Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Schizo Ears

My god, what they said is true. Thanks to downloading, the iPod and other MP3 players, and most especially the “shuffle” function, I am experiencing a change in my listening preference.

I grew up with long-playing albums or LPs—you know, the vinyl ones. I grew up listening to and loving The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Electric Light Orchestra’s Time and k.d. lang’s Ingenue. I appreciated the idea of one song effortlessly segueing to the next, and I loved the idea that at the end of the album the listener gets a sense of a musical journey.

But that changed beginning with the Now That’s What I Call Music! album compilation. That was followed by the proliferation of music sharing and downloading on the net. Then iPod came out with a shuffle function.

Now people can listen to one single to the next without any rhyme or reason connecting the songs. Right now as I’m typing this, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” blares from my speakers. Before that was Madonna’s “Material Girl” and even before that, Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart”. Okay, because I hand-picked each and every uploaded song on my iTunes, I love each and every one of them. But there’s a different, schizoidic feeling listening to them in that order. It’s a different joy, a different rush.

(In a rare occasion, the next song played was another Mac tune, “Think About Me”. Hey, it happens, you know?)

Of course the concept album isn’t exactly all dead and buried. Green Day’s American Idiot and Brian Wilson’s Smile! are recent examples of concept albums. But when I listened to the latter I had to force myself to push through song after song and resist the temptation to skip or skim through the album. It was a lot harder now than before to go through the whole thing. My ears seem to have a shorter attention span now.

Then again, there are surprising and unexpected segues that one only discovers when in shuffle mode. For instance, just now I never thought that Run-D.M.C. vs Jason Nevins’ “It’s Like That” can segue effortlessly to The B-52s’ “Summer Of Love” before downshifting to Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird”. (Hmmm, this is the third Mac song. My iTunes must be having a big Mac attack.)

I don’t know how long the novelty of listening in shuffle mode will last, but for now I’m enjoying it. Shuffle away!