$88 for a Harry Styles LP? We’ve reached our vinyl destination

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There’s nothing quite like it: the scent of a musty record sleeve, the crackle after the needle drops, the – RECORD SCRATCH SOUND EFFECT! No, let’s not waste time here. DJ, spin this tune: vinyl is the worst.

It’s the worst for so many reasons. Vinyl is hard work. It’s the “let’s take the stairs!” equivalent of music listening, when the elevator – ie: streaming – is right there. Vinyl is lazy. It’ll play you half an album – not even the full thing! – and when it’s done it’ll give you silence, no tangentially appropriate artist radio or anything. And yet, people keep buying it.

Vinyl-ly, it’s not happening for me.Credit:Marija Ercegovac

I’m sure you’ve heard: the vinyl renaissance remains in full bloom. Each year we’re besieged by articles expounding the ever-burgeoning “vinyl revival”, mainly by old people so tickled that young people have latched onto their outdated technology.

In Australia, vinyl sales have extended exponentially over the past decade. In fact, we haven’t bought this much vinyl since 1989. As of last March, vinyl remained the second-biggest mode of music consumption in Australia after streaming subscriptions, accounting for $30 million in physical music sales. And in the US, vinyl had its biggest sales week in more than 30 years in December, largely off the back of Taylor Swift’s Midnights, which sold more than 945,000 vinyl copies alone. (Taylor, pop’s pied piper, somehow convinced her fans to buy at least four copies each, which they could then rearrange into a clock.)

I’m sure you found all those facts and numbers super exciting, but I find them sad. As, um, CeCe Peniston once sang (sort of): vinyl-ly, it’s not happening for me.

I’m not even gonna touch the audiophile’s argument – “does vinyl sound better?” – mainly ’cause it’s the most boring conversational topic outside of Last of Us recaps, and yes, I understand that local independent artists rely heavily on vinyl sales for their livelihoods, which is unfortunate for them. But c’mon, Harry Styles’ Harry’s House for $88? That’s when our brain-alarms should start ringing like, “Hmm, scam?”

Have you seen the prices of vinyl these days? They’re insane. Browsing through the LP bins at a predominant, yellow-y, electronic chain (fine, it’s JB Hi-Fi), I almost yelled at strangers with each new glance at a sticker price. Sam Smith’s new album Gloria costs $73.99. Swift’s Midnights costs $71.99. A copy of Billie Eilish’s 2021 album Happier Than Ever was listed as $97.99! I have a shoebox full of 30-year-old, mint-condition Michael Jordan basketball cards at home that still don’t command those kinds of prices. If only I’d known, I would’ve collected Fu-Schnickens vinyl as a child instead.

Because it’s not just the new stuff, either. I spotted a copy of Blink-182’s 1999 album Enema of the State selling for $65. No album featuring Adam’s Song should cost $65. It should cost $0.65. What I’m saying is, you should be able to pay for even the mint-est vinyl copy of Enema of the State with a coin, and still get coins back in return. That would be a fair transaction.

These revival prices completely contradict the traditional role that vinyl has played throughout my entire living existence, which has been: “I can’t afford to buy music. I guess I’ll get it on vinyl.”

No one should be spending more than “$10-for-3” on vinyl. This stuff was supposed to be cheap, the discards you found while crate-digging in dusty stores frequented by lonely guys in western shirts. I know because I was that guy, in a long ago time (the mid-2000s) when I was able to waste four hours daily flicking through milk crates full of endless unwanted copies of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Southern Accents, looking for a cheap thrill.

Part of my collection, and less than the price of one Harry Styles record combined.Credit:Sydney Morning Herald

I wasted so much time in record shops, looking for… what exactly? For anything from Cherry Red Records circa 1988-1992? From Homestead Records circa 1986-1993? I scoured my way through record shops and market stalls in Osaka, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Valencia, even freaking Avignon (the French papal seat from 1309 to 1376), returning home on planes carrying about 120kg of exclusively square-shaped hand luggage.

But at least there was a point to buying vinyl, which was the hunt for bargains and rarities. To flick through a cardboard box in Shibuya and find a Japan-only Saint Etienne 7-inch for 500 yen, or a Flipper’s Guitar castaway for the equivalent of $4, was like striking gold. You’d feel just like Charlie, golden ticket in hand, running home to a bed full of grandparents (and then you’d eventually listen to the record, like, six months later).

What’s the thrill in shelling out $64.99 for a reissue of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, only the most easily accessible album in the history of music? Is the thrill in throwing away money? Throw it at me! I’ll even stand there in dangling balls and flowing lace if the thrill is Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac-specific.

A couple of years ago, I gave most of my vinyl a last spin and culled my collection into a solitary IKEA box. The rental market is horrible, I can’t be lugging multiple boxes of records from place to place every time I move, like some sort of ’80s wedding DJ. I don’t even miss them.

“But what about vinyl’s other appeal?” I hear you say. “The physical! The joy of having something real and tangible in this empty shadow world!”

I have one word for you: CDs (yes, CDs is one word now). It’s physical and the prices are right because no one’s been paying them any attention. Old habits die hard: at my local crate-digging shop, another one of those beautiful places full of lonely people in western shirts, I just copped an early Swirlies release for $5! Unlike $88 vinyl, that’s music to my ears.

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