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The Demographic Shift - 10

The world of compilation albums is a complicated one. Ever since I mentioned this topic as a sure sign that you were on the way out of the 18-34 demographic, it has sparked a storm of controversy existential in its nature, writes Gordon MacMillan.

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I say existential as, well, it has led to a lot of discussions over the exact nature of compilation albums and as to whether there are any special exemption clauses allowing certain albums not to be classed as compilation albums, but just as plain old albums instead? This is going to be a little confusing.

I want to try and settle this debate for once and for all, otherwise like 'That's What I Call Music 52 or Best Dance Album 27', we'll be at this for a good while to come.

OK, the bad news first. The bad news is that as far as I am aware there are just no get-out clauses here when it comes to compilation albums. Don't despair, however, as there is some good news to follow. In fact, there are two bits of good news.

The first is that, well, some compilation albums are better than other. The second piece of good news is that, just as there are some compilation albums that are better than others, there are also some reasons for buying compilation albums that are superior to others, which in turn indicates that your musical taste is not in fact declining. This, I think you will agree, is the most comforting news at all.

Like so many album conversations of the past, this all comes back to Nirvana -– more specifically the new Nirvana album and the marketing blitz that surrounded its launch. While not quite on the scale of 'Die Another Day', it was pretty ferocious. Xfm, for instance, celebrated the launch of the album with Nirvana week, in a deal which I am sure was linked to unit sales. Though to be fair, this was not a bad thing as what it boiled down to was the fact that they played lots of Nirvana, but you get my point.

I have to say I had sadly been looking forward to this album and got terribly excited when they played the new single on Xfm. So excited, in fact, that I had been walking about and telling people the new Nirvana album was out any day now.

I did this all the way until a friend even more anal than myself on these matters of album etiquette demanded that I immediately cease and desist in my behaviour towards this forthcoming disc.

"You can't go around calling it the 'new' Nirvana album."

"Why not?"

"Because it isn't new."

"But it has a new track on it?"

"One new track doesn't make an album. Face it, Nirvana's 'Nirvana' is a compilation album."

"But it can't be, because I don't buy compilation albums."

"Do you own 'Nirvana Unplugged' or Nirvana's 'From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah?'"

"Of course 'Unplugged' is one of my favourite albums -- the NME said it is an album that causes 'its makers to sound legendary'."

"They are both compilation albums."

This conversation then spun out of control (after I was identified as the owner of many compilation albums from the likes of New Order and Joy Division to Paul Weller and Bob Dylan). The sad truth is that the new Nirvana album is not a new album. After some reflection, I can only agree (although the 'new song' 'You know you're right' is vintage).

The good news is this then: Nirvana, while the producer of three compilation albums to date (with many more to come), simply produce a better class of compilation album. As for some reasons for buying compilation albums being superior to others, there is the obsessive fan defence, which is that you are not a compilation album buyer as such but a compulsive purchaser of anything your favourite bands have produced -- a category that I safely fall into. On second thoughts, I'm not exactly sure that this is a such a good thing although it seems too late to do anything about this condition.

Of course, you're right. This all conclusively proves nothing, but somehow I feel better having gotten this off my chest and shared, but I can't finish the compilation album debate without a word or two of warning. While writing this, I Googled a bit. All I did was type the words "compilation album" in and the results were indeed scary.

One of the top results is for a site dedicated to Procol Harum, this included a page listing 46 (yes, count them) Procol Harum compilation albums. Like I said, scary. My advice, whatever your particular age, is just don't go there.

Anyway I digress, back to other things. Susan called me -- she wanted to know how it was going with the new girlfriend. I had to be honest, for some reason it is really difficult to lie to Susan, and tell her not so well.

"Not so good, we're going to be friends."

"I told you it wouldn't end well."

"You told me what exactly?"

"That you're too old to start dating people who are the exact same age as you. You have to date down, not too far, but two or three years at least."

"You never said that."

"I meant to. Anyway, what kind of friends are you going to be?"

"Best friends. You know the kind that never see each other until Hell freezes over and the sun has gone supernova."

"That's sad, what happened?"

"Well, it was all going well until she came over and I cooked her dinner."

"I'm impressed that sounds terribly grown-up."

"I know, but she sort of freaked out. She couldn't get over the fact that we have a four-foot Yoda in the sitting room in 'Attack of the Clones' ready-to-fight stance. I told her it was my flatmate's, which technically it is as he did, in fact, bring it home -– the advantages of working in retail."

"I can't believe you tried to pass it off. What did she say exactly?"

"She said she found it extremely depressing to be 34 and dating someone who had a life-sized Yoda in their flat."

"That is depressing."

"But it's life size and he has a light sabre."

"I know, but you're... too old for Yoda."

This is a harsh blow, but I think Susan might indeed be right. That said, Yoda is staying.

The Demographic Shift is a new regular column on Brand Republic as Gordon MacMillan charts his own demographic timebomb.

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