If patience is a virtue, then the people leaking albums months ahead of release are among the least virtuous sods around. Last week, Björk’s new album ‘Vulnicura’ popped up online two months before its planned March release. With the genie well and truly out of the bottle, the Icelandic performer decided to rush-release the full record on iTunes, and so – prematurely – the world got its hands on her ninth LP.
We’ve not only been denied that nice bit of anticipation before getting your hands on a new album, we’ve also been robbed of seeing exactly how Björk would have released this album. Remember 2011’s ‘Biophilia’? It wasn’t just a record – it was an event. The songs were premiered in a series of incredible shows at Manchester’s International Festival, at which a set of Heath Robinson-like contraptions were played in the round and singing Tesla coils brought actual lightning to the stage. It was the first ‘app album’, too, with an iPad version that allowed listeners to play with the sounds, ideas and songs, even if some of them looked a bit like a Commodore 64 game. A film and even an educational programme followed. It was innovative and interactive and special. Maybe Björk had something similarly mind-blowing planned this time, too. But we’ll never know, because she had to just dump it on the internet instead.
Björk isn’t the only artist to be the victim of a recent leak. In December, tracks from Madonna’s new album ‘Rebel Heart’ popped up online, which prompted the queen of pop to rush-release six songs online. Last week, it was reported that Israeli police arrested a suspect; a man who, they claim, “broke into the personal computers of several international artists over the past few months and stole promotional final-cut singles which have yet to be released and traded them online for a fee”.
It was easy to scoff at Madonna’s reaction to the leak. The heart does not bleed for a wealthy pop star who earnestly compared the leaking of an album to “terrorism” and “artistic rape” (an even more impressively ill-informed statement when you consider that the LP has a cameo from convicted rapist Mike Tyson, and that real, horrible terrorism reared its ugly head in Paris soon after her comment). But she has the right to complain: it’s her work, after all. And whoever leaked either ‘Rebel Heart’ or ‘Vulnicura’ isn’t exactly Edward Snowden sticking it to the man. They’re just a prat with broadband trying to score brownie points or make a quick buck online.
Of course, maybe Björk had nothing special in the works. She’s said that ‘Vulnicura’ is essentially a break-up album, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she planned a more low-key release for such a heavy, poignant record. It scarcely matters. Having turned her heartbreak into art, this was her chance to own all that personal confusion; to choose how and when it’s consumed, to decide what people needed to know in advance, to be in control. And, really, what did anyone gain? The chance to hear some tinny MP3 rips that won’t sound as good as the proper thing? The boon of listening to some songs a while before you were supposed to? Sometimes, it’s best to just wait.