Double albums/Double trouble?

Much has been said over the years with regards to artists releasing double albums, but the recent release of Red Hot Chili Peppers' double album Stadium Arcadium got me wondering bout this subject once more. Double albums; double the value or double the trouble?

Firstly let me clarify what a double albums is; a record released on two discs as the content will not fit on to one disc. Historically vinyl LPs were often released as double albums as vinyl discs could not hold as much music as modern CDs. Most vinyl LPs were between 30 and 45 minutes long, where as CDs can generally hold up to 80 minutes of music. So, it could be viewed that in this day and age (the compact disc era) that there really shouldn't be much need for a double album. And yet, some are still released.

Aside from greatest hits albums and the more instrumental non-mainstream artists like; Aphex Twin, The Future Sound of London, The Orb and BT, and perhaps even releases of live performances, why would an artist release a double album? An obvious answer would be because they've recorded so much great material and they want to repay the fans kindness, god that sounded cynical! Some people would say that an established (already popular) group or artist may self-indulgently believe that releasing a double album will be a sure way to strike gold once more. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that there have been some great double albums, in-fact it would be great if you would reply to this post detailing any double albums that you have particularly enjoyed – but I'm gonna talk about a few that have left a slightly tainted view for myself…

  • Eels – Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
    I'm a big fan of Eels (the band, not the animal), so naturally I was looking forward to this. Then I discover it is a double album, although I didn't really have an opinion on that at the time. The albums is two discs; first disc contains 17 tracks and the second disc contains 16 – total content length; 93m28s. You'd be forgiven for thinking that on paper it sounds like a good return for your dollars. The trouble I had with this album, and have with most double albums, is that I was so flooded with material it was difficult to really gauge one track from the next and form a balanced opinion on the listening experience. Off the top of my head I cant name one track from the album, let alone tell you which ones I liked best. I've listened a few times too, it just doesn't get any better. Which is not to say there aren't any good tracks on the album, just too many tracks.
  • Foo Fighters – In Your Honor
    Never been a massive follower of Foo Fighters, although on occasion I think they are pretty good. I liked the sound of the tracks I had heard on the radio, so bought this double album. So, two discs; first disc has eleven tracks and the second has ten – total content length; 83m17s. Once again it was a hazy listening experience, although not quite as punishing as Eels' 33 track marathon. One redeeming quality was the fact that the first disc was more lively and the second more mellow, that was a nice touch – plus I could spot the tracks I liked, such as; Best Of You, The Last Song and Cold Day In The Sun. But, still, felt like I was being swamped with too much material.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
    And so on to the latest (and 9th) Chili Peppers album. I only really got in to these guys when Californication came out, and I really like that album and also By The Way. I'm not a big rock fan at the best of times, so although tracks like Under The Bridge I find good, their earlier work really doesn't do much for me. But, here we are at present day with a new double album. Two discs; first disc offers 14 tracks and the second offers 14 also – total content length; 122m41s. A monstrous amount of music, anyone would agree. Firstly I just want to say that there are some great tracks on this album, my favs include; Dani California, Charlie, Wet Sand, and Animal Bar. Yet, once more there was just too much on offer to really gain a proper judgement overall as an album.

As I'm sure you can tell, the common theme amongst those three is the apparent volume of content (hence the need for a double album in the first place!). To rationalise, take your average normal size album of good quality – on occassion there will be an album released that has eleven absolutely amazing tracks, but generally (and more realistically) speaking, even a good album has perhaps just four or five amazing tracks, a few good tracks, and then a couple of take-it-or-leave-it type tracks. In my opinion, when you increase the volume of tracks on an album, you are more than likely increasing the amount of average tracks on offer – hence devaluing the whole listening experience. I would rather listen to just eight good tracks than listen to ten good tracks but then 16 pretty average ones.

Artists; save these double albums for your greatest hits release or live anthology – releasing such a quantity of material in one hit just weakens your stock. It's quality not quantity! Least that's what I keep telling myself! Once more I realise I'm just scraping the tip of the iceberg on this discussion, but maybe that's just cos I'm cleverly enticing you (the valued reader) in to voicing your thoughts via the comments feature?! Go on, let yourself go, leave me a comment bout double albums!

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  • Aaron

    I’m not sure if this is predictable, but, Aphex Twin – Druqks? It’s sublime!

    Double albums are good when they take you on a journey, trying not to be too cheesy. For instance, a lot of the tracks on Druqks aren’t filler tracks, but they’re not your standard track that’s trying to be a “hit” either; they’re creating a mood.

    Double albums that are trying for hit after hit normally fail though. It’s hard enough to find an album with 10 or so really decent tracks, nevermind 20. You’d need a really excellent band to pull off a double album, a band like The Beatles.

    The White Album / Indian Summer.

  • Aaron

    I’m not sure if this is predictable, but, Aphex Twin – Druqks? It’s sublime!

