Monday, 28 November 2005

When size does matter

Albums, like lots of other things, come in all sizes.

There's mini albums like Pink moon or Nashville skyline, which may disappoint someone who has invested good money in them. While I'm an advocate of quality over quantity, I still feel a little bit ripped off when the little LCD on my CD player shows a time less than 30 minutes.

Then there's the epics like Sunset studies and Urban hymns, albums which truly take effort to listen to. I find that when I'm considering playing an album like this, I ask myself some questions:
  • Do I have time to listen to this album?
  • Will I be able to listen to it uninterrupted?
  • Can I do it justice in this sitting?
All of this has me thinking. What is the optimal album length that takes into account the aforementioned issues? After many years of intensive research at the Anally-Retentive Music Analysis Centre (ARMAC), musicologists have discovered the optimal album length. But they have also taken it a step further, and calculated the optimal number of tracks on an album.

How have they done this? Through a survey of course. Who did they survey? Music fans of course. Why have they done this? Because they can. Why am I writing about this? Because I can. And I also haven't posted for a while, and I'd like to keep this blog active.

Well here are their findings.

The optimal album length is 45 minutes. The optimal number of tracks is 12.

Here's their justification behind these figures:
  • Most humans are able to digest one hour television shows quite well. Subtract the advertisements from a one hour television show, and you have yourself about 45 minutes of actual entertainment*. Music is another form of entertainment, and it should be in the same digestable "portion size" as television.
  • For the mathematicians among us, this gives an average track length of 3 minutes and 45 seconds. Here's some brilliant 3:45 tracks, in no particular order:

    • Blueline Medic - At least we had the war
    • Big Star - Watch the sunrise
    • Elvis Costello - Watching the detectives
    • The Pogues - Dirty old town
    • Nick Drake - Northern sky
    • George Harrison - All things must pass
    • John Lennon - How?
    • Manic Street Preachers - Democracy coma
  • 12 track albums give us a chance for the vinyl fans amongst us to divide a CD into virtual "sides" of 6 tracks each. So you get 2 opening tracks and 2 closing tracks. How cool is that? [As a side note, Belle & Sebastian actually put a gap in the middle of their albums to simulate the act of "flipping over the record"]
  • 45 minutes used to be about the time it took me to get to work when I lived at my folks' house, which meant I could listen to an album fully before I got to work. It was a great feeling arriving at work just as an album finished. Now it only takes me about 15 minutes to get to work, so I need to stick with EPs if I want to get this same feeling.
  • At the time of writing, 49 albums from my collection of 877 are 5-star albums. 14 of these 49 albums have 12 tracks, clearly the statistical mode in my set of 5-star albums. Of these 14 albums, 10 of them are +/- 10 minutes from the 45:00 length. I think these albums speak for themselves:

    • The La's - The La's [35:10]
    • Elvis Costello - This Year's Model [35:34]
    • Elliott Smith - Either/Or [36:53]
    • Queen - A Night At The Opera [43:17]
    • R.E.M. - Murmur [44:05]
    • Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go [45:18]
    • Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love [47:27]
    • Radiohead - The Bends [48:31]
    • Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? [49:58]
    • Pulp - Different Class [51:57]
    • Radiohead - OK Computer [53:21]
Classics, the lot of them!

If anyone disagrees with ARMAC's survey results, speak now or forever hold your peace.

*Obviously this is making a bad assumption that TV ads are not entertaining, and this is simply not true in many cases. TV ads are often entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. "As a mother I feel it's my job to give my kids Nutella for breakfast." Need I say more?

1 comment:

  1. I have been thinking about my posts on your blog a fair bit, and usually they are nitpicking and overly negative. So its time for a change....

    Whilst I wouldnt have the time nor desire to try and forulate such a theory, I think you are pretty much on the mark there Jiggy. If u asked me to pick the ideal number of tracks off the top of my head, I would have said 13 is a good number.

    But, as I am sure you would agree with me, all albums are different and something a bit different can be a good thing. Think of an album like Morning Glory by Oasis, which contains several short untitled filler tracks. I think these tracks make the album flow well and are well worthy of their inclusion.


Sing some harmonies here: