5 Interesting Developments in 2013 Music Sales (so far)

Interesting data compiled by Billboard from Nielsen's SoundScan report for the first 6 months of the year. Here are 5 developments that caught our attention:

- Justin Timberlake not only has the best selling album so far—physical and digital—it’s the only one to crack the 1 million sales mark. (It’s actually sold more than 2 million copies.)
Surprising, considering the audience for a pop star like Timberlake would likely, um, "file share" his new album to death, but no. Oh, and more albums have gone gold (500,000 copies sold) at this point (15) than by mid-2012 (11). But overall album sales have declined more than 5%. 

- Digital sales have decreased 2.4% from 2012.
As folks transition over to streaming services—which have seen their client base increase 24% from last year(!)—this will likely be a continuing trend. Looks like streaming might be eating into overall sales. Hmm...

- Vinyl sales of new albums has increased 33%.
This is a tad surprising but a nice bit of news. Also, it turns out the vast majority of vinyl consumers are fans of indie rock. Overwhelmingly so. Duh. Who else but DJs have that much love for vinyl, generally speaking?

- Sales are down at chains and independent stores alike.
Both are doing 17% less business. Sad, but true.

- So called “heritage acts” (artists who appeal to an older—i.e. baby boomer—audience) and country music still sell a respectable amount of CDs.
This isn't news. And if we could find a commercial spot with cheap rent so that we could open a record store specializing in jazz, classical and a helping of classic rock, we'd be making money off it, too.
And yeah, CDs sound way better than digital files. Significantly better.


5 Solo Records Disguised as Band Albums

Unlike our "5 Real Solo Albums" feature, which highlights one-man-band records, these are a collection of albums ostensibly made by bands, but only due to various circumstances (binding legal agreements, commercial considerations, internal power struggles, etc.) do they bear the band's imprint, when in fact they carry the mark of a singular musical vision, sometimes forcibly so, reducing bandmates to sidemen status and invariably putting an end to whatever spirit of creative exchange was left in the band.

Here are 5 examples in alphabetical order by artist:

PAVEMENT Terror Twilight [Matador-1999]
Whether frontman Stephen Malkmus purposely decided to make Pavement’s fifth and final album a dry run for his solo career by refusing to have any songs by fellow guitarist/vocalist Scott Kannberg included on the album, is up for debate. But it’s telling that Malkmus chose Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) to produce the album, who confirmed the rest of the band’s wariness towards him by, in their estimation, producing the album as if he was working with The Stephen Malkmus Experience. (That deep into the Terror Twilight sessions Godrich did not know percussionist/keyboardist Bob Nastanovich’s name did not help matters one bit.) 

A tense world tour in support of the album sealed the band’s fate and Malkmus emerged with a self-titled debut solo album in early 2001.

PESCADO RABIOSO Artaud [Sony-1973]
Despite their brief lifespan, Pescado Rabioso are considered an important part of Argentina’s rock and roll history, mainly due to the involvement of legendary singer/songwriter/guitarist Luis Alberto Spinetta. The band only released three albums, but their third release, Artaud, is actually a Spinetta solo album. Internal friction over their sophomore release, the double album Pescado 2, led to the breakup of Pescado Rabioso in early 1973. (It’s quite plausible to assume the third album was released under the band’s name to fulfill legal obligations with their label, yet Spinetta would’ve been able to carry the LP under his own name having previously established himself as a solo artist.)

A highly influential classic within the realm Spanish-language rock, Artaud was recorded with Emilio del Guercio (bass) and Rodolfo Garcia (drums), Spinetta’s former bandmates in the also seminal pre-Pescado outfit Almendra, as well as his brother Carlos Gustavo Spinetta (drums). 20 years later Soda Stereo’s Gustavo Cerati covered Artaud’s “Bajan” on his first solo album Amor Amarillo [BMG-1993].

PINK FLOYD The Final Cut [Columbia-1983]
After the themes of alienation, abandonment and overall disconnect that informed The Wall [Columbia-1979] were rendered with a varied palette on a wide canvas, its follow-up turned out to be a dour, homogenous lesser version of that iconic double album, which in hindsight would be seen as the blueprint for Roger Waters’ subsequent solo releases. 

An anti-war concept album much disliked by the band’s vocalist/guitarist David Gilmour, The Final Cut is the only Pink Floyd album solely written by Waters. Gilmour’s lone lead vocals are on “Not Now John”, the only single released from the album and a pointed attack on director Alan Parker’s perceived watering down of the film version of The Wall. (The photo of a soldier with a knife in his back while carrying a film canister, which was included as part of The Final Cut's artwork, leaves no doubt of its message.) So, The Wall was too commercial, eh? Really? Man…

THE POLICE Synchronicity [A&M-1983]
Although Sting wrote the lion share of the band’s material, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers—particularly the former—saw their songwriting contributions to The Police’s albums further reduced when Sting decided to no longer sing lead on any song not written by him, circa Zenyatta Mondatta [A&M-1980]. (He later eased up slightly on that position but by then the damage to egos and group morale had already been done.) So, as the band’s main songwriter—and with a few hits under his belt by that point—Sting began exerting his influence and power, barring Summers’ “Omegaman” from being released as a single from Ghost in the Machine [A&M-1981]. 

