Fans of large, unwieldy discs of black plastic rejoice, because last year vinyl sales reached a 25-year high in the UK, with over 3.2 million albums shifted on the pleasingly analogue format. I count myself as one of those very fans – see above as I casually enrage the purists and rub my grubby fingers all over a treasured Dolly Parton offering that I picked up for 50p and makes up part of my largely battered but very much beloved collection of second-hand records.
At first the recent boost in sales of brand new vinyl seems to be a glorious thing, with people embracing an old-school format as a stand against the constant digitisation of our consumption of music. But when you look at the 2016 data in detail, a weird pattern starts to emerge. David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ and Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ aside, the albums that populate the Top 10 are old, from The Stone Roses’ 1989 debut to Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough ‘Nevermind’, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 smash ‘Rumours’, Amy Winehouse’s 2006 ‘Back To Black’ and Bob Marley’s posthumous 1984 best-of, ‘Legend’. They’re all records that were – and remain – bestsellers; none of them have shifted fewer than four million copies, with most selling a hell of a lot more. Which brings us to the question: why are people buying albums that they most likely already have, be it on CD or through a download?
Is vinyl simply just the latest poser accessory, after beards, fixed wheel bicycles and literally anything with the word ‘craft’ in it? It’s not an entirely out-there assumption, especially considering the current popularity of vinyl frames, made for the express purpose of locking up your records and placing them on the wall, which makes them pretty difficult – even impossible – to then play. The stats seem to back the theory up; last year the BBC published a survey that stated half the people who purchase vinyl have no intention of ever playing it, while seven per cent of vinyl buyers don’t even own a record player. It’s a bit like buying a bunch of flash new workout gear when you know full well that you’re going to spend the next few months on the sofa eating Deliveroo and watching back-to-back episodes of The OA.
The fact that all vinyl now comes with a ‘download code’ seems to suggest that even record labels know that their releases are unlikely to get much love on the turntable. Add to this a new wave of unreliable record players that don’t cost much more than the actual vinyl, on which records sound, well, a bit s**t, and you’ve hardly got the makings of a real vinyl revolution. Here’s to things changing in 2017 though – and to people actually playing the records that they buy.