Why Making Shorter Albums Is A Mistake
Do you prefer long albums or short albums? What is the ideal number of tracks or running time? Do you even still listen to albums? This might not apply to you, but of all the people I know that do still listen to albums, it seems that everyone has an opinion about how long an album should be. And it seems that the prevailing viewpoint is that albums should avoid being too long. Most people cite declining quality with increased number of tracks; others lose interest when the album lasts too long. Whatever the reason, people seem to want fewer songs on an album that can be finished in 35-45 minutes, and they are quick to complain when the tracklist for an upcoming album has too many songs on it.
Unlike the majority of album listeners out there, I disagree: I think the more tracks an album has, the better. Call me greedy, but I can never get enough songs. And unlike most people, I don’t see the “problems” that other listeners see.
The Main Problem: “Filler Tracks”
The most common complaint people have about lengthy albums is the apparent inevitability of so-called “filler” tracks. Filler tracks are those few songs on the album that you always skip, that didn’t quite reach the level of the rest of the songs. They’re the low points of the album, and many people assume these were just included to get the track list up to a certain number. Most people would agree that most albums have at least one or two filler tracks. Even the best albums can have a filler track.
Sometimes there is general consensus, among most fans, about what the filler tracks are. On Kelly Clarkson’s hugely successful album, Breakaway, most would point to “You Found Me” and “I Hate Myself For Losing You” as the comparative duds. Maybe on Stronger it’s “Einstein.”
The trouble here is that usually fans can’t agree on which of the songs on an album are actually the worst. Maybe you love “I Hate Myself For Losing You” or “Einstein.”
One listener might love Song A and hate Song B; another listener, conversely, can love Song B and hate Song A. Why is there so much discrepancy between opinions? Because they’re just that: Opinions.
It all comes down to taste. I might prefer the more rock songs on an album, while you might really lean toward the more pop tracks. You might like straightforward, upbeat songs, and I might like experimental songs, or ballads, or anything else and you can still disagree.
Just as a single can be the best or worst song from an album, the songs that appear on the album can be the among the best or worst that were recorded. People with opinions and taste make the decisions about what songs go on an album, and many great songs get left behind. If fans are lucky, they might leak or get released in some other way eventually, but most of them go unheard. How many unheard songs could have been fan favorites if only they were released?
Luckily, the more songs there are on an album, the more likely it is that there will something for everyone – and that anyone will find something they don’t like. That’s taste. But I’d say the odds improve with more songs.
Another Dilemma: “It’s Too Long”
Another issue people often point out about albums with more songs is that the record is simply too long. It’s too much of a commitment to listen to an album that lasts more than 60 minutes. In a world where people have shorter and shorter attention spans, how is anyone supposed to sit through an album with nearly 20 tracks? People just want to hear the 12 best songs the artist recorded and be done with it.
The easiest solution to this problem is to simply skip songs you don’t want to listen to. Make a playlist of your favorite songs, or divide the album up into two parts. Considering most people don’t even listen to albums in full anymore – or at least not as often – it’s easy to just throw your favorite songs in a playlist, hit shuffle, and enjoy.
Case Study: Green Day’s 2012 Trilogy
To take a particularly touchy example, let’s look at one of the longest releases in recent history: Green Day’s trilogy of albums. In a span of three months, Green Day released three full albums in late 2012, offering a total of 37 new songs. They divided the songs into three sonic and themed categories: ¡Uno! sounded the most youthful and similar to the simple pop punk of Dookie; ¡Dos! was more garage rock and dirty, and touched on darker topics; ¡Tré! is the most like the ambitious arena rock of 21st Century Breakdown and American Idiot mixed with Warning, and has the most mature themes.
Normally fans would be thrilled to get not one, not two, but three albums in such a short amount of time. But then we got to actually hear the songs, and many longtime Green Day fans were disappointed. There were disgruntled cries of “filler!” and “uninspired!” for months – actually, it seems like fans still haven’t recovered more than three years later.
In addition to fierce opinions about which album was best and worst, people also argued over the quality of individual songs. People claimed Green Day should have just chosen 12 of the best songs and made one album instead of three. They made playlists of the “ideal,” condensed version of the trilogy. The trouble is that every playlist was different. No one could agree on which 12 songs should have made the ideal album.
Personally, “Let Yourself Go” was one of my least favorite songs from the trilogy; it’s my husband’s very favorite. One of my favorites is “Oh Love”; many fans say it’s horrible and shouldn’t have been a single. Even the band and I disagree: Billie Joe has said “99 Revolutions” is the best song he’s ever written – I think it’s the worst he’s released in over a decade.
If the frontman of the band can’t even agree with his fans, how is he going to be able to decide which songs fans will want to hear the most? The truth is, taste is always subjective, and that extends to the songwriters. It’s great for people to have different opinions, and that’s where the magic of long track lists comes in: The more songs we can choose from, the more fans can find something they truly love… or hate.
Albums Can be Amazing or Awful Regardless of Length
Regardless of whether you prefer longer albums or records that are more to the point, it’s important to remember that quality is not determined by the number of tracks or how long it takes to listen to the whole album. What matters is the songs themselves and how well they fit together. I’m sure all of us have heard amazing albums with only 10 tracks, but we’ve also been disappointed by mediocre records with the same number of tracks. Likewise, an album with 20+ songs can be amazing or horrible or anything in between. Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive.
All in all, people shouldn’t be so quick to hate on albums that are too long. Do you think it has filler tracks? Do you think the artist should have pared it down to the best 11 instead of including all 25 tracks? Make a playlist of your own favorites and ignore the other tracks. Remember, some of the songs you routinely skip are the ones another fan might have the deepest connection to. The magic of longer albums is that there’s something for everyone. So while other Green Day fans bash “Oh Love” and most of ¡Dos!, I’ll go on enjoying those and skipping “99 Revolutions” instead.