By the time it came to make the next and final album, not only did the songs evidence less of the distinctive, reggae-influenced Police sound, favoring a more Adult Contemporary vibe—particularly on the album’s second half: “Every Breath You Take”, King of Pain”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, “Tea in the Sahara”—Sting was so entrenched in dictating the direction of the album and the performances of his bandmates that he came to actual blows with Copeland during the recording of “Every Breath You Take” and rendered producer Hugh Padgham practically superfluous in the process. If this is The Police album that most sounds like Sting’s solo output to you, now you know why.

THE REPLACEMENTS All Shook Down [Sire-1990]
There is absolutely no doubt this was supposed to be a Paul Westerberg solo album: that much has been confirmed. Why the shift from solo disc to Replacements album? Well, that has never been officially explained. And it’s not like the battered, bruised and disillusioned Replacements’ name was a superior commercial proposition, as the disappointing sales for the previous release, Don’t Tell a Soul [Sire-1989], will readily attest to. Westerberg’s official solo debut would have to wait, at least in name only.

Meanwhile, a singer/songwriter album heavy on acoustic guitars and full of guest musicians, including John Cale, Johnette Napolitano, Terry Reid, and Benmont Tench, with a smattering of performances by fellow Replacements Slim Dunlap, Chris Mars and Tommy Stinson—although, pointedly, never all four on the same track—got the Mats’ moniker slapped on it and became the band’s somewhat muted send-off.

A decent album—certainly of a higher caliber than some of what Westerberg released later on as a full-fledged solo artist—yet All Shook Down comes across more as the sound of a white flag being waved than a proper goodbye.

Honorable Mention:

Every album between 1986 and 1995 except Dehumanizer [Warner Bros-1992] is essentially a Tony Iommi solo album.

[All album cover artwork courtesy of The All Music Guide.]


Spin the (empty moonshine) Bottle

Unless it’s done to conceal or rehabilitate a damning past or water down a perhaps too strident orthodoxy, revisionism is not necessarily a bad thing. By definition, its intent is to challenge pre-existing views or theories. Nothing wrong with keeping us all honest. But when it’s done as a clear but feeble attempt to blithely alter a paradigm, or worse, to appear cool and/or be subversive, it has wandered into sad, unfunny joke territory. To wit: Spin magazine’s recent list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

We have neither the time nor inclination to go any further into dismantling the list, but any aggregate of this nature which includes Skrillex (?!); has Jack White and Steve Albini (?!) ranked higher than, say, Robert Fripp; and features Jam Master Jay (??!!) in its top 10, is just an exercise in douchebaggery. Simple as that.


Sorry, No Billy Batson Here

[Photo courtesy of The Shazam]
The Shazam (self-titled) 
[Not Lame-1998]

Godspeed The Shazam 
[Not Lame-1999]

Rev 9 
[Not Lame-2000]

Tomorrow the World 
[Not Lame-2003]

[Not Lame/New Boss-2009]

One of the most perplexing things about the music biz is how, save a few aberrations, a style so innately catchy and melodic has been perpetually relegated to cult/underground status. That’s been largely the burden power pop has had to bear over the years despite its potentially commercial promise. Regardless, we’re not going to delve more into that sob story but instead introduce you to another ‘shoulda been huge’ act: The Shazam.

Based in Nashville and led by vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Hans Rotenberry, these guys have been at it since the late ‘90s, with 5 high caliber albums to their credit. And contrary to many practitioners of this particular subgenre, about whom we've regularly balked at how they routinely sacrifice power for pop, The Shazam pass that test with flying colors. In fact, never shying away from the more bombastic sounds of the ‘70s means their music bears the mark of Cheap Trick, The Move and The Who; while hiring Mack (Queen, ELO) to produce their 5th and most recent album, Meteor, leaves no doubt where the quartet's sensibilities lie.

Recommended If You Like: Badfinger, Cheap Trick, The Move, The Posies, The Who.


What We're Listening To

MARISA MONTE Barulhinho Bom [EMI Brazil]
MUTANTES Tudo Foi Feito Pelo Sol [EMI-Brazil]
VAN HALEN Fair Warning [Warner Bros]
NEIL YOUNG Zuma [Reprise]

What are you listening to?