During the ongoing mental breakdown that Kanye West calls his career, he has inadvertently done something interesting for a change. His latest album The Life Of Pablo was released solely on the Tidal streaming service, and subsequently since it’s release the songs on the album have been altered and remixed to essentially create a whole new album. It’s unclear whether the changes were because the album was unfinished or whether it was all just a publicity stunt, or a combination of the two, but it raises the question as to whether albums should be changed once they’re released to the world.
Imagine if you had an album that was constantly evolving, one that carried on having new and altered music for many years, or even outliving the artist that created it. Of course the whole idea has a few issues, the first of which being that the album it needs to be available solely through streaming. Whilst streaming is now rapidly becoming the most popular music format, it’s still the least profitable. Eliminating hard copies and relying just on streaming is seriously going to impact an artist’s income. Secondly is the sheer effort of having to come up with new changes and additions to an evolving album. It’s a constant commitment to a single album, that would hamper progress on future releases and cause complications with touring schedules. The most difficult struggle to get around though is that it is simply an outlandish concept. Where do you draw the line, how do you decide when enough is enough and settle on a final incarnation. It’s such a foreign idea, like Leonardo da Vinci deciding after a few years that the Mona Lisa could do with eyebrows after all.
In these modern times change is all around us, the world is often moving too fast for us to keep up. Perhaps the ideal model for the evolving album should come from video games. Modern games often take on board the views of their target audience and patch the game to help improve the gameplay experience and eliminate technical issues. Imagine an album that improved upon songs that you didn’t like based on your criticism. Naturally the whole thing is horribly impractical but it would make an interesting experiment. It reminds me of the Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka album wherein you had four CDs with slightly different variations, resulting in a different listening experience depending on how they were combined and even how your speakers were arranged. Kanye West may clog up the media with pointless and egotistical drivel but if nothing else he has provided us with an interesting musical thought experiment.