We all want to make it. Secretly. Even if you possess no real music talent, you want to be a rock and roll star. Why? Why the heck not? What an incredible lifestyle. We all become slightly jealous of all your favourite scenester bands that are increasingly becoming the same age as you, went to your school, met on your campus, played their first gig at your union bar, went out with your best mate’s ex-girlfriend for three and a half months, wrote their debut single’s lyrics on the back of a napkin in your favourite bar in Shoreditch. What a life: hype, mini tour, radio sessions, viral YouTube sensations, debut release, larger tour, festivals, new material recording in a chateau in the Dordogne, 2nd album, 3rd album, greatest hits and so on. But as much as they can be embraced by the warm bosom of the music world and above all it’s critics, the loyal fans, at the bat of an extended fake trendy eyelash, they can also get chewed up and spat out quite as easily:
“Wow [insert band name] what an incredible debut album. So fresh and new and exciting. I am totally [insert relevant and current adjective] for the follow up. I’m not even going to read anything about it. I’m going to [preferred music outlet] blindly and will purchase this album, safe in the knowledge that it will rock my summer of [insert appropriate year]. Here we go… Oh… well… it’s good…I think. I like the first song. I just need to listen to it some more… Oh. My. God. This [insert relevant and current adjective]. I don’t like it very much. Lazy. They’re not even trying. I’m so despondent. You were the voice of my generation. Now you’re just wasters”.
Evil cruel mistress, thy name is music industry. From “wow” to “wasters” in the space of 18 months, why is it that so many bands seem to fail to follow up some incredible early success? Is the industry moving so fast, that when a new sound is sprawled across the radio waves, people simply aren’t impressed by a few months later? Or is it a case of the musicians not being creatively capable of bettering or even matching their first outing? OR IS IT JUST ME?
Growing up, I’ve been hurt in a non-emo way, by a lot of bands that simply couldn’t do it again. Do we exist in a conveyor belt industry, where everything has to sound amazingly new and fresh? That by the time Bloc Party released “A Weekend in the City” every band had bought a synth and pedal effect sound sampler 3000. Are we in a culture of masterful debuts, followed by flat difficult second albums, followed by anonymous third and new direction fourths? Not entirely.
An enormous plethora of bands I love, continue to impress and improve in little tiny ways or even produce similar sounding material, which nonetheless take your breath away. From Arcade Fire, Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, to Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Mystery Jets, The National and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I don’t think if you like a band that much, and are loyal from the outset, that it’s possible to find fault in their follow ups. There are many people, for example who will punch you if you suggest that The Stone Roses’ “Second Coming” was a five year miserable anti-climatic pile of manure, while I will happily claim that there’s no such thing as a bad David Bowie album (in fact, if anything, his “best material” starts at “Hunky Dory” – album number four), and I will challenge you to knives at dawn anyone who badmouths “Icky Thump”. Flaws there may be, but I don’t want to know. The White Stripes were always there for me, and I will defend them to the hilt. So what, you ask was the point of that stream of consciousness?
OK. I know what happened here. The other day I was listening to what I can only describe as my ‘growing up music’. These were the tender years 2000 – 2006, where music was like, my identity, you know? I looked for heroes, and proudly displayed them on my wall or on my chest, and crouched for warmth in some dingy ally-way outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for a glimpse of said heroes at the grave risk of missing the last northbound train and gaining hyperthermia. Maybe apart from the abovementioned, a lot of the featured in the expansive playlist just seemed to fall into a murky decline.
Bloc Party. The 2005 debut “Silent Alarm” full of ‘conversational’ guitar and some furious percussion, with some intense poetic lyrics, followed by a disappointing sink into synth and electronica on “A Weekend in the City” and “Intimacy”, and those stand alone singles “Flux” and “One More Chance” all drowning out the qualities which made the band so powerful and captivating. Here’s hoping that this year’s comeback; the fourth album entitled “Fourth” (sigh) will drag back to the glory days. Similarly Maximo Park with the wonderful art-rock debut “A Certain Trigger“, may have finally come full circle again with the release of “The National Health” this year. The Strokes released probably one of the most important albums of my generation in 2001 with “Is This It”, an energetic powerhouse of a record, dipping into the glamorous and wild New York scene, somehow beautifully crammed into forty odd minutes. It’s funny, its touching, its brilliantly written, its how we all felt in those tender years; restless and energetic. If that was “it” I certainly felt like my life was complete. Tragically, the band dubbed “the greatest rock and roll band since The Rolling Stones” went on a catastrophic decline, churning out disheartening follows up over an eight-year period, and not even looking capable of revisiting the glorious summer of 2001, in which I actually visited New York!!!!! PLEASE sort it out, guys.
Elsewhere, you look at the debut offerings from bands such as Johnny Borrell’s Razorlight, the city lyefffff of The Rakes, The “fun-time” Futureheads, the echo-reverb shoe-gazers, The Music and my lovable Liverpudlians, The Zutons and see what happened next chokes me up. Even The Ordinary Boys. Yes, judge the young buck that I was, I really enjoyed “Over the Counter Culture”, with it’s combination of cheeky lyrics about the everyday, brass and joyful guitar was smashing (my choice of word for summer 2004). Even listening to it now, it ain’t that bad. Yet the follow up “Brass Bound” – awful, just awful, and the latest one, I don’t even know, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know, not to mention the figure of Simon Amstell ridicule fodder that lead singer Preston has become. Finally, three bands who boast a respectable longevity, and two, maybe three, maybe even four quality opening albums, but who have slipped into states of almost self-parody: step forward The Killers*, Muse, and Kings of Leon.
This might sound a wee bit harsh and a classic blogger’s rant. After all, who am I to sit here and demand continued perfection from every band who has the honour of gracing my eardrums? And this is of course, is an insight into my own music taste, which is obviously not gospel and therefore cannot possibly reflect music as a whole. There are also, of course a multitude of factors, which affect the quality of an album, from timing of release, to the handling and management of record companies. Yet it’s something I’ve noticed with these bands, and obviously something that’s worth sharing with you lucky people.
Maybe I did expect too much. Maybe I love too much. Bands can’t go on forever. And the important thing is that at some point, they made a significant impact on someone’s music taste, even if the follow up failed to live up to my expectations anyway. Then again, if you were a staunch defender of the realm of Bloc Party, you would argue, like I would with The White Stripes, that all the material is awesome. What kind of a conclusion is this really? Rant, rant, rant followed by “oh but it all comes down to the music taste of the individual and spare a thought for the pressured lifestyles these musicians have in a highly demanding industry”. I’m going round in circles. Lets end it with this:
“Wow [insert band name]. I really liked your first album. But your new stuff really does [insert relevant and current adjective]. Yet somehow, I feel I have a permanent soft spot for you. Maybe it’s because I was discovering who I was when I first heard you. I owe a lot to you. And I can’t really hold (what I see as) your sad decline against you, because you brought me so much [insert relevant and current adjective] early on. I love you. I’m going to listen to you right now, and make an awesome playlist called [insert awesome name here] in which you feature heavily”.
Part two coming up shortly.