x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pink Floyd: on the right track

The band's recent court victory is a major win for artistic integrity and music in general.

When the news broke last week that Pink Floyd had won a court ruling, stopping their record label from selling individual tracks from the band's concept albums online, many in the media responded with jeers, ordering the group to crawl back into whichever cave they were living in. The Floyd are charged with being old-fashioned almost as often as they are with being pompous, but now they were being accused of cynically dictating how fans purchase and listen to music in their own homes. How dare they?

Some even suspected their hard line against "unbundling" LPs was a moneymaking ploy, forcing fans to buy unwanted album tracks alongside the group's better-known songs such as Another Brick in the Wall. This would be particularly criminal, presumably because the psychedelic rockers have already sold a bazillion albums and should probably be giving away their music for free by now. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Whatever you think of the group's grandiose, self-indulgent, solo-driven music (I'm a total sucker for it), the court victory is a major win for artistic integrity and music in general. In an age when hastily assembled iTunes playlists and downloadable mixed tapes have further shortened our attention spans and almost committed the long player to the dust, unweaving masterpieces such as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here or The Wall would be the final insult.

Not only do many of the tracks run into one another like symphonic movements, the albums also have narrative arcs that fall apart when the songs are chopped into bite-sized pieces. Listening to Dark Side's Eclipse without first sitting through Time would be like fast-forwarding to the bit in Apocalypse Now when Brando turns-up, then going back to the opening scene when Martin Sheen receives his orders. Jumbling up Floyd's songs on a playlist with other artists would be like sitting down to watch Star Wars, only to have your remote control begin skipping between all the movie channels every four-and-a-half minutes.

It's not just Pink Floyd's concept albums that deserve to be preserved (David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars should also be played in full). Many non-concept albums also deserve to be kept whole for atmospheric reasons; I'm looking at you Radiohead's Kid A. Likewise, not every classic album needs to be played from start to finish. It certainly wouldn't be a crime to pluck songs from more scattershot fare such as The Beatles' Rubber Soul or Lou Reed's Revolver and commit them to a mix.

Although most artists' music wouldn't suffer from dissection quite like the Floyd's, I wish more would refuse to allow their tracks to be sold separately. The judge who presided over the case said the ruling will "preserve the artistic integrity of the albums". If, as most signs seem to suggest, the album as we know it will cease to exist in the near future, let's enjoy the ones we have the way they were intended.