NPR logo Remembering Tomorrow

Remembering Tomorrow

As many or most of you have heard, The Raconteurs have decided to forgo the pro forma step of sending out advance copies of their upcoming album, and instead, make it available to everyone on the same day. That day happens to be March 25th.

According to the band, "the Raconteurs would rather this release not be defined by its first-week sales, pre-release promotion or by someone defining it FOR YOU before you get to hear it."

Certainly, The Raconteur's new model allows the experience of listening to their album to be (potentially) un-mediated by a third party—namely critics. But that is sort of saying that the discourse surrounding music and the music itself are of equal importance; it puts a lot of weight on the words. In actuality, no amount of talk (or writing) about an album can emulate the actual experience of listening to it; reading comments and criticism beforehand might affect your expectations but not the experience with the album itself; when that moment comes, it is about you and the songs.

I find it interesting that most of the discussion has revolved around how artists and labels are working to reconfigure or redefine the idea of releasing an album. Certainly, the reception of a record and how it is presented might help get people to listen, go see a live show, or to a lesser extent, actually purchase an album—but what actually feels important to me is what happens after an album is released, and whether it will outlast its given moment in time. All of the chatter, hype, or buzz before an album comes out, or surrounding a band, is all but forgotten in the subsequent years. What remains is the music, and only then if it's worth remembering.

Rolling Stone magazine, in reviewing a band's entire catalog, will often assign an album a different amount of stars than the publication did when the album was first released. For example, Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain received 4 stars in 1994 and 5 stars a decade later, when the album was revisited (and reissued). Beck's Odelay got the same treatment. I find myself making the same kind of revisions: mentally re-ranking albums or bands, liking ones I never used to, disliking others I formerly enjoyed.

Yet there seems to be so much pressure on the right here and right now. If we know our affection is apt to mutate over time, what is this rush to love, to praise, or to deplore? Maybe it's that the next thing comes along so quickly. Our affections, or the entire process of discovery, have to move at the speed of the rest of our lives, which is to say rapidly. The fear, I suppose, is that technology is negatively shaping not only the way we talk about music but also the way we listen to it. I'd like to think it's only the commentary that is fleeting, that despite being capable of musical tourism, we will still listen to what moves us long after the discussion surrounding it ceases.

In other words, if the Raconteurs album is good, it doesn't matter who hears it when or who utters the first words in regards to how it sounds.

As a side note, want to know how boring talking about music blogging can be for other people? Check out this drawing someone made during a SXSW panel I was on about blogs. I am second in from the right. FYI, I was not wearing a headband nor do I have a bald patch.




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

What are you doing up so late, so thoughtful? (there's probably no comments yet on this post as the moderator is likely asleep, yes?)

Seriously, you wax academic and the sad truth is that there aren't a lot of people studying how music listening habits, patterns and practices are changing as technology becomes a more central part of our lives.

You might consider graduate school... or at least working with some researchers to form some of these thoughts into a research design that might find purchase.

Sent by joe | 4:27 AM | 3-20-2008

for me the rush to get "the buzz" has smth to do with greed and superficiality, and this is a mental attitude which (funny enough) comes out of a certain vision of economy: growth, that is "buy the newest one", so from time to time it's good to go back to classical music ;) when things stood still

Sent by Corcoran | 6:06 AM | 3-20-2008

'Musical tourism,' I like it. I really think that 'hyped' or 'new' can be a stand-alone genre, on account of all the people who seem to prefer that music the most.

I'm always a late-comer to the 'best new music' for precisely the reason you state: if it's good now, it'll be good when I get to it in five months/years.

Sent by ljc | 9:20 AM | 3-20-2008

I agree that it is the intrinsic value of an album, not the views of the critics, that count. That said, I love the image of Jack White marching into Warner demanding the album be released (if the rumors are to be believed) - and I love not having to wait in tortured anticipation for the album or the tour. It feels like a gift, to get them both so soon!

Sent by Rachel | 10:43 AM | 3-20-2008

Despite the reasoning the Raconteurs released, I read this move more as a way to avoid the album leaking to the internet, than pre-release reviews.

Gnarls Barkley moved up their release of The Odd Couple a couple weeks to have it available immediately on iTunes after the album leaked weeks ago.

