Surprise! Pixies have released a new four track EP, EP2, for 2014. It seemingly comes without warning, without pre publicity and without fuss. No one saw that coming; no one had a clue, well apart from Bowie and Beyoncé fans.
For a band known and loved for experimenting, Pixies are simply following a new trend. In March last year the presumed retired David Bowie shocked his fans with the sudden release of his album The Next Day. It had been planned for years but there were no interviews, no teaser campaigns, not even a subliminal message. Bowie relied solely on the obsession of his fans. A short note to watch his website at midnight was all it took. The Internet went into meltdown. How good the album actually was became a moot point. Bowie had changed the cultural landscape, again.
Beyoncé followed suit in December with her self-titled album, cleverly surprising everyone just as much as Bowie did, even though in this case the world was expecting a new album, just not at that precise moment. Her fans were waiting for the campaign to kick in, not the full completed album. Critics praised the oddness and experimentation of the LP, something it would have been harder to get away with if, as is normally the case, the millions of dollars set aside for publicity were relying on reassuring her fans that they would be getting the familiar Beyoncé they know and love.
Having to wait for an album is part of loving a band. The anticipation is often more exciting than the finished product. It’s difficult to express just how joyous sitting on bus and unwrapping the cellophane on a new CD was to a younger person but a bolt of sudden joy goes some way to replacing that.
As we consumers increasingly demand everything yesterday, for free and in a golden helicopter, surprising the punters is a logical way to go but how much longer can the music industry keep us entertained with their game of peek-aboo? The danger is that it could become the normal way to release new material. The artist would have to get their timing just right – how long has it been since we last heard from them? Do we want to hear from them? Soon it may be possible to second guess what an artist is up to as their silence becomes deafening and we expect the unexpected. While a welcome surprise in a bleak January the Pixies release hints that soon everyone will be at it. Twenty wonderful shocks a week can be tiring.
Graeme Swanson is a writer and journalist.