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The last couple of releases from American pop superstar Taylor Swift have been patchy to say the least. 2017’s Reputation attempted to lean into all the controversies that had plagued her in the preceding years, but its bombastic edginess too often tripped over itself into absurdity. Then there was last year’s Lover, which should’ve been a glorious return to the buoyant synthpop that made 2014’s 1989 so appealing but a bloated tracklist and some truly dire singles bogged it down. Neither of these albums were without their high points but any glimpse of a return to form ultimately felt suffocated by all of the context, be that the exhausting tabloid drama or the excessive promotional hype.
In the age of music as content, churned out to fill playlists on streaming services, the album has had a bit of a crisis. What’s the point of arranging songs this way if they don’t have to fit onto a disc with a limited amount of space? The responses to this question have been varied but, as a trend, albums have become more bloated. R&B superstar Drake’s 2018 album Scorpion is an excellent example of an album dragged to nearly an hour and a half long to provide as many playlist-ready tracks as possible. The lengthy double-album is nothing new, of course, but these days an artist doesn’t tend to release one to make an artistic statement – like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde or The Beatles’ White Album – so much as to have as much content to satisfy the greedy streaming ecosystem. More alternative musicians may have a higher motive – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ masterpiece Ghosteen was a double LP for a clear artistic reason – but for the most part popular music pursues length for the sake of it.
You return home, slowly locking the door behind you. Your ears still ringing, you make your way upstairs. Collapsing onto your bed, the same ringing that was once a comfort on your journey home now pierces the silence. High on the euphoria of the evening, you place your headphones on and search for the perfect album to play. Do you feel lonely? Or is it just the contrast of being surrounded by people and now being alone? You don’t know, but the evening now leaves a bitter taste. You decide on the B-side of Please. No- Bilingual. No- Elysium. You can’t decide. Further searching presents to you option D: Hotspot.
Since September 2018, Nick Cave has been communicating with his fans through the Red Hand Files, a website now home to over ninety funny, beautiful and insightful letters from the seasoned Australian bard. The sixth issue of the Red Hand Files sees Cave answer a fan’s question about communicating with the dead. “I have experienced the death of my father, my sister, and my first love in the past few years and feel that I have some communication with them, mostly through dreams,” the question begins. “They are helping me. Are you and (your wife) Susie feeling that your son Arthur is with you and communicating in some way?” “I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there,” Cave responds. “These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption.”
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