Music: Fraser Bryce on surprise albums


By Fraser Bryce

I can’t imagine what I’d do if an artist I liked released an album out of nowhere. I mean, the surprise release of the new Metallica single nearly gave me a heart attack, so a full album would be enough to send me to the coroners. So I can’t fathom what it was like for Beyonce fans when she released her self-titled album with no prior fanfare. When I saw it, I was quite positive about it, as it provided a welcome break from the announcement fetish that is prevalent in modern music. However, artists are beginning to follow Beyonce’s lead and release album’s out of thin air, with fairly lukewarm results. For example, I’m sure we all remember where we were when U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ appeared out of nowhere like an unwelcome turd through our letterboxes. A truly dark day in mankind’s history. Furthermore, the initial excitement caused by surprise album releases results in overlooking the actual quality of the album, in a phenomenon I’m dubbing ‘new album goggles’. You all know what I mean, when you’re so caught up in the excitement of hearing a new album, you completely abandon all concept of critique in favour of screaming and crying.

Furthermore, if a bit of imagination is put into the album release cycle, it can be rather exciting. Take, for example, my beloved goth punks Creeper. Following their sets at Reading and Leeds, the band members were reported missing, with a number to call if any information was available. When the number is phoned, a demonic voice says “On October 2nd, 2016, we will die holding hands”. You then receive a text containing a link to a site detailing the disappearance of James Scythe, a paranormal investigator who was exploring Southampton myths ‘The Callous Heart’ and ‘The Stranger’, both of which are, you guessed it, the titles of Creeper EP’s. There’s found footage, evidence and even a half hour podcast detailing the mythology surrounding the aforementioned local legends. I’m not going to lie, it’s incredibly enthralling. Honestly, I’ve spent hours now trying to figure out where James Scythe has gone. By the time you read this, no doubt the album news will have surfaced, but it cannot be denied that the thought and imagination that has gone into this makes for a truly enjoyable experience. A full album announcement also has me more invested in actually spending time with the album. For example, I know for a fact I’m going to need to set aside 80 minutes in November to listen to the new Metallica album, but had it been released by surprise, I’d find it difficult to set aside the amount of time necessary to fully absorb it.

So, are surprise album releases a good thing? On the whole, no. It was a novel idea at first, but if it just becomes the norm, it takes all the fun out of it. Besides, a more engaging album announcement, like the aforementioned Creeper campaign, can enhance the enjoyment of finally hearing a new release, as well as having me fully invested before I’ve even heard a note of music.