headphones by Philippe Put used under a CC-BY-ND-2.0 licence.

12 Questions to Ask About Music Albums

About the Author

Mark Meynell

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Mark works with the Langham Partnership and the Anglican Church in London, as well as being a freelance writer and speaker. See all Mark's articles on EngagingMedia.info. Read more from Mark on his website and on Scribd.

With the advent of downloads, music sharing, and the ease of creating one’s own playlists, some are predicting the imminent demise of the album. The days of Prog Rock and the ‘concept album’ are long gone. Nevertheless, musicians and bands still seem to be content to release albums, even if they no longer have the constraints of time and length forced on them by the old LP format. So while albums are still sold, it is still worthwhile engaging with them as crafted entities (unless they are simply ‘greatest hits’ anthologies).

My purpose in writing these 12 questions is to help people to develop what we might call ‘joined-up listening’: taking an album’s form, music, lyrics and construction as an integrated whole (where possible). Serious artists certainly appreciate it when people take their work seriously – especially when they go beyond the simple ‘nice tune’ response (although most would give their right arms to write ‘nice tunes’!).

Introductory

  1. Appeal: What drew you to the album in the first place? Was marketing a factor, or was it word of mouth, or something else?
  2. Interest: Did this album grab you on first hearing, or did it need repeated listening before you started enjoying it? Why do you think that is? Was there deliberate attempt at accessibility?

Music and Lyrics

  1. Musical style: Does the whole album fit into a particular musical genre, or does it borrow from multiple forms? Can you spot key influences? Have these been merely copied or has there been development, updating or reworking? What was most original about the music?
  2. Musical impact: Were you affected emotionally by the music? Can you identify particular moments when this happened? Did these moments reflect or coincide with intensity in the lyrics?
  3. Lyrical high points: Were there particular songs, or even lines, which stick in your mind because of their lyrics?
  4. Lyrical style: Is there a consistent lyrical style through the album, or a range? Are they immediately accessible, or do they require reflection? Do you sense that this is deliberate?
  5. Lyrical imagery: Were there any key ideas or images which were inventive or which worked particularly well? Or some that were less successful?
  6. Allusions: Did any lyrics allude to other songs, ideas or art-forms? Are there any religious themes that get appropriated or subverted?
  7. Characters: Do any of the tracks express the point of view of different persona and characters? Or do they seem more autobiographical? Or perhaps observations and reflections on historical or contemporary events and and situations?

Taking the album as a whole

  1. Title: What does the album’s title reveal, if anything, about the album’s impact and themes.
  2. Structure: Do you detect any clear purpose in the way the album is structured? Is there a sense of progression or grouping? Or does it seem more like a string of stand-alone tracks?

Impact and provocations

  1. Worldviews and agendas: Are there hints of a consistent, underlying worldview through the album? What do they say about the nature of reality, morality or humanity? Are there ways in which this engages with, endorses or even challenges, a Christian worldview? How should we respond?

Photo credit: © Philippe Put. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-ND-2.0) licence. 

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