It’s hard to review singles. By the time you’ve got past the initial judgement, realised there’s no story arc in place, and spouted a metaphor or three, you’re down to speculation. What does it mean? What happens next? When’s the album due?
When downloads came along, there seemed to be two schools of thought – either the singles charts had been revolutionised, or it had been ruined. I say, why stop at two choices? In an age where people are more reluctant to part with money in exchange for their music, could we argue that what makes a single ‘successful’ or ‘valuable’ has changed?
The social side of singles has been drowned out by the Internet. Crowded tills, wonky shelves and jangling pockets are a thing of the past, replaced by bank cards, immediacy and anonymity. But bands, labels and publicists know that the conversation can still be found in the right places, which is where singles come into play.
It’s all about answering the ultimate PR question – who cares? No doubt someone, somewhere, will care about an upcoming album release. But blanket press coverage can only take an album so far. The singles are in place to lay the foundations. They start the conversations and the speculation. They build the hype, but they do so in the places where influence is possible.
Take The Used, for example. I’ll be honest; I’m indifferent to them. Always have been. Since post-hardcore music fell by the wayside, they’ve found themselves frozen out. Their business at the moment isn’t about winning new hearts – it’s about satisfying the converted. They’ve secured a reputation and are content to stay put, so their focus now is on keeping in touch with the stakeholders with itching iTunes fingers.
When trying to review “I Come Alive”, I found myself paying more attention to the comments on the host site than I did the song. That’s what started this whole argument. The timing of the single’s release has allowed for ample debate about whether or not the band could recover from the quagmire that was Artwork.
In PR terms, it’s worked a treat. The Used don’t need critical acclaim. They’ve no use for scores of new tag-alongs. Instead what they’ve done is create a hype storm that spans several teacups. The people they’ve reached would probably have bought the album eventually, but by making an early contact and prompting the conversation, The Used have breathed new life into their stagnating reputation, just in the nick of time.
Of course, when it comes to the Radio One hits, of course money matters. But as you move further from the mainstream, I think some bands are starting to wise up to the ways of the web. And fair play to them.