My girlfriend's father - he could write a blog or two about albums, I don't doubt - has often preached that track-skipping is a cardinal sin, and that when listening to an album, one ought to listen to it properly. Of course, he's a vinyl man, and track-skipping on a turntable is more trouble than it's worth, but I listen to most of my music on portable devices and I hold more or less the same view. Even when I'm not enjoying a song and I'm keen to proceed to the next one, I very seldom hit the skip button; if the artist deemed this song worthy of a place on their LP, who am I to pooh-pooh it?
Recently, though, I've realised that I might not be the saintly, skip-shunning listener I took myself for. After all, I was all too happy to lop two tracks off the Public Service Broadcasting album, reconfiguring the band's artistic vision for my own listening pleasure - is skipping a track in the middle really any different?
Well, yes, I'd contest that it is. When you hit the skip button right in the middle of a song, you're interrupting the flow of the album, raising your palm to the band as they rock out and going "nah, not keen on that one, what else have you got?" If you like an album, you'll listen to the whole thing, even the naff bits; if you find yourself skipping all over the place, you probably like the individual tracks more than you like the album. In fact, my main reason for beheading the PSB album was the presence of Spitfire, an earlier single that had already found a good home on their previous EP and felt like a bonus track on the full album. If you just want to hear your favourite songs, make a playlist and listen to that instead!
This is kind of related to my hatred of being interrupted while I listen to an album. Even if I pause the music and start listening again from the exact same spot, the effect is ruined. I'm no longer immersed in the world that the album has created, and now I'm starting again from some random spot in the middle of a song.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of songs that I love even when taken out of the album context. Heck, I could name quite a few albums that are rubbish apart from one song, and I appreciate that there's no point wading through forty-five minutes of dross to reach a track that you could have just listened to on its own.
But if this amazing song's parent album is even halfway decent, I always find it far more rewarding to hear that song in context. Its place on the tracklist gives it an extra dimension, and like the heart-in-throat first chords of the song you came to the gig to hear, it will sound all the better for the journey.