Is 2011 shaping up to be the weakest year for albums in recent memory?

We’ve just passed the halfway point in the calendar. Some music websites view this as an opportunity to publish their favourite 10 albums of 2011 so far, but that’s something I’m not tempted to do because:

a) An end-of-year countdown is self-indulgent enough
(and more significantly)
b) I haven’t heard three great albums this year, let alone 10.

Now, there’s a fair probability my opinion of what constitutes as “great” won’t magically align with yours, but answer this: How many 2011-released albums do you find yourself going back to?

Search for the most popular theories as to who or what is to blame for the southward trajectory of album sales and you can take your pick from piracy, the recession, games consoles, online streaming and the Apple corporation.

Few share my belief: There are fewer albums being made that are actually worth buying.

Kaiser Chiefs last month gave fans the opportunity to create their own version of their new record The Future Is Medieval by choosing their favourite 10 tracks from the selection of 20 on offer.

Some people used adjectives such as ‘brave’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘pioneering’ to describe the move. I would have plumped for ‘desperate’. Musicians can spend entire careers struggling to fend off outside interference from record labels over the sound and direction of their songs. Now we’ve got a band proudly relinquishing artistic control of their own album to Joe Public.

Then again, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the acts who have an aversion towards releasing albums in the time-honoured tradition (Ash, Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins to name three recent examples) are those whose glory days – both creatively and commercially – are behind them.

A commonly repeated statement is that the modern music fan listens to individual songs instead of full albums. Given just how few memorable albums have been released in the first six months of 2011, my suspicion is that it’s a habit borne out of necessity rather than preference.

Here are a couple of tracks taken from two of this year’s better records – Cold War Kids’ Mine Is Yours and Emmy The Great’s Virtue:

Cold War KidsRoyal Blue

Emmy The GreatPaper Forest (In The Afterglow Of Rapture)

September 20, Oran Mor, Glasgow (tickets)
September 22, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (tickets)
September 23, Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh (tickets)

7 Responses to “Is 2011 shaping up to be the weakest year for albums in recent memory?”

  1. Nei Says:

    July 6th, 2011 at 10:21

    If there’s a better album this year than Let England Shake, I’ve yet to hear it. That’s a modern classic right there.
    But, aye, things feel a but underwhelming compared to this time last year.

  2. P Says:

    July 6th, 2011 at 10:42

    I worry about the album.

    The notion that this is an outdated concept is, as you point out, probably more of an excuse for having run out of ideas. It’s a similar argument to the one cynics make about marriage being historically about ownership of property and not really about love.

    The album as an entity has always been vitally important to me, personally. I owned my first album at 2 years old (the vinyl of Adam and the Ants’ ‘Prince Charming’) and have spent the decades that followed continually looking for new kicks from this format. For the most part, I’m looking back to quench my thirst though.

    How surreal to look back and remember the day that I bought Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ on cassette the day it came out. How could I have known that I would still be listening to that record nearly twenty years later?
    How surreal to look back and remember the absurd excitement I’d feel on entering a record shop, prickling with electricity in anticipation of the jackpot joy of buying a record I’d never heard but had read hyperbole about in the music press.
    How surreal to look back and remember. And how sad.

  3. Kowalskiy Says:

    July 7th, 2011 at 10:04

    You are a tough guy to please if only 2 albums have really floated your boat so far this year. Albums by The Son(s), Come On Gang!, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, King Post Kitsch, Song of Return… (my self-consciousness of my self-indulgence stops me from continuing) have all been pretty high standard! I don’t see a problem at all with the Class of 2011. Each to their own though…

  4. john watkins Says:

    July 8th, 2011 at 00:07

    twin atlantic’s free came out in april i believe and that’s pretty good coming from a welshman.

  5. Mike Says:

    July 8th, 2011 at 20:35

    It’s funny I’m the complete opposite! I felt that last year was unbelievably slow up until July but even by the end of March this year I’d heard 6 or 7 records that would have made my Top 10 last year. So FOUND, Come On Gang!, Paradise Motel, ESFTD, King Post Kitsch, Wells and Moffat, Mogwai, PJH are all worthy of investigation with LPs to come from at least Martin Henry and WWPJ, maybe Middleton. Definitely feel like 2011 is a good place and is well on course to out strip 2010.

    I’d agree that there’s a lack of a truly great LPs but then, for me, years can pass without that happening.

  6. Mike Says:

    July 8th, 2011 at 20:37

    Oops, forgot Wire!

  7. Euan Says:

    July 12th, 2011 at 13:26

    mogwai, aidan moffat/bill wells, conquering animal sound, the antlers, king creosote/jon hopkins, josh t pearson, m ostermeier, FIRES were shot, the felice brothers, dustin o’halloran, death cab, bright eyes, bon iver, alva noto & ryuichi sakamoto….i could go on.

    loads of great albums out there in 2011 if you go looking for them. and i LOVE the album. not all that interested in individual songs. i love how things fit together and how an album works from beginning to end.

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