How Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’ is killing off music journalism
The King of Limbs, the eighth studio album by Oxford titans Radiohead, will be “the world’s first newspaper album” according to the group’s website. After a frenzied day following the early digital release of the record, this now seems riddled with an irony I suspect Thom Yorke and friends would quite appreciate.
The online furore that stirred this morning as the hotly-anticipated collection of new songs leapt onto people’s hard-drives underlined the problems faced by print journalism - a medium increasingly sliding towards becoming obsolete.
The mere existence of the record was announced on Monday with its imminent release slated as Saturday. For reasons unknown, it arrived a day earlier, forcing music scribes to drop what they were doing and frantically issue their hurried opinions. Reviews began to surface within minutes of the album emerging online.
By the time tomorrow’s newspapers print their reactions they will probably appear dated. NME readers will have to wait until Tuesday to hear the thoughts of Emily Mackay and company. The music-monthly Q magazine must wait a fortnight to register their thoughts in cold, hard, physical copy.
These are the publications - scratch that, institutions - that popular music fans would once turn to for advance word on what awaited me on a new release, leering longingly at the privilege being a music journalist once held. No longer though. There were no advance copies of The King of Limbs.
As a result, you could practically hear the stampede of critics racing to blurt out their initial thoughts online, desperate to remain fresh and relevant. The advent of live-blogging and Twitter has clearly brought with it an urgency to what the press would typically report on - music journalism included.
It prompted founder of the popular Drowned In Sound web-zine Sean Adams to speak out on Twitter:
It’s an interesting and arguably legitimate comment on a day which saw the ancient art of the music-review reduced to a sort of knee jerk, first-time-round decision making. Thumbing through my record collection, I notice that the albums I continually return to years after their release - Radiohead’s own Kid A included - I had difficulty warming to on initial listens.
It’s dangerous ground to tread for those who look to music reviews (perhaps foolishly) as something oddly special - the beginning of a sonic debate, the setting of a listening rhetoric for what will follow.
Should bands follow in Radiohead’s steps (all fifteen of them…) in turning to instantaneous digital publishing of music, I hope there will still be room the sort of considered and informed reviews that Sean speaks of amidst all the chaos and impatience of web 2.0 culture.
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