Thursday, 1 May 2008

The joy of vinyl.

Even as CD sales plummet, vinyl sales are very much on the up. This is not entirely surprising. The progression from LP to cassette to CD and now to digital download has made music a disposable commodity; download today, delete tomorrow. The fragile LP though always demanded respect; the ease with which it was damaged underlined the value of the music relative to that of the plastic disc that stored it. If you cared for the music you had to care for the record.

The new Portishead album came out this week, their first in over ten years. It's lengthy, a double disc on vinyl, primarily rhythm driven now against their earlier work's sense of melodic structure. I had to wait an extra day to get it on vinyl (you can't exactly pick it up on your weekly supermarket shop) but it was worth it. I'm still finding my way into it, but it has flagged up one of the less obvious benefits of vinyl. You're limited to hearing the music in bites of 20 minute or so, a pain with classical music, but a real boon for just about everything else. Different sides of a record tend to take on their own individual character, regardless of artistic intention, and listeners do tend to acquire a 'favourite' side over time. On top of that you can't easily skip the tracks that lack immediate impact, so they do tend to get equal time in the listening process. I wouldn't want to listen to this record straight through on a CD, the sheer length would dull my responses.

At the moment it's side 4 that has caught my attention. I love the long bass notes towards the end, falling somewhere between a ship's foghorn and an air raid siren. I suspect that I'm actually going to work my way through the record back to front, because side 3 is sounding pretty good too now. I don't mean to sound half-hearted because I'm not. But some music requires a little familiarity before you fully appreciate it, and vinyl eases you in almost without you realising.

Only one complaint here. The LP sleeve offers a wonderful opportunity for striking artwork, but Portishead haven't taken it.

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