Despite the album having gone on sale in February 2011, Adele’s “21″ was the best-selling LP of 2012 according to the year-end Nielsen SoundScan figures. This gives Adele the crown two years in a row, and caps off a year in which Adele won the Album of the Year Grammy, recorded the theme to the Bond film “Skyfall,” and began a break from recording occasioned by the birth of her son.
It’s that last part that may have the record industry a bit concerned. Adele’s success (her album sold over 1 million more than Taylor Swift’s “Red” in 2012, though it had several more months on shelves) is among the only inspiring stories that music labels can tell themselves about the album, a form that may have outlived its usefulness in a post-CD world. After an uptick in 2011, album sales were down in 2012 as they had been for years before; CD sales continue to flat-line, though they make up the majority of album purchases.
Perhaps the most revealing thing about the crisis of the album is the list of iTunes-buoyed hit singles. The top two best-selling songs of the year, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” became stratospheric hits without meaningful follow-ups; if you remember the title of Gotye’s or Jepsen’s albums in 2013, give yourself a pat on the back (they were called “Making Mirrors” and “Kiss,” respectively). Meanwhile, established pop stars like Rihanna and Katy Perry use albums simply as collections of potential hit singles, and the rest is dross. Little wonder that artists like Adele and Swift, whose devotion to the thematically coherent, logically sequenced album is anything but hip, are among the few bright spots; any devotee of the album is surely hoping Adele is very happy, but will get bored of her break soon.