Perhaps I'm reading too between the lines too much, but I don't think it's bad reviews that are taking a chunk out of the music industry.

Still, I agree with your larger argument. And people will decide for themselves whether they like the album once they listen to it for themselves. Understandably the Raconteurs are hoping people who do listen will have purchased the album first.

Sent by Sam | 10:43 AM | 3-20-2008

I can't see your bald spot. Can you adjust the vertical hold on that picture?

Talking about music blogging would be less boring if your co-panelists were Robert Plant, John Darnielle, Jack White & Kathleen Hanna.

Speaking of which, did you happen to see the typically hilarious and cruel South Park last night about Britney?

Sent by David G. | 11:02 AM | 3-20-2008

Thanks for your insight on this. I have long been one to decry the over-use of reviews. To me it's kind of like cheating off the test of the kid next to me. How do I know if she knows the answers?

If there's something I'm already interested in, the release of a favorite (or highly likable) band's new CD or a new release by a highly respected filmmaker, I refuse to read anything about it before I hear/see it for myself. I don't even want to know what my mother thinks.

The only time a review is useful to me is when I know little about a band, etc, am looking for something new, and can be confident that the kid next to me (sometimes you) knows more and has a trustworthy approach to the answers.

Sent by Elizabeth | 11:09 AM | 3-20-2008

For the most part, I don't buy albums because of reviews--I watch TV and movies based on reviews in many cases, but with music it's usually based on what I hear on the radio or the recommendation of people I trust. Oddly enough, the major exception to that rule is Sleater-Kinney, because I only learned about them through reviews. I'd get the Raconteurs album anyway. What will be interesting to see is if there's a negative reaction by critics because they didn't get the album first.

I wonder if the Maxim Black Crowes controversy played a role in this. It's like the Raconteurs are saying to critics that hey, now people will know if you've heard the album before reviewing it, because the audience will have heard it to.

And you should consider wearing a headband. It would look quite jaunty!

Sent by Laura E. | 11:54 AM | 3-20-2008

Jack has consistently criticized the increasing impatience that is permeating our culture. We all know that once an album leaks, bloggers rush to "prematurely evaluate" it. I would imagine it would suck, completely and utterly suck, to work hard creating an album only to have it torn to shreds on the internet weeks before it was even intended to be heard. I think it's naive to think that readers of those blogs are not influenced in some way by the leak reviews. If not to influence, what's the point of the review? As such, I think it's great that Jack and The Raconteurs are doing what they're doing. Reading the entire press release indicates that they are trying to promote the album on the other end of release rather than beforehand. Rather than relying on prerelease hype, the band seems to be betting on the quality of the music itself to determine the ultimate success of the album. Hopefully others - if they really believe in their music - can do the same.

Sent by Rochinho | 11:59 AM | 3-20-2008

Funny about Pavement in Rolling Stone. Another one: I distinctly remember a lukewarm 3 star review of Nevermind when it came out. Bet they'd like to have that one back.

Sent by Rick | 12:13 PM | 3-20-2008

or they think that their album is utter crap.

don't get me wrong, I enjoy me some Raconteurs

Sent by Oli | 12:20 PM | 3-20-2008

The discourse surrounding music can certainly affect album sales and, while it's not as important as the experience of listening to music, people want to spend their money on an album they're sure to enjoy.

But really, I think the move is partly to avoid internet leaking and partly a PR move.

Sent by JJ Hellgate | 12:33 PM | 3-20-2008

I applaud the Raconteurs for doing something like this...

Critics generally wont ruin a "fan" of a band / actor / movie / album from buying it / liking it...

But say the first singles on the radio, and Timmy who never heard the Raconteurs before liked it... but then reads the review that says the album lacks this / that or the other thing... so instead of getting the album, he just buys the 99cent download for the single...

But there really is no predicting how the previews, reviews, promotions, and other things, will effect an album.

Look at 2006, when Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam all released new albums with in a week of each other.

Tools was long awaited
Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, not as much as they only had a few years between albums...

If I remember right? the reviews were far better for Tool and Pearl Jam... but for many weeks at the start, the Chili Peppers were out selling the other two. (I dont know what final numbers were however) But that just kinda shows, the better reviews didnt push Tool or PJ's sales up anymore then the bad reviews pulled the Chili Peppers down... course im only going on the handful of reviews i saw... so i might be way off too :P

the important thing, is to like what you like, and not what youre told to like...

