I think there’s something special about double albums. I have to admit I find myself drawn towards them, usually for reasons I don’t quite understand.
Pound for pound, most double albums have counterpart single albums that are objectively better, start to finish. The White Album vs Sgt. Pepper. The Dark Side Of The Moon vs The Wall (or Ummagumma which is an exception to itself). The Downward Spiral vs The Fragile. Appetite For Destruction vs Use Your Illusion. The single album in all these cases are critically genius. The double albums on the other hand (with the arguable exception of The Wall, and with the caveat that the White Album is critically aclaimed despite it’s randomness) are generally considered good, but hodge podge, and lacking something.
I suppose there’s a consistent reason for this. It’s quite difficult to think of twice as much content and keep it of high quality. It’s a result of the creative process. I’m definitely not the first to observe that creativity, more often than not, consists of creating reams of bullshit and selecting the diamonds amongst the turds. Presumably as a musical artist, there is only so big a pile of dung you can build in an economically feasible time, and then you need to select the best from that.
It might come as some surprise to my friends that I use this process myself. It’s not entirely true that I have the most stunningly attractive son in the world (although that IS true). Rather, for every photogenic picture I put on Facebook, there are ten others that are, less than perfection.
A friend of mine has a theory on art. As best as I can describe it in a single sentence: the critical aspect of art is not in the creation, but rather in the selection. By way of explanation, photographers, rather than being the quasiartists that people often brand them as, are in fact the purest form of artist.
I don’t necessarily agree with his hypothesis one hundred percent, but I do think there is some truth to it. Rather than beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it might be more accurate to say, beauty is in the eye of the SELECTOR.
Back to the double albums, I ask myself what draws me to those things. These big inelegant monstrosities. It occurred to me, as I “rewound” my phone to listen to NIN’s The Wretched for the third time in a row, that in fact I focus in on parts of those albums. It’s like a collage that a brain can be thrown against to draw out the salient unconscious thoughts, much like a modern take on Rorschach ink blots.
On the flip side of random unconscious selection however, inherent to the process of making a double album, is the inverse artistic process. Rather than selection, it becomes a question of inclusion. Tracks that otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut, under an objective analysis, become the saviour of the time-filling gods.
Would Revolution 9 have made the cut, if it had been on Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Probably not. Even more so, the fluid unconscious thoughts that bring themselves to every decision we make, ARE subtly manipulated by extant circumstances. Even if R9 might have been considered on Seargant Pepper’s, the easy cop out of “there’s just no room” would have been all the ammo the superego would need to tip the scales in favour of extinction. Also are the songs of high art, like My Guitar Gently Weeps. Could it have existed on any other Beatles album, each with their highly focused musical theme? On the white album, however, it’s just another stroke of random genius, and more so, in my opinion, the most moving track on the album, and perhaps (one of) the most moving pieces of music in the electric guitar repertoire.
When I was younger, not even at the time understanding the significance, I would listen in darkness to Guns And Roses Coma over and over. Now it’s fairly obvious to me that the song reflected the disconnection and suffering that I found in my life at the time. Would such a self reflective song have found a home on the high energy rock anthem album, Appetite For Destruction?
It reflects a profound truth about all art, and the struggle within. We are our own worst critics. Self editing can be a destructive force. I found this, inversely, when one of my articles turned out to be quite popular. This piece, which to me was nonsense mind refuse, seemed to strike a chord and became my most read piece yet, fifty percent higher than my previous most read. I seriously had debated not posting that piece, which would have been a tragedy, both to my readers and my stats (not to mention my ego).
The truth is that people aren’t generally looking for perfection, even if most people would claim that ostensibly they are. As far as I can tell, what people really need, what they hunger for, is authenticity. They crave to know that the scabrous pile of retchinal vomit before them validates their own imperfect existence. There in lies the strength of the artist. The strength of the wretched.
Just a reflection
just a glimpse
just a little reminder
of all the what abouts
and all the might have
could have beens
some other way
but not another reason to continue
and now you’re one of us
Trent Reznor, The Wretched