Moans + Longing
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Artists and the Long Pause Between Albums
A new Florence + the Machine album…
IN THIS PHOTO: Gemma Hayes/ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images
is out on Friday and, whilst it going to receive terrific reviews and do great business; I am relieved there is something out there – her last album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, was only released three years ago but it seems like a bit of a gap. There are other artists who take that extra-long pregnancy to extreme lengths: The Avalanches released their debut, Since I Left You, in 2000 and only followed it up two years ago! Whilst Florence brings High as Hope to us; there are other artists who I have been looking out and wondering if the ellipsis between records has been worth it! I have written about this before when Royal Blood and London Grammar released their sophomore cuts – both arrived after a few years away from the mainstream. One of the exceptions to my general rule – not leaving too much of a pause between records – is a certain Paul McCartney. He released the album, New, back in 2013 (sounds ironic when you consider his follow-up is not out yet) and surprised us all with the announcement Egypt Station is coming out way in September. We can forgive The Beatles legend a little time to gestate, relax and ensure his music sounds just right. He has been in the music industry for so long as influenced countless musicians; he is not dependant on label approval and not concerned with keeping people interested because, like; well...he’s Paul McCartney!
The reason I have chosen Gemma Hayes as the ‘cover star’ of this article is that I am keen to hear more music from her. The fifth studio album from her, Bones + Longing, came out in 2014 and it is high-time the Irish wonder treated us to some more music. Her voice is that blend of heavenly and raw-toned; her wordplay and sense of connection (with the audience) is tremendous. I am a fan of Hayes’ music and feel we could do with her unique insight and sound. Other artists such as Natasha Bedingfield – not to everyone’s tastes, I know – has been relatively silent since 2008 and many fans are eager for new work. Maybe I am being a little harsh on Gemma Hayes: four years is not a long time and she has a busy creative and personal life to juggle. Beck took six years to follow up on 2008’s Modern Guilt but has released two albums since then. Lauryn Hill has only released one album (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998) and there are many others who would put an elephant to shame when it comes to holding back (their pregnancy can last anywhere up to two years!). It seems, though, every time I complain about an artist leaving gaps between records, low and behold, they bring something out.
I sent psychic grumblings out to the universe regards Paul McCartney and Jack White when I noticed a bit of a period between releases but I wonder whether there is too much pressure on musicians bringing stuff out regularly. There are extremes where you hear a brilliant album and then have to wait many years for anything else to come. Gone are the days when the biggest artists would release an album every year (or more, in many cases) but there are expectations that come from the public and labels. The reason big bands and artists could bring out albums so regularly was the comparative lack of competition and stress in the music industry. There has always been a competitive burden but now, with social media and streaming, people are getting more restless and patient. It is harder to stand out in the mind and resonate with so many artists doing the same thing. I wonder whether the way artists are tackling this issue is the right way of doing things. I mentioned two acts, London Grammar and Royal Blood, who released successful debuts and saw huge tour demands come from that. Rather than capitalise and strike whilst the iron was hot; they left it too long and brought out records that added very little to their debuts. It is a hard balance to strike I guess. You can hunker down in the studio and see if that urgency produces wonder or spend time honing and thinking about new angles.
IN THIS PHOTO: London Grammar/PHOTO CREDIT: Emma Viola Lilja/NME
I hold every hope Gemma Hayes will be back soon; there are other artists where I wonder what they are up to and whether they are leaving too long a gap between records. Paul McCartney’s unexpected releases, lately, show that time away has done the legend good: the first tastes of Egypt Station mix McCartney’s early solo career with classic Beatles sounds. I know artists like Hayes have faced pressure from record labels and been forced to make their music more commercial and ‘popular’. I wonder, too, whether artists are rebelling against labels and trying to be less commercial and obvious. The tendency is for acts to bring out great albums and then, when labels see they have done well, to do the exact same thing and quick-release a duplicate. A lot of artists, especially women, are styled by the label and made to conform with a certain ideal. Maybe that involves make-up and tight wardrobes; leaving nothing to the imagination and placing sex and flirtation over music and integrity. That is not always the case but you hear of artists unhappy with how they are marketed and that need to do things their own way – hence, the pause between records. Maybe we need to be more patient as consumers and respect an artist’s right to release music at their own rate.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I worry, though, about the size of the market and what effect a long wait between albums can have. Look at articles like this and this that looks at big artists who took an awfully long time to bring out fresh material. It is an interesting debate but I feel the debate is not as simple as artists dragging their heels and endlessly fettling. Maybe The Avalanches are a bizarre case of disappearing and losing focus – other artists have taken over a decade to follow up albums – but what is the acceptable time between records? So many new artists are bringing stuff out regularly to keep in the mind and ensure they have an ear. Increased competition and technological development mean songs can be produced quicker but, with that, sees thousands come out every year – if you sound like someone else then you are less likely to succeed, endure and carve out your own market. Everyone is free to create and release at their own rate but it is true we are spending less time around whole albums and accessing music like we drink water. We tend to see an album come along; pick a few tracks from it and then that it is it – we put it aside and, unless it is really fantastic, we move on to the next thing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Perhaps I have opened up another argument, or there are no answers, but there is that concern people will forget about you if you leave too long a wait between albums – or they forget the previous L.P. and let their minds wander. I think, if we look at why artists take a long to follow up albums, we can get to the root of the issue. Maybe it is that need to be radically different; perhaps they are being guided and told what to do by labels and other people; they might want to concentrate on family and take a breather. A lot of it comes down to the pace of the music industry and how hard it is to stand aside or do something genuinely radical. Maybe artists want something to be as good as possible: putting out a rushed and scrappy record could do more damage than leaving it years to do anything! I guess we could all do with appreciating music more and, instead of digesting everything without breathing and moving on; take time to listen to an album and artist – properly enjoy what they are putting out there. When it comes to releasing music and listening to the final project, maybe patience really is a virtue. Those artists who we assume are out in the wilderness and are not coming back; I am sure they are regrouping and producing albums that are different and personal. The likes of Gemma Hayes, who has faced commercial expectation and label interference, has earned the right to release music when she feels ready; others are trying to follow big releases and make the wait worthwhile. My biggest hope and concern is The Avalanches and whether they will wait another sixteen years to release album three! There are tolerable periods of creativity but taking that long; sorry boys, really is…
IN THIS IMAGE: The cover for The Avalanches 2016 album, Wildflower
A bit too much!