Sent by Kramer | 1:08 PM | 3-20-2008

Rolling Stone hasn't lost any credibility upping the score for Crooked Rain. Those Pavement reissues are great; they give you an extra one and half hours of music, a nice thick booklet of commentary and the packaging is great too. If the original is a 4, the reissue better be a 5. And even if that weren't the case, each review reflects the opinion of an individual reviewer and not the Rolling Stone collectively, so it wouldn't necesarily be one person changing their mind, although it is still somewhat tacky.

Sent by Oli | 1:27 PM | 3-20-2008

I agree with you that the strategy the Raconteurs are pursuing has the relation between music and its criticism exactly backwards. Because the pervasiveness of digital media in our lives mimics the immediate experience of listening, we confuse the two. I just don't see how The Raconteurs are helping clarify things through their policy of treating music as something over-precious and in danger of pofanation. As your examples from Rolling Stone make clear, good music is perfectly capable of fending for itself.

Sent by John | 2:07 PM | 3-20-2008

Hey, I guess you can consider me a "rock journalist" and to be honest I often read reviews to find out about music I don't know anything about. It helps! As for bands that are well-known, I'd say that there is a pretty big chance that the new album will be garbage and that they don't want to send out advances because they know writers will trash it, thus maybe discouraging some to not buy it. Just a thought. But, I will agree that sending advances does hurt the artist because there are so many people getting them, that they just end up on SoulSeek or whatever anyways. I guess what i'm saying is reviews are helpful when you're digging for music, when you already know of a band and will buy the record anyways, what's the difference if your record gets bad reviews? I mean Jack White sells tons of records just on his name alone.

Sent by A.R. | 3:20 PM | 3-20-2008

Giving an album a higher "rating" later on is just a way of saying how well the music has aged. I've always compared music to alcohol. Good music is like wine; it gets better with age. Bad music is like beer; it gets stale with age.

Sent by Jack | 3:29 PM | 3-20-2008

There just isn't as great of a need for reviewers today as there used to be, since it's so easy to access music online and give it a listen for yourself before you buy it. But back in the day, I used to rely on reviews to point me towards bands I might like. This was the '80's in rural northern California: There was no radio station that played the sort of music I liked, there was no internet with which to connect with other fans, all I had were magazines like Trouser Press (the crisis of my teenage life was when this magazine stopped production), Creem, NME, and Melody Maker, and the opinions of their reviewers to help guide me through the wilderness. And it was through those reviewers that I discovered The Smiths, Violent Femmes, The Jam, The Stone Roses, Joy Division/New Order, The Cure, R.E.M., Husker Du, The Replacements, and a whole slew of other bands that mean the world to me. Sure, sometimes I didn't agree with the reviewers (see Happy Mondays, The Wonder Stuff, The Charlatans, Blur, Inspiral Carpets, etc.), but at least it was something I could rely on to point me in the right direction.

But it just isn't the same anymore. Now I can hear about Vampire Weekend from my peers on the internet, go to Seeqpod.Com and do a look-up to hear the song for myself. I really don't need the critics anymore... which is both a relief, and a little sad. Another tradition is thrown by the wayside.

Sent by The Comtesse DeSpair | 3:50 PM | 3-20-2008

I tend to agree with what Elizabeth said above... if I know I'm going to buy a new album by a band I already like, I try to avoid all reviews so I can go into it with a fresh mind.

In the past I've had my first listen of a new album tainted by reading reviews, expecting more or less of a given song, or listening for a specific influence instead of just enjoying the music.

Ms. Brownstein's correct though... years later I never remember that first, compromised listen, it's whether or not the music has held up for me personally that matters.

Sent by Mike M. | 4:14 PM | 3-20-2008

I do get a bit peeved when my favorite music site will review an album that is weeks away from being released. If the review perks my interest I want to buy it then and give it a shot. I do understand the need to create a hype before an album's release, though.

If the Raconteurs really did this avoid critics, though, I think it's crap. They should know that their fans are smart enough to judge an album for themselves. But if the reason was to avoid leaking, then I understand, but don't blame it on the critics.

