It’s role-play time, kids. Let’s start by setting the scene: It’s about 7.30pm on a Saturday. You’re sitting at home with your hi-fi on, listening to the latest album from IndieKid500X and you get to the end of track 12 (all the best albums have 12 tracks, right?) Before continuing, a little background might be appropriate: There are certain habits and patterns of behaviour — some of which are no doubt regarded as “old-school” in this digital age — which I feel are still important when listening to new music; one of these is playing a CD all the way through soon after I’ve bought it. If I don’t do this it feels like “cheating” somehow. I’m sure you’ll understand.
Anyway, back to the music: As the guitars fade out you stare intently at the counter on the CD player, waiting for it to stop and flick back to the generic overview display (in my case, this is something like “CD – 48:23” — if your hi-fi doesn’t do this, or if it does something even more high-tech and fangled instead, like giving you a virtual visual overview of the album art or something equally ridiculous, just imagine for a second that it simply displays the time of the CD; this is role-play, remember?). But it doesn’t stop; and the overview never pops up… The display shows “12 – 4:56”. And it keeps ticking up… and up… and up. Yet there’s nothing but silence coming from the speakers.
Until 6:03, that is, when you become vaguely aware of a faint, jangly acoustic guitar which slowly fades in and builds up. It’s strumming away in an inoffensive and bland strummy style. Whiny, tuneless vocals follow. Then the discordant feedback kicks in…
It’s round about now that you realize you’re in Hidden Track™ territory. Strap in tight; it’s going to get a little bumpy. You feel the rage begin to rise. You start looking around the room desperately for something to throw at the CD player. The remote is out of reach, so you grab the nearest thing you see: the CD case. In a fit of pique, you fling it across the room at the hi-fi. It misses and hits the wall, then shatters into several large shards of clear plastic on the floor.
Several minutes later (“12 – 9:42”) it’s all over. The hidden track has ended and you’ve calmed down enough to pick up most of the mess made by the broken CD case. Later on, you’ll have to polyfilla and paint over the dent in the wall. The most annoying thing about the whole debacle, though, is that the hidden track wasn’t even any good…
You might have guessed that I’m not too keen on hidden tracks. While I don’t perhaps share the kind of passionate hatred exhibited in the imaginary scenario above, I do think they pretty much suck. Why? I’ve got my reasons. I’ve even numbered them and everything.
1. Hidden tracks are predominantly album-filler.
Why hide a song away at the end of the album in the first place? Aside from the now tedious “LOL! SURPRISE!” factor (see below), I can think of only one plausible reason: they’re not good enough for the album “proper”. Hidden tracks are often an artist’s way of saying “I really liked this song, but the rest of the band and the producer thought it was a pile of crap; so we smeared some ill-conceived feedback all over it and stuck it at the end. Hope you like it!!!!1”. As Lex Luthor might bellow: Wrong! If it’s not good enough for the album, then it shouldn’t go on there at all.
2. Hidden tracks annoy the listener.
Let’s face it, we’re not always hardcore music aficionados. Sometimes we just want to stick on a CD in the background and get on with making the tea, or some other equally dull household task which music can make bearable. Not if Hidden Track has its way! No longer will you be able to listen to the album through without remembering to stop it at the end if — as is likely — the hidden track sucks.
3. Hidden tracks are especially retarded in the age of digital music.
Most CD ripping software rips tracks as mp3s, so track 12 (in the IndieKid500X example) comes out as 9 minutes long in your mp3 player, but it has a 3 minute silence in the middle. While that 3 minute silence may be forgivable (and perhaps even understandable) in the context of the album, it’s utterly meaningless and incredibly annoying in a random mix. Of course, if you want to separate the hidden track from the final album track, you can, but it’s fiddly because you have to use audio-editing software to remove the gap and split the mp3 into two files. Why force people who’ve laid down a tenner to buy your album to do this? Again, why make things harder for the listener?
4. When you forget about them, hidden tracks are all “LOL! SURPRISE!”
Let’s say you put IndieKid500X’s album on the shelf for a while after the first listen (to be honest, it wasn’t that great anyway — not as good as their earlier stuff, for sure). You play it again a few weeks later, but by now you’ve forgotten all about the hidden track debacle. This time you’re busy doing the washing up while it’s playing away in the background. So naturally you tune out when it reaches the end and think nothing of it… Until Hidden Track pops up out of nowhere: LOL! SURPRISE! HIDDEN TRACK, SUCKA! This might have been funny, or even (shock) innovative the first few times, but now its merely tiresome and irritating. It can be unnerving in other ways, too, particularly if you start to doze off after the end of the album, only to be rudely awakened by an incongruously loud hidden track five minutes later.
5. When they’re good, you can’t be bothered to listen to them.
Finally, in the unlikely event that the hidden track is actually worth listening to, no one ever bothers because you have to wade through 3 minutes of pointless silence to get there. If you’re really keen, you can fast-forward through it, but most of the time I find myself just saying “nah!” and ejecting the CD (or skipping to the next song on the playlist, if I’m listening on my PC). If no one listens to it, this defeats the point of having the hidden track on the album in the first place.
Hidden tracks are worthless. At best they’re an annoyance for the listener; at worst they’re a complete waste of time. What’s more, I know I’ve probably got tons of the things sitting on the CDs in my collection, but the only one I can bring to mind right now is “Endless, Nameless” (on the end of Nirvana’s Nevermind)… And, let’s be frank, that was 6 and a half minutes of the worst kind of acoustic diarrhoea imaginable.