As the music industry moves through changes brought on by technology, the very concept of what an “album” is evolves. That was evident when Beyoncé’s new collection of songs sold 800,000 downloads with no marketing.
The shifts have been hard to adapt to for “legacy artists,” who came of age in the era of vinyl albums. Three new sets by classic American rock acts — including one with local roots — illustrate different approaches.
Bruce Springsteen’s “High Hopes” (Columbia) is marketed as his 18th new studio record but is essentially a potpourri of outtakes and covers. While fans have long wished for more music from Springsteen — who in the ’70s worked two years on each release — this new approach seems surprisingly hasty.
Springsteen brought in Tom Morello for guitar and while that works on the track “High Hopes,” it is not always a successful pairing. There are a few pop gems here, particularly “Hunter of an Invisible Game,” but as an album this lacks the commitment to a cohesive theme that Springsteen nearly invented with his ’70s work.
Lucinda Williams never let go of that concept, which is why she agonizes over each release. Thirty Tigers has rereleased her 1988 self-titled album, packaging it with a disc of outtakes. This has always been a brilliant album, but the remastering makes it even more perfect.
“Lucinda Williams” is a suite of songs solely focused on heartbreak and desire. Each tune masterfully details an aspect of romance, but they work together as an album to create more lasting power than any collection of downloadable singles could. Also, the outtake “Sundays” is simply heartbreakingly sad.
Mark Lanegan was the singer for Ellensburg-birthed the Screaming Trees. His fan base has always been small by Beyoncé standards, but the respect he garners from musicians and Northwest music fans is unparalleled.
His new double CD, “Has God Seen My Shadow? An Anthology 1989-2011,” on local label Light in the Attic collects 32 tracks from his solo career and throws in a dozen unreleased tracks. It’s a set of dark beauty and should raise Lanegan’s national profile.
Lanegan’s vision of the world is haunted, and this set could have been called “No Hope.” No one will listen to songs like “River Rise” or “Last One in the World” and feel more hopeful about the world, but they may come away appreciating the power of music to make the human condition more tolerable.
That’s exactly what a great album seeks to achieve, and Lanegan and Light in the Attic have scored here.