All Killer, No Filler?
LIKE so much of my journalistic existence…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I have been inspired by a question posed by BBC Radio 6 Music: which are the great albums where you still have to skip a track? It may seem relevant of nothing – and I will keep this one short – but it raises an interesting discussion. We all have our favourite albums – mine normally changes by the year – but is there a record where you listen to ALL the tracks through? I argue if that were the case it would be a ‘perfect record’. I adore albums like Rubber Soul (The Beatles), The Bends (Radiohead) and Grace (Jeff Buckley) but, thinking about it, never listen to those albums the entire way through. There is nothing wrong with those records: they are, in fact, three of my favourite albums ever. The two albums, oddly, I listen to without skipping tracks is Paul Simon’s Graceland and The Libertines’ Up the Bracket. Two more different records you could not imagine – but there isn’t a weak track on either. That said, Up the Bracket’s consistency is not indicative of its faultlessness – there are missteps and great tracks but nothing that truly knocks the socks off. Simon’s Graceland is a different animal altogether. I think that album is one you need to experience in its completeness. You cannot miss a track because each one has something special. Whether it is a nice detail or fascinating compositional touch; a brilliant chorus or peerless lyrics – I have to enjoy the album from its start to conclusion. With that said, I do not rank Graceland as my favourite album – it is definitely in the top-five. My favourite is Radiohead’s The Bends but a record where I can happily skip at least two tracks: the awful opener Planet Telex and Bones (it does not hit my every time and can happily skip past it). Even Jeff Buckley’s Grace has a few weak tracks. I cannot listen long to So Real and Eternal Life as I feel they are weak rockers compared with the title track. Even so, it is, to me, one of the most important albums ever made. It is less about the overall consistency and the fact it stems from one of the most remarkable voices ever.
I guess every album has its weak moments, which is interesting to me. Those ‘faultless’, five-star-only albums from history all contain songs you’d rather not hear. Physical Graffiti has a fair few underwhelming ones whilst Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – another one of my favourites – has, maybe, one or two tracks you might race through – Songbird and Oh Daddy are two songs I only listen to occasionally. In conceiving this piece, I have been thinking about The Beatles’ soon-to-be-commemorated landmark, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There is that pitched battle where Beatles fans are divided: what is, truly, the greatest album from the Fab Four? In terms of superiority, one must assume that concerns quality. Although Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is their most-important record; is it truly their best?! I would arm-wrestle anyone who argued against my selection of Rubber Soul – as the greatest album from the band – but, even then, I can ignore Run for Your Life easily (as could its creator, John Lennon). I guess, in terms of the filler-free Beatles albums; Revolver would be high up there. The band’s double-sided eponymous masterwork is ambitious but has a fair bit of filler in it. The greatest band who ever walked the planet have created the best albums of all-time but the majority have lacked that all-round consistency. I wonder whether a truly remarkable album is rather subjective. I would not argue against anyone who stated Physical Graffiti was the best album of all-time. It is a biblical record but can you honestly say you’d listen to every track on that double-album? In an age where we can download and stream tracks; we are often not listening to a whole album, and selecting single tracks. Would you go onto Spotify and listen to Carole King’s Tapestry in its entirety? I love that album but know there are a few tracks that I would avoid – even though it is a very special record.
PHOTO CREDIT: Stocksy
Vinyl is, perhaps, the only real way we can assure people treasure an album and enjoy every facet and moment. In the modern age, there are those who argue it is all about singles and those first few tracks on an album. Albums are marketed with a few songs and a lot of promotional build-up. We still buy albums, physically, but that digital resurgence means individual singles are being purchased – often those promoted by the record label or artist themselves. Is it harder, therefore, to say whether there is such thing as filler?! Sure, most albums have a couple of less-than-awesome songs but I wonder whether people are less concerned with the album as a concept and select their favourite songs. Are we losing attention-spans and looking for that quick fix and instant gratification? I would say there are plenty who will buy a great album so they can listen to it right the way through. There are other albums where we might buy it and only listen to a few tracks. A lot of times, albums are being picked apart: various people listen to some tracks; others listen to others and that means you never get a complete impression. My piece relates to those classic, world-class albums and whether there are any that contains no filler. Many critics rank Nirvana’s Nevermind the best record ever and, whilst I would not deny that claim, I cannot listen to On a Plain – I prefer the ragged and raw nature of In Utero and its flaws. It is interesting and I wonder what other people think about this? Are there albums where you can listen to the record back-to-front and always bond with?! Do you prefer singles and picking a few tracks from a record? It would be good to know your thoughts and whether you enjoy an album or instantly pick off those best tracks? Do you have that one special one you maintain is flaw-free; that record that is spotless? Is it impossible to find a filler-less album and is it a subjective thing? It interests me so some feedback would be great so we can…
GET a debate going.