For some of us who continue to harbour shameful feelings of nostalgia for a long-extinct monoculture, the inexorable splintering of the mainstream has served to heighten the allure of statistics.
So when Drake sprung a new album on an unsuspecting world last week, we were secretly grateful when the inevitable wave of numbers began rolling in to provide at least a figment of cohesion.
First it was Spotify, where Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late broke the record for the decidedly unsexy stat of most streams in a week: 17.3 million in the U.S. (it did that in just three days) and 22.2 million around the world.
That was quickly followed by Billboard, whose newly mystifying numbers now include things such as “track equivalent albums” and thus oblige us to put quote marks around “sales.” Drake’s album moved 535,000 units, 495,000 of which were “pure album sales,” all from paid downloads and largely, no doubt, from iTunes.
Along with the generally positive reviews and the talk about metrics we don’t fully understand came some other seemingly beside-the-point chatter about whether If You’re Reading This is a mixtape or a proper album. Turns out it’s a distinction that could determine whether Drake has fulfilled his recording contract and is now a free agent or if he’ll continue to be tied to the Cash Money Records.
Given all that, is this the year that Spotify and iTunes follow in the footsteps of Netflix and take the leap into original content, i.e. signing acts to recording contracts?
Speculation about Spotify going that route gained steam last year, but it was always about the company branching out into original video.
Would signing, if not Drake — who could simply shift his releases to his own OVO Sound — then other acts with expiring contracts (ironically, given her well-publicized feud with Spotify, Taylor Swift will soon find herself in that position) or for that matter, outbidding labels for rising new acts help fend off existing competition from other streaming services and what Apple morphs into when it relaunches iTunes or Beats or whatever its service will be called?
After all, as Fortune pointed out, “Apple’s goal is not to merely compete with Pandora and Spotify, an unnamed industry insider told Billboard. ‘It is to be the music business.’”
Apple’s latest gambit was the hiring of high-profile BBC DJ Zane Lowe, a move that would seem to point to an imminent shift to personality and curation.
Taken together with a quietly aggressive pruning of the iTunes music store and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine’s tenacious pursuit of exclusive releases, we could be in for an intriguing and tumultuous year.
RETRO/ACTIVE: It’s been 34 years since ABBA’s final studio album and almost 20 since her last solo album, but Anni-Frid Lyngstad — Frida to her fans — can’t quite leave music behind.
Since announcing her retirement in the late ’90s, she has resurfaced as a guest vocalist on a pair of tracks, to honour Cat Stevens and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord.
Now, after another five years’ silence, the voice that graced “Fernando,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “The Name of the Game” has resurfaced, albeit briefly, on a new single, “1865.”
The majestic piano ballad commemorates the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, made from the Swiss town of Zermatt, where Lyngstad lives.
• Depending on how you tally up the entries in his unruly discography, April 7 will mark the release of Todd Rundgren’s 23rd or 24th or 25th solo studio album. Global is being pitched as a fusion of rock, soul and electronica, and the first single, “Global Nation,” certainly makes explicit the influence of the latter genre.
You can hear the song in its entirety if you subscribe to Spotify or another streaming service. If not, the clip posted on the Amazon U.K. site should give you a pretty good idea of what Rundgren is up to.
VINYL COUNTDOWN: With a new album, book and a three-month retrospective exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Björk is about to embark on the busiest year of her career.
You can add to the above a deep dive into vinyl. On March 9, all seven of her studio albums, from her 1993 English-language Debut through 2011’s Biophilia, the predecessor to the new Vulnicura, will come out on vinyl, “each one a different colour hand-picked by Björk herself that reflects that album’s character.”
Each is limited to 5,000 copies worldwide, after which they revert to standard black. Not surprisingly, they won’t be cheap. Even with the least expensive postage option to Canada (from the U.K.), it works out to about 40 bucks a pop.
• Johnny Cash’s American Recordings Box Set collects all six albums the late country singer released on Rick Rubin’s label from 1994 to 2010. Its new release date is March 3.
• The J. Geils Band, who passed through Toronto last month as the opening act on Bob Seger’s tour, will see their 1973 breakthrough Bloodshot return to vinyl in Canada on March 10.
• Finally, Joan Jett’s 1984 album Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth, featuring her remake of “Cherry Bomb,” a song she originally recorded with the Runaways, is due out on vinyl on March 17.