Blue Rodeo is getting back, back to where they once belonged. To promote their 12th studio album, the iconic Canadian country rockers took to a downtown Toronto building's rooftop Tuesday afternoon for an event that echoed the Beatles' Get Back performance-on-the-high in 1969. The big deal with the Rodeo's The Things We Left Behind is its highly publicized double-album vinyl version.
When the Queen Street West cowboys first began making records in the late 1980s, albums were still regularly being issued in grooved, black, circular platters. A recent resurgence in polyvinyl chloride has been happening for five years now.
If you compile music on computer, it has a tendency to get lost. Albums don't allow you to do that. I think we're keeping alive a way of listening to music that still has the power to capture people. Jim Cuddy
What Blue Rodeo's latest represents is a romantic clinging to the old-fashioned music packaging, even if the record's lyrical theme suggests that some things are better off left behind. "If you compile music on computer, it has a tendency to get lost," said Jim Cuddy, one of the band's two principals. "Albums don't allow you to do that. I think we're keeping alive a way of listening to music that still has the power to capture people."
Cuddy is talking specifically about vinyl releases, but in broader terms he is referring to the record album as a collection of songs, regardless of format.
Recently, Radiohead's Thom Yorke audaciously declared that his band had no intention of releasing full albums in the future and will instead focus on download-only singles and EPs. "We felt that that was a pronouncement from the British mount that didn't really make much sense," said Cuddy, calling from Calgary last week. "I think there's a lot of discovery about records that has to do with further absorption into music."
There are a couple of things unique with the band's gate-fold vinyl release. One, it's being issued by a major label: Warner, Blue Rodeo's long-time home. (Smaller independent labels, on the other hand, issue vinyl as a matter of course.) "It's nice that our record company is co-operating so generously," said Greg Keelor, Cuddy's counterpart. "Sometimes a vinyl release is an afterthought."
That's less and less the case. Eighteen months ago, the big EMI label, for example, had only one non-import vinyl title in its catalogue. Today, the number is close to 230.
The second peculiarity of The Things We Left Behind is that the song sequencing of the seventies-steeped material was done with album sides in mind. "We had a lot of songs, and when we tried to arrange them into a modern format, it didn't have any natural integrity for us," explained Cuddy, who dismissed the idea of a standard CD supplemented with "bonus" tracks. "It made more sense to arrange it into two normal-sized records."
Once the choice of two eight-song records/discs was made, it was easier to decide what to do with a track such as the contemplative Don't Let the Darkness in Your Head . Keelor and Cuddy knew that they wanted it as a starting point, and now they had two places for it - either at the start of disc one or the lead track on the second disc, where it eventually landed. Gossip, with its brooding air of finality, was used to end the first disc, leaving the shadowy Venus Rising as the album's striking final statement.
The record industry as we've known it is collapsing, and Blue Rodeo is unpredictably dashing back into the house to grab the gramophones. Everybody is surprised with the move, save for Keelor. "I've never really left the vinyl world," he explained, "so it's nice that everybody's caught up to me."
Blue Rodeo plays Victoria, Nov. 24; Vancouver, Nov. 26 and 27; and Stratford, Ont., Dec. 4 and 5, with a national tour set for early 2010.