Back in 1980 I was the biggest Elvis Costello fan, and Get Happy!! blew me away. I listened to it many, many times, knew it backwards (though mistook “I wish I was his funeral director” for the more interesting “I wish I was a funeral director”). Over two years I listened to it at least once a day but more than that, over and over again, 100s of times. In comparison, my second favorite album of last year was Sunday Choir’s Jesus Is Born, and if I listened to it 20 times, I’d be surprised.
Part of it is age, I don’t obsess over rock stars the same way, and I certainly have never found a singer I empathize with as much as Costello through his first five albums, but the rest is a difference in how we receive music, and what we invest in it. If you’ve gone to a record store, bought an album, took it home, and listened, there is just a much bigger investment that streaming it among 50 other albums released that day.
The impression is that this has changed the form from albums to singles, like the early sixties and rock and roll or the late 70s and hip hop, but it hasn’t. Streaming has changed us from an album audience to a song audience, we pick our way through album and weed out the dross, and then move a song or two we like to another playlist and then another in an extended version of survival of the fittest. We no longer can figure out what to do with albums.