Welcome to the ‘new normal’. Is it ‘normal’ to call the police to claim your reward for reporting a double-jogger? To rant wildly and incoherently from your balcony and confidently expect your neighbours to reply with sporadic, joyous cries of “Parklife!”? To take a long weekend holiday in your airing cupboard to wind down and realign your wank/life balance? To ignore, or flat refuse, help from ventilator manufacturers and EU procurement schemes and ask a vacuum cleaner company, who happens to be one of your major donors, to take ages inventing equipment you desperately need instead? To film yourself frolicking around your bathroom singing “fried fish” into a hairbrush to the tune of ‘Vogue’ while looking like a bad replicant of Madonna?
What even is ‘normal’ now? All concept of it has gone out the window along with Friday night nose-ups and wearing pants. Even when the pandemic eventually subsides, we have no idea what ‘normal’ will mean. By then, we might all have dedicated our lives to the silent, solitary worship of the great god TikTok, the virus-free might have been harvested for their delicious, uncontaminated organs by King Andrew I’s roaming surgery squadrons, or we could all have uploaded our consciousnesses to Twitter and be dancing round Tim Burgess’s front room to ‘Fools Gold’ every night at 10pm, high-fiving Bonehead.
So it’s disheartening to see bands trying to wish on a return to normality. ‘Normal’ for the average big band release cycle involves an album coming out accompanied by an extensive tour, in the vague hope that one might help the other somehow magic up some income, like Boris Johnson writing ’30,000 ventilators’ on the side of a bus and clicking his heels three times. That’s a model that streaming and downloading have made increasingly outdated, but we’ve clung on to it for a lack of any workable alternative, like oil and A Question Of Sport.
So the likes of Biffy Clyro, Haim, Lady Gaga and Kehlani have postponed their album releases, presumably because they won’t be able to tour in support of them as planned and they have faith in music industry ‘normality’ – and a delayed version of their set-in-stone release model – returning by September. That, however, is the equivalent of trying to kick a can down the M6, avoiding all roadworks.
Coronavirus looks likely to dominate our lives for a year or more, and these acts might only be able to organise and play a couple of major gigs during the brief respites in social distancing if they’re lucky (and irresponsible). Meanwhile, their new albums gather dust while their audience is gasping for sonic sustenance and have only First Dates repeats to fill long, lonely nights spent dreaming of the days when a ‘flirty meal’ didn’t mean collecting your Deliveroo with exposed forearms.
‘Normal’ is history, and it’s optimistic indeed to think that an industry that needed to take a few months off and rethink its strategy anyway will just crank up its old processes as soon as the (first) curve flattens. ‘It doesn’t seem appropriate,’ goes the standard delay line, but nothing could be more appropriate right now than giving music fans a brilliant, time-guzzling distraction from the world.
Instead, I’m behind those musicians who are rightly seeing themselves as a back-line emergency service. Who recognise their role as comforters, friends, spirit-raisers and confidants for their fans in times of personal crisis and are out there playing live-streamed gigs and putting out albums early. Dua Lipa pulled her album forward, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe put out brilliant tracks, Sufjan Stevens dropped his collaboration with his stepfather Lowell, ‘Aporia’, a week early. Nine Inch Nails even released two free albums, because at times like these we all need to feel like someone knows how we feel, trapped in our personal technological torture basements.
Here’s the thing – when we go to see bands, we don’t care that much if they have an album out just then. Most of the time, we’d rather they didn’t, at least until we’ve had a few months to grow to love it like the old stuff. So release your albums, and we promise we’ll still be there when Britain reopens, more desperate to see you play than ever and roaring along to new album tracks like the isolation lifelines they are. We’re losing a year of our lives, but we don’t have to lose a year of our music too.