Sent by T.J. | 4:55 PM | 3-20-2008

A really bad review can prevent people from buying an album though; then those people will never know if the critic who wrote the negative review is full of crap or not. I don't appreciate music criticism at all, because as you say, listening to the music is infinitely more important than anything that is and can be written about it. Instead of reading a music review, I'd rather that people would just give the album in question a listen and decide for themselves, to think for themselves. That would be something. It's much easier to check music out now, with the technology that is available, and there are always libraries, too.

Sent by Anjanette | 8:51 PM | 3-20-2008

I didn't like "If You're Feeling Sinister" by Belle and Sebastian for a long time after I first listened to it. For whatever reason the songs just didn't move me. I was a huge Belle and Sebastian fan, but none of the songs got in my head like "Lazy Line-Painter Jane" or "My Wandering Days Are Over."

Fast forward six years and I listen to "If You're Feeling Sinister" for the first time in ages, and suddenly I'm loving every song, every phrase, every breath. I honestly had to live a few more years before I understood and grasped what these songs were about. It was as though Stuart Murdoch knew me inside and out. "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" is one of my rotating theme songs, and I had a heart attack the moment I made a connection between "Me and the Major" and James Joyce's "The Dead" (because the snow is falling falling falling). Music is such a funny thing. The first experience can fall flat, but with time the same music can be life changing. It doesn't happen often for me, but when it does it's profound.

Lately I've been pretty let down by new releases, and it's not from lack of experience. It's almost because of too much experience. I really feel like I've heard this before. Nobody is trying anything different. This is why I have no desire to listen to Vampire Weekend again. I've heard it before, and I've heard it done better. They're average. Case closed. Maybe this is unfair. Maybe a newcomer will pick them up and love them. Call me what you will, but I can see myself picking up most of this year's new releases (so far, at least) later in life and remaining unaffected.

Sent by Nick L. | 10:54 PM | 3-20-2008

Ideally, I would only slog through a review if it referenced bands that I enjoy to some degree. Yet whenever I go home, somehow I always catch myself leafing through my brother's copies of Rolling Stone and settling upon assessments of such delights as the latest Nickelback album with the vague hope that its textual embodiment, devoid of nasally noises, will convince me that they are the new Nirvana. Unfortunately [fortunately?] I have only ever reached the conclusion that they are the new hell.
I know a number of people who gulp down and excrete music at such breakneck speeds I'm surprised their exasperated ears don't sever all communication to their brains. Then again I suppose "relaxed enjoyment" is not only an oxymoronic notion but also a highly antiquated one.

Sent by Zia | 12:26 AM | 3-21-2008

I just wanted to add...
if anyone has direct TV, the "101" channel is replaying SXSW

I believe I saw "X" will be shown tomorrow (Friday) at 11am CST

IF i get up... im planning on watching it... Dont know who else they are showing? but yeah...

Sent by Kramer | 1:42 AM | 3-21-2008

I'm not sure if I agree with your statement that hype and buzz is forgotten in the years after an album's release. After all, people still talk about the buzz surrounding The Strokes' first album whenever they are talked about, even after almost seven years.

Sent by Stuart | 4:13 AM | 3-21-2008

Everyone should actually read The Raconteur's press release. Nowhere in there does it attack critics or indicate that the unconventional release of their new album is due to unfair critical response. The whole point is they are trying to cut out any unnecessary third parties by getting the music as quickly as possible from the studio to the fans.

Sent by Shapiro | 1:09 PM | 3-21-2008

So much for not leaking--apparently the album can be downloaded from ITunes. What a waste of effort on the Raconteurs' part.

Sent by Laura E. | 1:24 PM | 3-21-2008

accidently came across this blog....


i'm by no means an expert on music, or much else for that matter. but i do like to listen to music. and as the saying goes "if it sounds good...."

well, it's good to me anyway.

so who cares what reviewers say. most of them anyway. (i do appreciate the insights of some music experts, even though i disagree with them most of the time.)

the timing of when you first consume new music... well, that seems to be the increasingly more important game. "i heard it first..." is the new (old) currency of cool (elitism). only so many people can have heard a new release before its christened by reviewers with 4 stars. or none.

no matter what rating they eventually get, the raconteurs are inadvertently--maybe deliberately--just leveling the playing field. they're taking the keys away from reviewers. they're giving the keys to potential consumers of their music. giving them the chance to discover their new stuff the same day that a reviewer would.

now that's cool. let the listening... and reviewing begin!

