Look, We Need To Talk About These Play-The-Album Tours

A great album is rarely a killer live set.

So the other night I saw the Cure – a band I loved desperately as a sullen, depressed teenager – play Disintegration, their most depressing and sullen album.

And look, it was great. Robert Smith’s voice is ridiculously good, the band were on fire, and I still knew every word that burned my teenage ears despite my now being a grown adult who has had sex.

Here’s the thing, though: as sets go, it wasn’t amazing. And that’s because Disintegration gets pretty turgid in the late going.


And that’s one of the big problems with the increasingly popular play-album-start-to-finish concerts: the dynamics of a great album and a great setlist are fundamentally at odds.

Part of the reasons is that precious few albums have nothing but bangers, since an all-banger album is kind of exhausting and artists tend to like some light and shade in there.

But more importantly albums tend to front load the hits, the exact songs which setlists save for the end. You know, to leave the audience on a high, rather than relieved that it’s finally over.

I have seen far, far too many of these sorts of gigs by artists of, shall we say, A Certain Demographic, and there have been some inventive ways to work around the dynamic question.

For example: They Might Be Giants played their Flood album in reverse order, thereby saving The Hits like ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ and ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ for the big finish.

And that wouldn’t have been a terrible idea with Disintegration since all the singles – ‘Pictures Of You’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Lovesong’, ‘Fascination Street’ – are in the first half of the album.

Side two is a series of dirges which are perfect when you’re 17 and going through your first proper breakup, but not exactly a crowd-pleasing series of killer jams.

Good for staring off into the middle distance to, though.

There’s a reason why the Pixies followed their Doolittle set with a bunch of hits, and the Jesus & Mary Chain played Psychocandy plus All The Songs People Would Rather Hear.

And sure, maybe the audiences for these shows would rather hear a bunch of familiar songs in a predictable order while sitting in a comfy Opera House before getting back to the babysitter, but… look, would a couple of hits really kill you?

This App Turns Your Spotify Habits Into A Festival Lineup And The Ladies Don't Fare Well

It's not intentional, but maybe Spotify needs to check its algorithms for sexism.

Festify is one of those fun data-gathering things that bank on people liking to get insights into their special selves. In this case it knocks up a festival poster based on your most played artists.

As an ageing indie kid what likes guitars, my festival was basically David Bowie headlining an All Tomorrow’s Parties line up.

I felt seen. Uncomfortably so.

Then again, one hundred percent yes.

And that’s lovely and all, but for most listeners it’ll look like most festivals – at least in that it features a whole lot of dudes.

That’s not just because you’re a terrible person with unconscious biases against female artists, although that could also be true. You’ll have to examine your own soul on that one. But it’s also because of the way Spotify works generally.

Spotify’s own figures show that the service plays way, way, WAY more male artists than female ones.

For example: while Drake was the #1 artist last year, Ariana Grande was #2. She had about 5,760,000 listens all up, which is stunning until compared with Drake’s eight billion. That’s a difference of more than two billion listens.

And Grande is kind of the outlier. The most played songs were overwhelmingly by dudes: specifically Drake, XXXTENTACION, Ed Sheeran, and Post Malone. Byonce’s turn on J. Balwin’s ‘Mi Genta’ was the first female artist to appear on the list at #6, while Dua Lipa was the first female artist to appear in their own right at #8.

And sure, Spotify plays what you want to listen to. But it only chooses from what it makes available, and if that ends up being more dudes then suddenly your pretendy festival becomes a sausage fest.

You can try it out here, but maybe use it as a spur to cover some of the blind spots your listening habits might have accidentally fossilised. Excuse me while I put PJ Harvey on repeat…

It's Been 25 Years Since We Lost Kurt And We Need Another Grunge Wave To Fix Everything

C'mon, music, it's time for you to lift your goddamn game.

Hey, how good were the early 90s?  Super Nintendo! Ducktales! 90210! Reebok Pumps! Other things that appear in online You Might Be A 90s Kid If quizzes! So rad!

Also, it was the last time that music was properly dangerous.

Hip hop was breaking through and was still deeply political, rather than obsessed with money and status. And the other big movement was loud aggressive guitars from people that weren’t all that impressed with the world.

And one of them changed the world: his name was Kurt Cobain, he was the singer/songwriter of Nirvana, and he died 25 years ago today on the 5th of April, 1994.

Until Nirvana went mainstream noisy guitars were not a thing that got played on the radio. You cannot understand what a revelation ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was in 1991: without that one song become the anthem for an entire generation that felt left out and neglected things would have been very different. Especially for bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Sonic Youth who would never have gotten lucrative major label deals otherwise.

And it was a real movement too. Grunge caught the spirit of the times and the feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Was it a coincidence that the Democrats broke the Republican stranglehold on US politics at the first post-Nevermind election? Or that the UK booted the conservatives and installed a Labour government on the wave of the English reaction to grunge, Britpop?

No. No, it was not.

Leaving aside that these songs became the soundtrack for activism, there’s the artistic side of it. Grunge was similar to the first flush of punk, where noise and enthusiasm was more important than competence. Everyone was welcome to have a bash – and if it was still mainly straight white dudes, it certainly wasn’t exclusive to them. And hell, those Bikini Kill records still sound amazing.

What do guitars do now? They’re more likely to be ukuleles plinkity-plonking through an insurance ad than a droptuned Fender Jazzmaster copy having its neck bent into wrongness.

But despite that, we’re seeing a stirring of that quarter century old spirit in Australia right now. Not only are the biggest acts here still slinging guitars (thanks, Gang Of Youths; keep the dream alive, Amity Affliction) but bands like Camp Cope and Tired Lion are showing off a downright 90s zeitgeist and attitude.

Kurt changed everything. And after 25 years without him, we need someone else to take up that mantle. If ever there was a time for a mass youth movement based around being screamingly furious about the state of the world and filled with a bile-bubbling contempt for the people in charge, how can this not be it?

In the meantime: goddamn, those records stand up. Give them a spin for Kurt tonight. Then pick up a guitar and do something.

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