Visiting family a couple of months ago, I tried to think of the last time I listened to an LP. Perfect Strangers? Rock Will Never Die? Powerslave? Whatever it was, it was a long time ago. But then my sister busted out all of our old albums: Street Songs, Classic Yes, Silk Degrees, Panorama, Heatwave, Powerslave! We rocked them on a little el cheapo foldup record player that our oldest brother had bought from Amazon for her family last Christmas. The clarity and power floored me. It was as if Ric Ocasek or Jon Anderson or Bruce Dickinson were standing right in front of me, squealing directly into my earholes. A suitcase record player might end up being the only thing on my Christmas wish list this year. (That’s right. It’s November. We can officially start talking about Christmas now.) (That’s doubly right. I have a Christmas wish list. My wife can’t stand the thought of not buying me something.) (I just made that last part up.)
I’m glad vinyl is making a comeback. Demand for the material from artists is so great that the North Texas label Hand Drawn Records is going to erect in Addison the first and only fully automated pressing plant in the world. (The United States is home to about two dozen facilities currently. Another, A&R, is in Dallas.) As great as vinyl is, I just hope its resurgence hasn’t come too late.
Singles appear to be what musicmakers young and old are into these days, and if Joe Rockstar thinks he can just plop a bunch of singles onto a platter of vinyl and call it an “album,” he needs to know that he is disgracing Wish You Were Here, Hemispheres, “The Lamb,” and every other wondrous long-playing experience. The ritual associated with vinyl –– admiring the sprawling artwork, gently extracting that shiny platter from its paper sleeve, cueing up the stylus –– deserves an equally patient, equally involved payoff. That, and skipping songs on vinyl is tricky. And awkward. And it’s almost like you’re cheating. God did not create that record player, Junior, for you to do whatever the hell you want with it. Might as well use it to make pottery, you filthy animal.
The hope running under all of this talk of vinyl’s comeback is that bands large and small start churning out long-playing experiences. Not just for nostalgia’s sake, but because, as history has proven, ambition in the wide world of rock ’n’ rolldom is prone to breed success. Plus, maybe more good albums will slow us down. When’s the last time you did something passive other than hoist beers to your lips? Engage your Innervisions, brother.
An album demands an investment from you. Time, yes, but also money. As an idiot child, I bought albums based purely on the cover art. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to get my $11 worth. Even if it made my ears try to detach themselves from my head, I was going to listen to The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect or Subject … Aldo Nova, all day long if I had to, and I was going to collar a single flash of musicality to prove to my subconscious that I wasn’t a complete dipshit, that I had made a good investment. I sort of miss that.