Album-Only Tracks: The Pimple on the Arse of the Digital Music Revolution

I don’t know about you, but as a frequent purchaser of digital music (predominantly through the iTunes store) there are two little words that always make my blood boil: “album only”. In fact, it makes me feel something like this:

Yep, that's about the size of it...

On the one hand I can see the reasoning behind this idea, that of encouraging (forcing?) customers to buy an album in its entirety so as to have access to all the goods; after all, with vinyl, cassette tapes and CDs you had to buy the complete package, you couldn’t pick and choose from them which tracks you wanted. However, this is a moronic argument as the world is constantly evolving and if we took this attitude with everything we’d be surrounded by outmoded paraphernalia. Often the album-only property is applied to bonus tracks that are tacked on to deluxe or varying international versions of albums. Now, to me this seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face. Surely if someone is happy to pay for a track then the artists and the music industry in general should be more than happy to take that money? Especially these days where people are often harping on about the demise of the music industry.

"Cutting my nose off to spite my face? I can totally relate..."

As someone who is a mass-consumer of music, listening to and buying some almost every day, I don’t like to hunt down free and illegal ways of getting bonus tracks that get blocked by the Album-Only Bastard, I would much rather support an artist I love, so I tend to look at it as they only have themselves to blame if I end up resorting to this sketchy method. After all, why stop someone legitimately buying a track when by perusing an online music store they are more than likely the sort who are happy to pay for digital music?

Allow me to illustrate this stupidity with an example. I am a long-standing fan of St Kylie-of-Minogue and naturally bought her most recent (not to mention amazing) album, “Aphrodite”. As a general rule of thumb I like to buy music in CD format, because time and again I’ve found the digital music stores are not entirely reliable. Examples of this unreliability to me would be the inconsistency of the inclusion of digital booklets with albums, the (admittedly rare occurrence of) poor quality of some tracks and perhaps the worst slip up, leaving one of those supposedly “hidden” bonus tracks that appear on the last track of the album after an extended silence, unedited as one long track. I mean seriously, what is so hard about separating the tracks? Who would want that silence left in or wouldn’t be able to find this bonus track? DO I HAVE TO THINK OF EVERYTHING HERE?!

The type of person who WOULDN'T be able to find a "hidden bonus track"

I digress. Kylie’s “Aphrodite” album had different bonus tracks for the versions that appeared on Amazon and iTunes, as well as a bonus track for the Japanese version. Unfortunately I pre-ordered the CD version without cross-checking the track listing. The Amazon bonus track could be bought separately so wasn’t a problem, however the iTunes bonus was “album only” and the Japanese bonus track wasn’t available online to buy digitally. Of course, if I was feeling flush and wanted to piss away £25 on buying the Japanese import then I could have solved that problem quite easily. I wasn’t and didn’t. So basically instead of getting an extra £2 out of me (if you say that those tracks could have been flogged for 99p each) they got bugger all; and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to do this and therefore this £2 would quickly add up to being a much more significant amount of money. Cut. Nose. Spite. Face.

Some of the worst examples I’ve seen of this album-only property are where the entire album is locked up. Indeed, the one that comes to mind is the “Mean Girls Official Soundtrack“. I stumbled upon this beauty when I was looking for music by the underrated brother-sister outfit, Boomkat, who happen to have a song on this soundtrack. Now I would have quite happily bought this track, but I draw the line at paying £7.99 when basically I want is the one track. Why, oh why do this? What is the point? The major benefit of buying music digitally is that if you wanted you could buy three tracks from a twenty track album, or at least you should be able to. Another album this occurred with is Alanis Morissette’s 2008 album “Flavours of Entanglement”. This album only appears to be available in the extended deluxe version as a digital album. No problem if you haven’t bought the CD already, but if you have, well tough shit! Apparently depriving her fans of her music for no good reason is something Alanis is happy to do. To make matters worse there is no digital booklet *grinds teeth* though perhaps this isn’t as important to other people?

See, even Mean Girls' Regina agrees with me!

It seems like such an obvious thing to me. Why are artists or music companies being so precious about these albums? I once saw an interview with the UK singer Beverley Knight who said she didn’t like the idea of people buying music digitally where consumers could potentially end up selecting odds and sods from an album, breaking up the complete artistry of the album when taken as a whole. While she has a (slightly pretentious) point to a degree, people who treat music in such a disposable manner are probably not the sort of people who would buy albums anyway, so surely it’s better to get a few quid from them than none at all? I agree that some albums work better when listened to as a whole; a particular favourite of mine is Brandy’s Dark Child produced album, “Full Moon”, where the tracks seamlessly and rather brilliantly evolve in to one another that give it the impression of one stupendous 80 minute mega-track of musical joy.

Aside from the artistry issue, it makes better business sense to allow any part of an album to be purchasable, as it will only drive people to find illegitimate methods to get a hold of the music thus depriving them of any income. So please, for the love of God, could the Music Industry stop implementing these album-only tracks? I’m issuing a Cease & Desist Order, right here, right now, effective immediately. Thanks in advance.


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