Is it the rule that there are no rules, or are the rules the same as they ever were?
The album is dead, yet it is alive. Since it’s no longer about the physical format (at least not exclusively), any time an artist drops a set of songs it qualifies as an album. There are regulations imposed by the chart companies but their relevance is low, people can decide for themselves what constitutes an album, ep or mixtape if it even needs to be qualified.
Kanye puts out ‘Ye’ and it is 7 songs long, 23 minutes or so. Within weeks he puts out ‘Kids See Ghosts’, another 7 songs and around the same length. In the meantime Drake drops ‘Scorpion’, 25 songs and almost 90 minutes of music. Logic tells us that more people will listen to the whole of ‘Ye’ than they will to ‘Scorpion’ but Drake dominates the charts and destroys all streaming records.
In the meantime ‘rock’ is dormant. Once the format for which albums were created it lies unloved by the masses. Rock needs to create new rules, collaborate, invent new stars and write songs that people want to hear. No-one said it would be easy.
Like any music industry observer I expect trends to merge, diverge, to rotate, wax and wane. The truth is that ‘RnB’ and pop-soul is the dominant force and has been for so long that it’s tricky to see how a change will come. Who can break the mould, who will inspire a different generation? Where once Run DMC may have required Aerosmith to help them break into the mainstream it would now be the other way around.
As the money is largely in live and not plays or purchases perhaps we look to the likes of The Courteeners who can headline big shows and appear the equal of any indie-rock act. If you’ve seen them though you know how important the song ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ is to their fans and the whole set. The 1975 can do a Kanye and release multiple albums in short order but it’ll matter little to the masses if there’s no killer song(s).
Those who’ve followed the unlikely, or somewhat baffling, long-lived successes of ‘Iris’, ‘Africa’ or ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ know that one rule survives all the changes, one rule to rule them all, it’s all about the song. While the albums can come and go, there is no great success without a great song.