Saturday, August 9, 2008

When Good Bands Go Bad

Wikipedia definition of “Jumping The Shark”, as tweaked by E: “Jumping the shark is a colloquialism used by music critics and fans to denote that point in a rock band’s history where they “lose the plot” and veer off into ridiculous or unsavory directions, undergoing too many changes to retain their original appeal. Bands that have "jumped the shark" are typically deemed to have passed their peak as after this point critical fans can point to a noticeable decline in the band's overall quality.”

Every band has it’s day and every band has it’s moment where it releases an album that disappoints it’s longtime fans and sends said band directly into the abyss of the “I remember when they were good” files. I submit that every band will eventually “jump the shark” at some point in their careers, make that fatal misstep that sends them off in a terrible and tuneless direction.

The only exception to this rule would be those bands smart enough or lucky enough to break up or die before this actually happens. Case in point: The Beatles. From '63-70, the Beatles didn't release any horrible albums. Even Yellow Submarine contained some amazing tracks! But had they continued into the 00’s together I have no doubt they would have produced a sub-par or even laughable album, probably evolving into a sad parody of their former selves.

Like the Rolling Stones.

Many fans think the Stones bit it when they released Emotional Rescue back in 1980, but I think they had one more good album left in ‘em with Tattoo You. After that they released Undercover, then Jagger made the horrible decision to do Dancin’ In The Street with David Bowie and it was all over but the memories. Some bands can make a comeback, but it’s rare and nigh to impossible to regain the glory of past successes. Most fans lose interest, some diehards stick with an artist and pan for gold with each release, trying to find that rare nugget in a fog of muck.

But some actually do succeed, make that rare comeback album. Take Nick Lowe and his At My Age album of 2007. Most fans had given up after 1983’s sub-par Abominable Showman. Nick released some fine albums after that but it wasn’t until that pivotal 2007 release that fans started coming back in a big way. Who knows why that album re-ignited so many fans passion for The Basher, but it did. Good on him, he deserved it.
Bob Dylan was on a roll from 1962 to 1976, and even though, like Nick Lowe, he released some pretty good albums since, he kind of lost his muse until 1997’s Time Out Of Mind.

There are many other examples of notable comebacks but they are few and far between. Most bands fizzle out after such a blow to their ego and never recover. But at least we had some good times, eh? There’s always the reissue.

Here’s my take on some bands and the albums that killed them, commercially and critically.

Queen, Hot Space: Freddie Mercury and John Deacon’s disco infatuation take control. Songs such as Body Language, Back Chat and Staying Power almost single-handedly destroy the band’s prior achievements. They would never recover, in America anyway…

Primal Scream, Give Out But Don’t Give Up: After the genre defining and magnificent Screamadelica, the boys released this album of sub-par Black Crowes tunes. They redeemed themselves with the next three albums, but saw fit to test their fans with an even worse, totally embarrassing Riot City Blues in 2006. Fool me once…

Blur, 13: England’s finest brit pop band hit it big in America with their self titled 1997 album (remember Song 2 with it’s jubilant “Whooooohooooooooooo‘s!!!”?), but threw it all away with the subsequent downer 13. Sure there were some good tracks (Tender, Coffee and TV, No Distance Left To Run), but it’s all so by-the-numbers Blur. Damon Albarn would regain his respect with subsequent projects, but 13 and the horrible Think Tank remain the turds in their discography and marked the moment when Blur ceased to exist.

Genesis, And Then There Were Three: This is the moment where the second phase, the Phil Collins phase, of Genesis really began. Follow You Follow Me was the beginning of their AOR soft rock phase and sounded the death knell of their proggy ways. Some say this was a good thing, me, well…

The Jam, The Gift: An uneven album with tons of white boy soul overindulgences, you could almost call this a demo version of the first Style Council album. Their punky swagger was gone, replaced by pasty and stale faux funk. Still, it did contain the excellent Ghosts…

What about you? What albums by your (once) favorite bands did you find disappointing? And did you ever go back?

An even better question would be: Are there any bands that you think have never released a sub-standard album? I'd be very interested in your responses to that one!


Holly A Hughes said...

You got something against Style Council? That was when Paul Weller really started to get interesting!

Still, I'm with you on most of these, except IMO Genesis never had any heights to come down from. And I'm with the boring majority that believes Tattoo You really did suck.

Elvis Costello hit an ugly low with Spike, didn't he? That lost him an awful lot of his original fan base, and I'm not sure he's ever recovered them, which is a shame; his later albums like Brutal Youth and All This Useless Beauty deserved much more of an audience.

Some say that UK Jive was the album that spelled the beginning of the end for the Kinks. (Not me -- I still prefer to think of them as "on hiatus.")

Uncle E said...

I loved the Style Council, and if you actually copare the best of his solo stuff to the best of his work with the Jam (wait for it!), I think he's only gotten better.
And come on, Paul Weller cannot do much wrong, right?