Sent by delos santos | 5:46 PM | 3-21-2008

Thanks for sitting on that panel. You added logic, knowledge, and considered thoughts to the overall discussion.

The Stereogum guy was...insufferable.

Sent by Adam | 7:47 PM | 3-21-2008

Here's where critics drive me crazy, though - I've been listening to the Kills' "Midnight Boom" all week and essentially freaking over it. Then I read a review on Pitchfork (I should have averted!) that claimed a certain track had a Greg Kihn band quality. I completely disagree, of course, but now Pitchfork's words are in my head, and whenever I heard this song, I'm thinking about Greg Kihn. Sour.

Sent by Rachel | 3:47 PM | 3-22-2008

Totally off the subject. Did you post a Q&A ad called 28 questions on Portland's CL? I dont know what gave me the impression that it might be you. But newho...Raconteurs I liked 3 or 4 songs off their last cd. As far publicity for the album or buzz, etc I just consider Jack White -commercial along w/ every music critic on a pop mag that's out there, its not like I'd have so much respect 4 their opionion anyway. Even tho I'll read a critque frm. time to time. so overall it doesnt matter to me how they go about their bizness. If it was a straight underground band pulling sucha stunt then I'd be bothered prolly. There's certain bands I dont take seriously even tho I might dig their music & think they have a unique gimmick. I think once you get to a certain level it becomes less about the material and more about ego & ratings & numbers & basically money. Its a travesty.

Sent by Marissa Dailey | 2:32 AM | 3-23-2008

i don't trust reviews. i sometimes trust my friend's opinions, but we don't always like the same stuff.

Sent by chunk | 10:08 AM | 3-23-2008

At least the drawing doesn't say "I think I may need a bathroom break".

Sent by The Soup Nazi | 5:57 PM | 3-23-2008

I think criticism is valuable and important; the best critics aren't "taste-makers" (i.e. "Like this because it's cool to like them!) but simply talk about an album and why she or he doesn't like it. It's not easy to do, especially with a topic as slippery and ineffable as music. For the most part, it either grabs you or it doesn't.

However, in recent years it has been harder and harder for me to find music that I truly enjoy; so much American music press is simply advertising for new albums. I understand this to some extent, that's how people learn about new things coming out, but, well, what if the album truly sucks? Or what if it is brilliant but only ten people are listening to it?

For now, I tend to stick to the British magazines because they seem less closely tied with the labels (not always, but generally). Also my second oldest brother has some good recommendations, too.

Sent by Michael | 10:40 AM | 3-24-2008

I think you all are dumb and should go on with yourselves. i mean who would want to spend their jolly time tryin to impress someone who doesn't give a fuck....alright so bye

Sent by Danielle | 12:24 PM | 3-24-2008

Did I say I liked 3 or 4 songs off 'Teurs last cd? I meant more like 6. Yeah you got me listening to them the day after I read yr. blog. And I decided to give a lil review myself, amateur style. so here it goes:

1. Steady as she goes ( the title is inspiring ok? )

3.Broken Boy Soldier (Different sound & Jax voice is sick on this track & the
(lyrics are empowering)

5. Together (slow love song that makes yr. lil heart melt)

6. Level (Intro sounds like relaxing smoke as you exhale into the air like a genie and yr. the smoke, I mean the genie, I mean the smoke, ya know what I

9. Call it a Day (a great song if you just got dumped & are lonely lol & has great 70???s nostalgia on the back up vox)

10. Blue Veins ( my fave! totally tryin' to pull a Pink Floyd on this one! I love Jax voice on this track)

Sent by Marissa Dailey | 2:02 AM | 3-26-2008

Some bands even if they still young they succeed to achieve a great success. For example The Raconteurs band, which still a young band, has succeeded to arrive to people???s hearts. Their fans have increased so quickly and I???m one of them. I do find that this success is due to the artistic skills of the band???s members. We may measure their popularity by prices of their tickets. Even, sometimes these prices are so huge for some bad singers. A friend has recommended me a site to compare ticket prices for free before booking and look for the cheapest tickets offered.
Raconteurs Tickets

Sent by Alicia | 8:20 AM | 3-26-2008