ARE WE ON THE DAWN OF THE SURPRISE ALBUM ERA?

Lockdown productivity does not cease, even for some of the industry well-acquainted. Hal Fish Reviews the latest by Nick Cave…

At the beginning of March, Nick Cave delighted his fans with the surprise digital release of a new album. Carnage, created with long-term collaborator Warren Ellis, was dropped into the ether with little to no promotion.

On Cave’s forum, The Red Hand Files – where he personally answers questions from fans – the musician had admitted something was in production, as well as giving the album’s name, but had not suggested it was so close to being released.

The album was recorded in the space opened up after Cave had to cancel his UK and European tour due to the spread of coronavirus. Cave described this period as an “opportunity to take stock” as well as a “time to make a new record”.

With the vast majority of artists across the world caught up in similar circumstances, perhaps the industry is on the dawn of a ‘surprise album’ era. After all, musicians are naturally creative people. If they are unable to tour, it seems only logical that they would begin to plot and construct new material – even if just for financial reasons. 

In the past we have seen some extremely esteemed and well-received surprise album releases. Beyoncé is possibly the artist most synonymous with the concept, having released two albums – Beyoncé (2013) and Lemonade (2016) –in such a way, to great success.

Though, this marketing ploy hasn’t always gone to plan for other artists. Famously (or rather, infamously), U2 upset an awful lot of people when their surprise album Songs of Innocence was automatically dropped into every users’ iTunes account.

Surprise album releases became a part of the modern music industry thanks to the prevalence of online leaks. In the first few decades of this century, new music has often been leaked onto the internet, without the artist’s consent, before any official release. So, artists would occasionally be forced to drop their music ahead of schedule.

However, the savvier musicians managed to see other advantages of surprise releases. One key reason being that you don’t have to spend a load of money on a marketing campaign.



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By Hal Fish: Music Columnist.


If they are unable to tour, it seems only logical that they would begin to plot and construct new material

But also, working under less public expectation allows artists to feel less pressure and potentially have more creative freedom.

Cave and Ellis had recently (2019) finished a trilogy of albums together with their band the Bad Seeds.

It’s interesting to note that Carnage is not a Bad Seeds album – despite Cave and Ellis being the leading figures within the band This may be due to practicality – coronavirus has made it difficult for groups to come together in studios – but it also may be because they wanted the album to exist without the preconceived notions of a Bad Seeds album.

That’s not to say Carnage feels entirely different to what they’ve done in the past, but it does have a looseness about it. It’s more a collection of ideas and sounds as opposed to a project with one central motive, as seen in the most recent Bad Seeds’ albums. 

The last year has been full of tragic disruption, but it has left some people with plenty of time on their hands. Artists will have undoubtedly wanted to create in this newfound space. Perhaps they have been able to engage in work that previously would be considered more of a passion product as opposed to anything commercially focused.

It’s possible this could all lead to an influx of surprise release music in the near future.


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MACKAYAN: the dawn of the surprise album era


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