Alex Ross on the greatest pop album ever made and his guilty pleasure

From Conversations with Tyler, episode 105:

COWEN: What’s the best Dylan album? Is it Bringing it All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks? The much later work?

ROSS: Blood on the Tracks. No question, Blood on the Tracks, yeah. But the original version, not the Minnesota remix. The original New York sessions without the big band — that’s the greatest pop album ever made, in my opinion.

COWEN: What is it in music that you are embarrassed by liking?

ROSS: People ask me that, and I don’t have guilty pleasures. I feel that it buys into this idea that there’s some exalted level of genius and then this embarrassing realm down below. But to honestly answer your question, I do like certain Oasis songs — that’s slightly embarrassing. [laughs] “Champagne Supernova” I like.

Nice discussion, with many interesting bits, as usual. Tyler Cowen is an excellent interviewer.

Japan and the ‘Galapagos syndrome’

In the Japan Times, William Pesek asks: “Can Spotify crack CD-loving Japan?

The compact disc is still king for Japan’s 127 million people. Tower Records locations still thrive in cities around the nation, presenting quite a paradox. Japanese consumers proudly count themselves among the perennial early adopters of new technologies like robots, and yet cling to mediums going the way of the eight-track tape and mini disc (even fax machines are still wildly popular). As the CD goes virtually extinct and digital downloads thrive everywhere else, they account for about 80 percent of Japanese sales.

This uniqueness is a microcosm of challenges facing the economy. Like many outside disrupters – including Uber and Airbnb – Japan’s protectionist business climate is an incredibly tough nut to crack. Such advancements are greeted with great suspicion in a market prone to the “Galapagos syndrome.” The advent of Netflix and Hulu, for example, barely dented the video-rental market as chains like Tsutaya thrive. Japan has barely been touched by budget airlines, never mind the apps economy shaking up the West. Spotify can provide an earful on that after years of painstaking licensing negotiations.

Artists may have few qualms, of course. Taylor Swift and her ilk can give you earfuls about streaming slashing royalties. Japan’s homegrown pop idols, which massively outsell Western acts, in theory are pulling in comparatively more cash. David Bowie saw this coming as far back at the mid-1990s, warning that the internet would impede artists’ ability to monetize the music and recalibrated accordingly.

Who knows? Japanese people may be willing to pay for a Spotify (or Line Music, or Apple Music) subscription while still buying CDs.