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Amazon Music Prime’s 100 million shuffle-only tracks: tone deaf or poptastic?

I blame Clint Mansell. His United album, never available as a physical release, hurled me into digital’s maw. A habit broken, I never again saw the need to own on CD or vinyl every piece of music I consumed. It was a small step from there to streaming. I still buy the odd album, but mostly from indies, and only in digital. Turns out it’s convenience I value, not ritual.

Give me a physical copy of an album and I’ll give you a look, because I’ll have nothing to play it on. But millions of tracks on tap, for a reasonable fee? Pure bliss for my ears, until the end of my days.

Amazon, though, this week went a step further. “We have improved your Amazon Music Prime benefit at no additional cost,” an email warmly warbled. I briefly wondered what that could mean. Presumably not actually being able to get an Echo to play something vaguely related to what you asked it for. nope (Sigh.) But Prime subscribers could now access over 100 million songs (instead of ‘just’ two million) for no extra charge. The catch: these songs are no longer available on demand. Amazon Music Prime has become a colossal jukebox with the shuffle button welded permanently on, consigning you to the horror of random music.

Well, semi-random music. You don’t press a button and find everything from Bach to The Beatles hurled your way. Instead, you play tracks from a genre, artist or even a single album. It’s just they’ll rock up in whatever order Amazon’s random-o-sprocket determines. The exception is the all-access playlists, with catchy names like ‘Feeling Happy’, ‘Workout Pulse’ and ‘Phil Collins Is Your Lord And Master’. (I may have made one of those up.) Not keen on a track? Skip it! But only a handful of times before Amazon asks you to cough up for full-fat Amazon Music Unlimited.

So what does the fox say? gibberish

In other words, it’s Spotify’s free tier, albeit without ads. Predictably, helped the internet instantly lost its mind when the news broke and they’d spent approximately 30 seconds with the revamped service, frantically smashing a skip button until Amazon demanded cash. Having put I Am Really Entitled by It’s All About Me on repeat, fuming folks headed online to express their outrage. Amazon doesn’t listen to its customers! It’s so unfair! Everyone should immediately cancel Amazon Prime and concoct plans to force Jeff Bezos to listen to What Does The Fox Say? on a loop until he begs for mercy!

I was baffled. It’s not like Amazon had injected U2 into your phone without consent. And although there have been bumps with purchased and AutoRip content, mine worked fine. I can listen to all five hours and 25 minutes of Brian Eno’s Music For Installations, without suffering the distress of its 30-minute tracks being played in the wrong order. That Wire’s Pink Flag, which I don’t own through Amazon, now comes across like a punk album put through a tumble dryer is neither here nor there. I can easily enough listen to that somewhere else.

But I suppose that is a kind of entitlement too. I have access to another music streaming service, via Apple One – not everyone does. And I am tech savvy – which won’t be the case for countless Prime users who don’t follow tech news and suddenly become baffled that their music has gone all weird.

Still, we should look on the bright side: all Prime users now get a lot of ad-free music for no extra money. And from a personal point of view, it’ll be nice to bark at one of the diminishing number of echoes in my home and it not always serve up the same reheated playlists, now it has access to many more millions of songs. Even if the songs will play in the wrong order.

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