On Friday, Kanye West released his new album Ye, a record which had the most bonkers pre-release roll out since… well, since The Life Of Pablo in February, 2016.
Most striking about the album, aside from the public declaration of Kanye’s recently-diagnosed bipolar status and the superhero powers it bestows upon him, is its slight running time. Seven songs and a total of 23 minutes of music. A week earlier, Pusha T released the Kanye-produced Daytona, which also contains seven tracks and comes in at a mere 21 minutes. This Friday will see another Kanye-helmed seven song album: a collabaration between Ye and Kid Cudi. Two further seven-track records produced by Kanye are due in the coming weeks.
This level of brevity makes sense in this era of diminishing attention spans, multiple screens, and endless entertainment options. Kanye is a master of grabbing public attention, but he knows not to outstay his welcome, often disappearing for extended periods between projects. I recently wrote about the increasing blurry definition of what actually constitutes an album in this day and age, but a more pertinent question might be, without physical format restrictions, why do albums continue to exist at all?
The early ’90s saw the complete infiltration of the compact disc, and with it, the era of the bloated album – records created to make the most of the 74 minute format – and later the 80 minute format. While it could be argued that bands like Tool used this extra landscape to stretch out and create dense, epic masterworks, the majority of albums were simply a case of chucking 19 or so songs onto a CD, without much editing or thought past providing value-for-money, in which this is defined by quantity only.
Revolver by The Beatles goes for 35 minutes. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik goes for 74 minutes. It’s hard to argue the latter provides double the value. Still, when albums cost $31 it was easy to follow the logic of providing as much music as possible. In 2018 though? 23 minutes seems like just the right amount of Kanye to stomach in one sitting.
Make albums great again.