Thursday, March 10, 2011

Live Albums Make No Sense At All

Some three years ago I had a blog that I called "Makes No Sense At All", named after the Hüsker Dü song. The point of it was to give me an occasional soap-box from which to give into Andy Rooney tendencies and just grumble and complain about whatever took my fancy. I didn't carry on with it too long, and it was read by, like, a maximum of five people who were not GoogleBots. So since it's just sat there moribund, collecting digital dust down the years. I decided I might as well close down the old blog and syndicate its contents here, in weekly installations. I've eliminated a few blog entries that seem too anachronistic by now, but the blogs that I have included I've not edited at all. So enjoy watching me at my grumpiest... Makes No Sense at All.

Originally published 26 June 2008.

I know, I know. It's hardly cutting-edge technology I'm speaking of. In fact, as the 'album' dies its slow death, it becomes pointless to even speak about it. Yet I am compelled to do so.

I was motivated by an ad I saw for "Dreamboat Annie Live" by Heart. It is, as the name suggests, a live version of Heart's début album. It is also pretty much an official confirmation that Heart have lost the plot and are riding on past glories (though at least it's not "Bad Animals Live").

I tried to imagine why anybody on God's green earth would buy that CD. Even if it's a capable performance, why would anybody want to listen to it instead of the original?

Then I got thinking about how that's true for 99% of all live albums. Sure, you've got your "Live at the Apollo" and your "Live at Leeds" and your "At Folsom Prison" and a small handful of 'era-defining' live albums. But the simple fact is that sooner or later every artist gets around to releasing live albums, mostly because it seems to be the thing to do. They feature the same songs you know by this artist recorded with shoutier lead vocals and screams in the background. What, I ask you, does this offer in the way of entertainment value?

Alternately, consider that in April of this year the Rolling Stones released their ninth live album. Yes, ninth. What could possibly appeal to people about such a thing? Are there people out there saying, "Oh thank God! It's been a full four years since the last Rolling Stones live album. I've been waiting so long."

Who would pay money for this?

More importantly, as the tradition of releasing sound pressed into discs of plastic-coated aluminum fades away, and as record companies struggle to remain relevant, is this really what will keep them alive?

A year or two after buying them, does anybody ever go back and play old live albums? Does anybody, for example, go back and put InXS's "Live Baby Live" or Yes's "9021Live" The Solos" on the ol' record machine? Does anybody find themselves saying, "You know, I really do prefer Celine Dion's live performances to the studio versions. They just have so much more gusto."

And if so, how do these people manage to feed themselves?

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