    Double albums are good when they take you on a journey, trying not to be too cheesy. For instance, a lot of the tracks on Druqks aren’t filler tracks, but they’re not your standard track that’s trying to be a “hit” either; they’re creating a mood.

    Double albums that are trying for hit after hit normally fail though. It’s hard enough to find an album with 10 or so really decent tracks, nevermind 20. You’d need a really excellent band to pull off a double album, a band like The Beatles.

    The White Album / Indian Summer.

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Yup, the albums you mentioned are perfect examples of what I would view as ‘successful’ double albums.

    Aphex Twin fans got what they expected with Druqks – certainly not mainstream stuff by any means.

    Plus The Beatles were the biggest band on the planet and really knew how to pull it off.

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Yup, the albums you mentioned are perfect examples of what I would view as ‘successful’ double albums.

    Aphex Twin fans got what they expected with Druqks – certainly not mainstream stuff by any means.

    Plus The Beatles were the biggest band on the planet and really knew how to pull it off.

  • http://a-h-a.deviantart.com/ aha

    Oh Gav, I soo agree to what you wrote. Most artists do harm to themselves releasing double albums. I can’t write anything original here, because you did the whole work. Although I must say I know a really good double album, it’s To Venus and Back by Tori Amos, although the second disc contains live material, so I’m not sure if that counts ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I, personally, think that 12 tracks on an album is an absolute optimum. Not less, not more. That does well for me. I mentioned Tori Amos as a pro, but she’s not that saint. She released three albums, that contain about 18 tracks each. That’s too much for me to handle. Instead of being delightful, I’m tired and just as you, can’t name one track on the album.
    Anyway.. some artists should learn some psychology, or listen to double albums themselves and see what it’s like.
    Ok ๐Ÿ˜‰ enough.
    Cheers

  • http://a-h-a.deviantart.com aha

    Oh Gav, I soo agree to what you wrote. Most artists do harm to themselves releasing double albums. I can’t write anything original here, because you did the whole work. Although I must say I know a really good double album, it’s To Venus and Back by Tori Amos, although the second disc contains live material, so I’m not sure if that counts ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I, personally, think that 12 tracks on an album is an absolute optimum. Not less, not more. That does well for me. I mentioned Tori Amos as a pro, but she’s not that saint. She released three albums, that contain about 18 tracks each. That’s too much for me to handle. Instead of being delightful, I’m tired and just as you, can’t name one track on the album.
    Anyway.. some artists should learn some psychology, or listen to double albums themselves and see what it’s like.
    Ok ๐Ÿ˜‰ enough.
    Cheers

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Yeah, you make some good points.

    I think anything between ten and 13 tracks is fine for an album. Why didn’t RHCP just release the 12 best tracks as an album and then in nine months time (or something) release a disc of previously-unreleased stuff, that the hardcore fans would have picked up? Probably would have made more money that way too.

    It’s a bit like the discussion bout the hip-pop artists, we’ll never know that they are really thinking – do artists that release double albums just think they are so amazing that fans will love their 40 track bastard album? They’re wrong!

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Yeah, you make some good points.

    I think anything between ten and 13 tracks is fine for an album. Why didn’t RHCP just release the 12 best tracks as an album and then in nine months time (or something) release a disc of previously-unreleased stuff, that the hardcore fans would have picked up? Probably would have made more money that way too.

    It’s a bit like the discussion bout the hip-pop artists, we’ll never know that they are really thinking – do artists that release double albums just think they are so amazing that fans will love their 40 track bastard album? They’re wrong!

  • http://www.fractos.com/ Fractos

    A double album that immediately springs to mind is Klute – “No One’s Listening Anymore”. The first disc is predominantly drum’n’bass, whereas the second disc is more trip-hop and vocal tracks. Which, I think, raises an interesting point. If an artist has produced a fair amount of material but with two separate themes – that, to me, is a good excuse to split that material into two distinct mini-albums, allowing the aspects of the artist to be considered apart. Breakage has just released “This Too Shall Pass” which also uses this technique (jungle and techstep on one disc, downtempo groovy stuff on the other.)

    Another double that definitely deserves credit is Pink Floyd – “The Wall”. I know people have many different views on the Floyd, but surely this is an intelligent use of splitting the medium into halves?

    ~aFx

  • http://www.fractos.com Fractos

    A double album that immediately springs to mind is Klute – “No One’s Listening Anymore”. The first disc is predominantly drum’n’bass, whereas the second disc is more trip-hop and vocal tracks. Which, I think, raises an interesting point. If an artist has produced a fair amount of material but with two separate themes – that, to me, is a good excuse to split that material into two distinct mini-albums, allowing the aspects of the artist to be considered apart. Breakage has just released “This Too Shall Pass” which also uses this technique (jungle and techstep on one disc, downtempo groovy stuff on the other.)

    Another double that definitely deserves credit is Pink Floyd – “The Wall”. I know people have many different views on the Floyd, but surely this is an intelligent use of splitting the medium into halves?

