Ah, the double album. Bastion of the ambitious artist or group. What purpose does a double album serve? Just a chance to include more material – a sign of the artist’s burgeoning creativity? A chance to make two statements in one package – two related but separate journeys?
There are probably as many examples of ‘failed’ double albums as there are of successful ones. Fraught with the possibilities of over-indulgence and bloating, they are a risky proposition; how often does a double album contain enough material for a superb single album but dilutes it with unnecessary filler? Is the double album sometimes the sign of an artist whose success has elevated them beyond the point where a producer/manager could get away with judiciously editing down to a single disc?
However, what can we do but reward ambition when it pays off? Here are a few memorable double albums from my collection, with their different approaches to the form:
The Beatles – The White Album
This seems to roughly divide between chock-a-block pop marvels on the first disc (which would stand as my favourite Beatles album) and a more experimental / odd-and-ends second.
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
A nicely balanced double album which actually feels like two separate albums – it certainly has enough quality material to have justified separate releases. I feel the first disc is slightly more serious, even dour, with the epic In My Time Of Dying as its centrepiece and the crushing Kashmir to finish. The second disc is a little more lighthearted, with the balance shifted slightly more towards the previously-unreleased tracks from the Houses Of The Holy sessions, as opposed to brand new material.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
With four tracks at 22, 22, 23 and 18 minutes long respectively, this obviously had to be divided into two discs – each a manageable length, although it’s pretty clear that this is meant to be listened to in one, so it’s basically an 85-minute album. The natural quiet-loud-quiet ebb and flow of Godspeed…’s music makes this a manageable experience, if one hell of a voyage.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Evidence of the most creatively prolific phase of Billy Corgan (and the rest of the band)’s career. This is monstrously long, varied and ambitious but pleasingly divided into two vaguely stylistically themed halves – Dawn To Dusk (moderately more immediate – the daytime half) and Twilight To Starlight (more ephemeral – the nighttime half) which are great on their own, so it isn’t necessary to devote a single two-and-a-half-hour sitting to get through both discs.
Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
OK, so this is actually two separate albums but released at the same time, in the same package. The story goes that Weird Era Cont. was meant to be a surprise bonus disc included with Microcastle but lead singer Bradford Cox accidentally leaked the whole thing months before it was due to come out (it was actually his fault as he mistakenly included a link to his entire Mediafire account when trying to digitally release a single!). Deerhunter were at a pretty experimental phase anyway, but Weird Era Cont. is the more experimental and disjointed of the two discs, betraying its original intention as a bonus disc.
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Basically two reasonably short albums packaged together – it probably could have just about been trimmed down to fit on one disc but that would have been one hell of an overload to listen to all in one, so it does make sense to split it up. Just flip a coin to decide which half to listen to!
This is obviously but a small selection of the form (NB – I’m deliberately not including compilations). What are your favourite double albums?