Are surprise releases by David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine offering an exciting new way of listening to music?
It isn’t a sin to find yourself looking back wistfully to the tactile experience of buying a new record on the day of its release, of journeying to your local independent record store, Virgin Megastore (RIP) or HMV (ICU) as close to 9am on a Monday as work, school or lectures would allow.
I miss digesting the graphics on the sleeve, the design of the inlay, the liner notes – if there were any – and even the titles of each track and the way they looked in sequence. The object would play upon the mind with a delicious sense of expectation, before the music had a chance to.
The digital age, we’re told, has destroyed any of this sense of romantic ceremony which used to accompany music. It has rendered an individual song as throwaway a purchase as a chocolate bar at a service station counter (alongside supermarkets, incidentally, surely one of the last outposts of physical music sales to exist in the country before long). It’s not an unreasonable opinion to bear, frankly, although two recent and well publicised music industry events point to a future where the release of new music might once more instil a sense of communal occasion.
First came David Bowie’s new single Where Are We Now? one week into the new year, entirely unheralded given his rumoured health-induced retirement, but a pleasant nostalgia trip which invited much re-evaluation of Bowie’s healthy back catalogue and fulfilled the traditional role of lead single – to trail the release of March’s first album in a decade, The Next Day.
Yet it was last weekend’s also unexpected – although at least rumoured – online release of My Bloody Valentine’s mbv, which seemed to foster a new paradigm in the enjoyment of music within hours of its release.
In those days of fresh card sleeves wrapped in gleaming cellophane, we used to build our sense of expectation by reading longform album reviews in the press and trying to create the sounds they described through comparison and often bludgeoning metaphor in our minds, often for days or weeks on end.
Yet on Saturday night and on into the week, the experience fragmented and transferred itself to Twitter and Facebook, as we watched our friends live-reviewing the record for themselves as they and we listened to it for the first time.
From experiencing the reassuring retro familiarity of she found now and only tomorrow to the mind-addling guitar loop of nothing is and wonder 2’s soaring charge, or even just reported frustration at not being able to access the music, it was the old-fashioned communal experience of sitting round the record player and dropping the needle, only amplified across the world.
Is the sensation repeatable? Well it took 22 years of a wait for mbv to deserve such an outpouring. Perhaps, for example, a new Stone Roses or Radiohead record released in such a way might provide the same rush, although there’s an undoubted irony in old-timers being the ones we look to for such a euphoric new sensation.
• mbv is available now at www.mybloodyvalentine.org
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