scrawl ‘Is Rock Dead?’ on a rock. How could anyone still believe we were moving into a post-album era after a year in which artists as uncompromising as SOPHIE and Trent Reznor felt forced to release full-length LPs or else risk having their new material ignored by the world at large?

Yes, the advent of streaming has changed the way people listen to music, and services like America’s Pandora (still not available here) and Spotify’s tailored playlists do encourage listeners to treat the platforms like personal radio stations. But the way streaming services continue to layout the music on artist profiles, with priority given to albums over EPs and singles, could turn out to be what preserves the concept of the ‘record’.

A concept which also survived the original extinction of vinyl in the 80s and the rise of ‘Greatest Hits’ collections and introduction of the ‘shuffle’ function in the 90s, not to mention that weird period in the 00s when all your mates with 8GB iPod Nanos seemed unwilling to download more than three tracks by any single artist) for many generations to come, like an insect trapped in amber with a bellyful of dinosaur blood.

This is obviously a flawed metaphor, as streaming has not vacuum-packed the concept of the long- play album in some static state. Across the music industry, but especially visible in the more unabashedly capitalist world of hip-hop, the album format is swelling.

In the vanishingly brief decade when downloads ruled the roost, there was very little point in releasing an obscenely long album. After all, when an eight track album boasts the same £7.99 iTunes price tag as its bloated 20 track alternative, you might as well pocket those extra tracks and save them for the deluxe edition release half a year down the line (a tactic employed by everyone from Lady Gaga to Everything Everything earlier this decade that makes little sense now, though it might take another decade for some more stubborn record labels to realise this).

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Flash forward to now and the biggest records really are the biggest records. Last year saw the release of Migos’ ‘Culture II’ with its 24 tracks, Drake’s ‘Scorpion’ pipped that at 25 (even if most of its streaming figures reportedly came from six of them), 03 Greedo dropped both the 21 track ‘The Wolf of Grape Street’ and the 27 track ‘God Level’ while Waka Flocka Flame surpassed all competition to reach the 50 track milestone on his shamelessly stream-hungry ‘Waka Myers [Halloween Hits]’.

As albums reach ever more behemothic proportions it makes the standard predictions from a few years go that the future of music was deluxe singles and EP packages seem embarrassingly obsolete. But it also begs the vital question, who is going to jump the shark and release a 100 track album first?

For as long as I can remember I have heard artists from across the musical spectrum, including Ne- Yo, Jess Glynne and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, boast in interviews about how they wrote over a hundred songs before whittling this prolific output down to create a (theoretically) high quality album. Though many of their claims can be written off as ego-flexing and attempts to boost sales, the fact is that there is no longer any incentive to withhold these many offcuts, B-sides and demos that wouldn’t have made the album cut in times gone by.

As long as these additional tracks are over 30 seconds long (the minimum monetisable track length on most streaming services) they can easily be added to the end of the album in order to farm streaming figures from lazy listeners who tend to just hit ‘play’ on an album and let it run.

It should be noted that the 100 song album has existed in various guises since 2009’s emphatically non-essential ‘100 Hits Legends - Chas And Dave’ (which spawned the bafflingly successful ‘100 Hits’ series, now 73 albums and 73,000 songs strong). Guinness World Record-holding St Albans outfit The Pocket Gods are responsible for no fewer than six 100 song albums, many with knowingly titled tracks like ‘Who Do I Have To Sleep With To Get On This Spotify Playlist’ and ‘I Wrote And Recorded 100 Songs About The World Cup In 2 Days Can’t You Tell?’.

Just last year the wittily named Anal Trump also joined the 100 club with ‘The First 100 Songs’, which somehow clocks in at under 11 minutes (coincidentally the same length of time it took for America to regret electing Donald Trump).

The one thing that unites these previous centenarian releases is that they are all (to a greater or lesser degree) works of comedy, disqualifying them from the running. Their extreme track listings were meant as a joke in a way that the slow creep towards the 100 mark from Wacka Flocka et al emphatically isn’t.

As albums, playlists and mixtapes become ever more conflated it seems inevitable that we will witness a straight-faced 100+ song release before the end of the decade, heralding the dawn of the age of the super-album.

As we move into the brave new world of the 2020s, will the music industry be ravaged by seismic tremors caused by clashes between the colossal new albums from Drake and Dua Lipa, each 500 tracks tall and stacked with countless extended skits, remixes, live versions and reprises? Or will this take be as dead as the double album by the end of the year?

Going by the track record of this highly unpredictable decade, I’m going to say probably the latter.

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Words: Josh Gray

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