Most weeks recently I have listened to Sound Opinions. This is a Siskel & Ebert-style radio show featuring two of Chicagos newspaper rock critics. Fairly often I dont agree with them, but the show serves a purpose a bit like 120 Minutes did when I was in high school its a way to put names with the music, to keep up with the Lily Allens and Amy Winehouses the industry is tossing at us and the Shins and Decembrists types who are making the indies-to-majors jump.
The highlight, though, is usually the music news. Almost every week lately this has concerned the impending extinction of the CD. For instance, last month the South By Southwest reports came in, and David Byrne was the newest addition to the chorus of people predicting that CDs will be gone in a few years. New bands searched eagerly for booking agents but appeared to consider label deals as a lost or pointless cause.
There will be reasons for celebration if these predictions come true. Middlemen who had too much influence on music will lose their role in the process. Jacob Slichters book So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star will stand as a document of the isolated victories and plentiful defeats common to a band trying to make its way in that poisonous era. Perhaps a CD cover like that of Soul Coughings second release from 1996, featuring enough producers, managers and laywers to fill a yearbook, will serve as document enough, and explain why their frontman Mike Doughty opted to tour solo with a box of CDs in the trunk of his car.
For a lot of popular music, CDs are unnecessary single songs make the point. I remember back in the 80s my father would sometimes buy an album, record the song he liked onto a cassette and file the album away, everything unplayed except for the one song. This suited that particular music most of it, anyway. There is a lot going on in So other than Sledgehammer, but I doubt that there was much beyond Mad About You in Belinda Carlisles solo debut.
However, for this resolute non-iPod-owner, there will be some things to be missed about CD, or, backing up a few decades, albums. I thought of this last weekend when I pulled out one of the ones that started it all for me, Bitches Brew. Most of the time, this sits on my shelf near the start of the Miles Davis section. Newer information needs to be gathered, and overexposure would lower the impact. Still, this album creates a stirring experience whenever I put it on.
This album is not the first fusion album, as some call it. It does not feature Miless best playing ever, although some tracks are certainly near his peak. Its accomplishment is that it creates its own musical world. No one involved has sounded the same anywhere else.
Of course, most of that was the work of Miles and the other musicians. However, a diverse set of other individuals converted this from a set of recordings into a record: Teo Maceros reverbs and jagged edits, Mati Klarweins gatefold-spanning painting, Ralph Gleasons would-be hipster liner notes. Even the label typeface is not the same as other Columbia releases. Its a compact, self-contained statement which a folder of audio files could not be.
The best thing one can do is trust that new approaches will emerge to fill the void. The last edition of Sound Opinions mentioned one such effort by Trent Reznor. The new Nine Inch Nails release, Year Zero, apparently takes as its canvas not only the CD but also websites, T-shirts and hard drives left in concert venue bathrooms. I havent paid attention to Reznor since 1992, but its a worthy effort, although it sounds as though there is too much angry-teenager Bush-bashing to achieve the ultimate goal of having me break out my wallet.
In the meantime, there will be live music. And Sound Opinions may last a while longer, unless bloggers drive professional music criticism into extinction.