Steve Albini and the pointless vocal harmony

A friend once told me about a story that he had read in Kerrang magazine concerning the legendary music producer Steve Albini (I should note that I can find no evidence of this story online, so it could be horseshit, but if you’ve read in to Albini much then it wouldn’t surprise you if it were true, and most importantly it serves my purposes well — so I shall continue).

The story goes that Albini was recording British Nu-Grunge band Bush, working on their second album, Razorblade Suitcase, when he got in to an argument with lead singer Gavin Rossdale about a vocal harmony Rossdale wanted to add to one of the tracks. Albini argued that the track didn’t need any additional vocal, in fact additional vocal would not only be superfluous, but actually be detrimental to the song as a whole. Rossdale insisted, and Albini begrudgingly recorded the vocal, labelling the track ‘pointless vocal harmony’ and referring to it thus at every opportunity for the rest of the session.

Nice story, what’s it got to do with front end development?

Recently, I was building a documentation site for a theme I had created for a client. The documentation site is single page, navigated via a sidebar of sections and sub sections. I had added some animation so that the sidebar sections opened and closed like accordions, and it had started to get a little janky as time went on (animating to height: auto; is fun).

As I was about to embark on another tweak to improve it, I realised that all this had become was a pointless vocal harmony. It added nothing to the user experience, it didn’t help ground the user in the content, it was a self indulgent flourish and, ultimately, pointless. So I ditched it.

We can all probably relate to clients asking for pointless vocal harmonies (hello, big hero image sliders), and at those points, like Albini, I feel we should push back as much as we can. But sometimes we developers are just as guilty of getting wrapped up in wanting to build something cool, rather than what is actually best for the project and for the user.

Let’s all try to channel our inner-Albini a little more.