Monday, September 15, 2014

Celebrating an Album's Anniversary Is Pointless

Posted By on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 3:02 AM

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Arcade Fire's Funeral celebrates its tenth anniversary this week. If you think this is a big deal, you are wrong. Don't worry, it's not your fault.

It's something we've come to expect now: making a big to-do about an album turning a nice, round number. That's because, given the pace at which media now has to churn out content, pieces about an album's anniversary have become commonplace. There were, as this NME slideshow of 55 Incredible Albums Celebrating Anniversaries in 2014 helpfully points out, quite a few album that got the anniversary treatment this year. We've been guilty of it ourselves. But it should stop. Because no one needs two oral histories of Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

At some point we need to admit that the very conception of an "anniversary tribute" is a strawman, a manufactured sense of importance that exists solely to justify that constant deluge of daily content. The machine is hungry, and the anniversary piece stands as its cheapest and dirtiest fuel.

There's nothing particularly evil about recognizing an album's anniversary, but it's not necessarily healthy either. It's a practice that unintentionally applies this weird waiting period to discourse, that critical reflection can only come attached to ten or twenty years. For some entirely arbitrary reason, we can't talk about a cultural artifact when it turns nine, or when it turns eleven.

It's a practice that's been used as a crutch so often it's actually starting to interfere with the way we process things. You've probably caught yourself thinking "Oh man, Definitely Maybe is turning twenty this year; that's gonna be big," despite knowing deep down that there's absolutely nothing significant about that fact whatsoever outside of your own physical decline. And honestly, that's pretty much how every anniversary piece manifests itself. Look at most pieces turned out by the anniversary-industrial complex, and you'll find the bulk of them are fixated with a personal anecdote. "I was young when I first heard this album; now I am old. It is still good."

To be fair, a lot of "anniversary journalism" results in some truly memorable writing, and it certainly can serve as a good conduit to filter genuinely passionate ideas. But it's strange that the acknowledgement of an anniversary has begun to feel necessary, like a weekly national holiday for bored music nerds. There's so much excitement in music right now, that to be consistently fixated on the release charts of decades past feels a little bit lazy. There seems to be a belief among your soulless SEO types that people love anniversaries, but I think that misses the point in the most elemental of ways. People aren't going to read Funeral retrospectives because the ten-year is important to them; they'll read them because Funeral itself is important to them -- no hokey justification needed.

But that won't happen. This week Funeral turns ten, and countless publications will imbue a still-very-active band with a bullshit mysticism supported only by the power of a nice, even, easily-multiplied number. The same will happen with Neon Bible in 2017, The Suburbs in 2020, and Funeral again in 2024. We always say something, even when we don't need to say anything.

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