    ~aFx

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Good examples you gave there, even if they aren’t albums I’d probably find myself listening to. Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Good examples you gave there, even if they aren’t albums I’d probably find myself listening to. Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • http://eashfa.wordpress.com/ Linda

    Double albums are as shite as live albums. Just a reason to make you pay more for something you think is better value. Because bigger is better in our society, yeah the more the merrier who gives two rats’ asses about value! It’s like getting an offer on a toaster and a frying pan, but you know one of them’s lousy, it’s just a matter of time before one breaks down. Double albums as you well put it are not a question of fitting enough music onto one CD, I think it has more to do with a concept that has to be divided into separate parts. I haven’t given the Red Hot Chillin Ps a listen and I doubt I’ll be doing that unless someone rams it down my throat along with several tequillas. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • http://eashfa.wordpress.com/ Linda

    Double albums are as shite as live albums. Just a reason to make you pay more for something you think is better value. Because bigger is better in our society, yeah the more the merrier who gives two rats’ asses about value! It’s like getting an offer on a toaster and a frying pan, but you know one of them’s lousy, it’s just a matter of time before one breaks down. Double albums as you well put it are not a question of fitting enough music onto one CD, I think it has more to do with a concept that has to be divided into separate parts. I haven’t given the Red Hot Chillin Ps a listen and I doubt I’ll be doing that unless someone rams it down my throat along with several tequillas. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    I’ll bring the tequila…

    Have you heard the Bonobo Live Sessions? If the answer is ‘no’ – give me a shout. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    I’ll bring the tequila…

    Have you heard the Bonobo Live Sessions? If the answer is ‘no’ – give me a shout. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • ingrid

    uhm you get double as much music to the same amount of money? if so (I havent bought any double albums), thats a nice deal. if not, I guess there are a lot of songs you will listen to once in a while, and never get a real “relationship” with.

  • ingrid

    uhm you get double as much music to the same amount of money? if so (I havent bought any double albums), thats a nice deal. if not, I guess there are a lot of songs you will listen to once in a while, and never get a real “relationship” with.

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Personally I think that’s a little naive. From an artistic point of view the chances of truly appreciating something that has more than say 15 tracks, is pretty unlikely.

    I mean, everyone is different, but it’s never about value.

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    Personally I think that’s a little naive. From an artistic point of view the chances of truly appreciating something that has more than say 15 tracks, is pretty unlikely.

    I mean, everyone is different, but it’s never about value.

  • Greg

    I understand your argument but I can think of many double albums that were outstanding. Letme list a few:
    1) The Beatles -The Beatles (Known more commonly as “The White Album”)
    2) Exile On Main Street- The Roling Stones
    3) The Who- Tommy
    4) Peter Frampton- Frampton Comes Alive (whcih also blows one commenter’s theory about live albums being crap to hell)
    5) Stevie Wonder- Songs In The Key Of life
    6) The Who- Quadrophenia
    7) Chicago Transit Authority
    8) Chicago (more commonly known as Chicago II)
    9) Chicago III
    10) Electric Light Ochestra- Out Of The Blue
    11) Frank Zappa- Skeik Yerbouti
    12) The Clash- London Calling
    13) The Clash- Sandinista (triple album actually!)

  • Greg

    I understand your argument but I can think of many double albums that were outstanding. Letme list a few:
    1) The Beatles -The Beatles (Known more commonly as “The White Album”)
    2) Exile On Main Street- The Roling Stones
    3) The Who- Tommy
    4) Peter Frampton- Frampton Comes Alive (whcih also blows one commenter’s theory about live albums being crap to hell)
    5) Stevie Wonder- Songs In The Key Of life
    6) The Who- Quadrophenia
    7) Chicago Transit Authority
    8) Chicago (more commonly known as Chicago II)
    9) Chicago III
    10) Electric Light Ochestra- Out Of The Blue
    11) Frank Zappa- Skeik Yerbouti
    12) The Clash- London Calling
    13) The Clash- Sandinista (triple album actually!)

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    The White Album was already mentioned in another comment.

    Anyway, given your examples, perhaps I could rephrase my point and state that there have been no good double albums in the last 20 years! ๐Ÿ˜›

    As for live stuff recently, the only thing I can remember being impressed by was Bonobo – Live Sessions, which has also been previously mentioned in the comments.

    Cant believe I wrote this piece in May 2006 – seems like forever ago!

  • http://jeej.wordpress.com/ jeej

    The White Album was already mentioned in another comment.

    Anyway, given your examples, perhaps I could rephrase my point and state that there have been no good double albums in the last 20 years! ๐Ÿ˜›

    As for live stuff recently, the only thing I can remember being impressed by was Bonobo – Live Sessions, which has also been previously mentioned in the comments.

    Cant believe I wrote this piece in May 2006 – seems like forever ago!