WE’RE all suckers for nostalgia, but this one took us by surprise.

The cassette tape is the most unlikely comeback of the 21st century, with sales hitting a 15-year high.

Spurred on by the vinyl revival, it seems music fans are returning to the humble cassette – but is it really cool to spool once again, or is this one fad too far?

I remember the hiss fondly.

Don’t we all, but let’s not get carried away. Do you also remember the joy of pulling a chewed-up cassette out of your tape deck? Not to mention its habit of jamming, chewing up your beloved album in the process, and the inability to raise the volume above a certain level before abandoning any notion of sound quality.

If video killed the radio star, what finished off cassettes?

The CD replaced the cassette after mini discs (remember those?) failed to win consumers’ affection. But cassettes didn’t go down without a fight, remaining a staple in music culture for 40 years before their terminal decline in the early 00s.

Going up against vinyl LPs and reel-to-reel tape recorders, cassettes achieved massive sales across the world. At its mid-80s peak, it sold 900 million units a year, which was 54% of total global music sales at the time.

The music industry were less easily convinced. They worried about piracy, arguing that home taping was “killing music” (little did they know online downloads were coming).

Home taping also gave us the birth of the mix tape, a painstakingly personal compilation of songs often put together as a present for the object of your affection. The process of creating the mix tape was immortalised by Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

CD mixes aren’t the same though, are they?

Definitely not, and don’t get me started on the faux USB cop-out being sold in Urban Outfitters. The idea that someone spent hours picking out the perfect songs before sitting hunched over the tape deck hitting record at just the right moment is love which can’t be captured with a Spotify playlist.

New York music writer Joel Keller previously lamented the “drag and burn” method of creating compilation CDs which, he said, was simply “less fun.”

“I liked it when I sat in front of my stereo, my tape deck, with a big pile of CDs, deciding on the fly which songs to put in what order,” he told the BBC. “My play and record fingers got a little sore because I had to time it right. Listening to the song as it played, finding the levels – it seemed like more of a labour of love than it is it do CDs now.”

Ok, back on topic. Are cassette sales really rising in 2019?

Short answer: yes. Sales have soared over the past year – up 125% in 2018 on the year before – which amounts to more than 50,000 cassette albums being bought in the UK, the highest since 2014.

However, it’s a far cry from the cassette’s peak here in the late 80s – British music fans bought 83 million cassettes in 1989 - and the format is hardly dominating the music market, accounting for about 0.2% of all albums sold in the UK this year.

What’s selling?

The current biggest is Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? The cassette has sold 4,000 copies since its March release. In a kind of beautiful irony, cassettes were considered dead in the water when the 17-year-old songwriter was born in 2001.

The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is the biggest seller of the decade so far, earning 8,000 sales since being released in November 2018.

Should I dig my tape deck out of the loft?

I wouldn’t go out of your way to dust it off just yet. All signs point towards the rising sales of cassettes being a bit of a music memorabilia trend, with a lot of purchases never leaving their shrink wrap.

Some will be misty-eyed by the return of the cassette but let’s not kid ourselves – if you want your music with a side of nostalgia, you’d be better off sticking to the sturdy, reliable crackle of vinyl.