The last time I was excited about a Massive Attack album, it was 1998. The album was Mezzanine, which I vividly remember for its fluorescent orange disc, set against a black and white digipak case with what looked like close-up photography of a dung beetle. It was a good album, but also a departure from their established sound. By the time 100th Window came out five years later, I’d moved on.
Heligoland is their new album, and I’m interested in it mostly for nostalgic reasons. What struck me today was how, in the past, I would have known it was on the way for weeks ahead of the release date because interviews and articles would have been in all the magazines. And I would have known the day it was out because record stores in town like Tower and HMV had huge displays and posters up everywhere for big new releases. Granted, music was more of an obsession for me back then. I spent almost every dollar I had on CDs, and I spent hours each week going over the same racks in the same stores, waiting for something I hadn’t heard of to suddenly turn up and blow my mind. And of course I used to read magazines, and music stores were huge, multistoried places in 1998. Both business sectors have seen a bit of a decline since then.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had exactly two notices that Heligoland was coming. The first was an article that popped into my RSS feed reader a few weeks back, just one article out of the hundreds of feeds I follow, so maybe I’m following the wrong people, and one tweet from a friend today, which reminded me to look into it. All that information consumed daily, and music just isn’t on my radar anymore. Go into a store and chances are you’re not looking to buy the stuff being promoted on the big displays. I honestly don’t know who buys most of that, because the kids who love it are probably listening to it off YouTube for free.
The first time I heard that kids use YouTube as a sort of on-demand radio, I didn’t believe it. How could they possibly settle for such crap audio quality? Then I remembered all the articles I’d read over the years, each one more urgent and alarmist than the last, claiming that MP3 compression was going to ruin our ability to appreciate proper music. Last year it finally happened. Someone claimed to have evidence that young people prefer the imperfect sounds of digital music to uncompressed audio.
The state of pop music is part of the reason why I can’t keep up with news anymore. It’s too hard to browse those racks, too much chaff to separate from what I might want. If I subscribed to a general feed, that’s probably going to be another 50 headlines I’d have to scan each day, to find maybe one item of interest every couple of weeks. My tastes have obviously changed (narrowed), and I’m not likely to care about most of the things MTV or Pitchfork covers. I just want a site that will tell me, old man that I am, when a new Massive Attack or Tricky album is near.