May 14, 2010

Is it better to burn out or fade away?

There's a scene in the film High Fidelity where Barry (played by Jack Black) asks Rob (played by John Cusack) if the latter day "sins" of a musician nullify their earlier career achievements/succeses.  He was referring specifically to Stevie Wonder asking if a musical atrocity like I Just Called to Say I Love You suddenly made null and void the brilliance of material like Songs in the Key of Life. That's just an example of course... With that in mind what do you feel are some of the most egregious musical offenses of great bands?

Here are some of the more profoundly putrid musical atrocities perpetrated on the public by some of rock's most preferred performers:

Emerson Lake & Palmer - Love Beach 
How could they do this to us?!  How could the same group that gave us such brilliant albums as Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery inflict this fetid festering pile of musical dung upon us?  And please don't feed me a line about "contractual obligations" as there are other ways to get around that than to scar the eardrums of their fans and leave such a fecal stain on their otherwise brilliant legacy.

Chicago - 25 or 6 to 4 (1986)
I actually heard THIS version first.  Having never heard the original version up to that point.  I kind of liked it.  Then I heard the original and it begged the question, "Huh?"  Meaning, "How the hell could they do this to themselves?"  David Foster resurrected Chicago from their abysmally bad late 70s material and gave them a renaissance of sorts with Chicago 16 and 17... And then Peter Cetera leaves, Foster sticks around for one more album and I've heard that this remake was actually HIS idea...  If it ain't broke... don't fix it.  The only good thing I'll say about this remake is that it's better suited to Peter's replacement, Jason Scheff's voice than the original.  If I have to hear Jason Scheff sing 25 or 6 to 4 I'd much rather hear him sing this remake than try to sing the original. 

Blood Sweat & Tears - Sympathy For the Devil
It takes stones to cover the Stones and cover them well.  David Clayton-Thomas & Co. did not have said stones to pull it off.  The greatest mistake BS&T ever made was firing Al Kooper and replacing him with David Clayton-Thomas.  While they briefly recaptured the brilliance of Child Is Father to the Man with their self-titled follow-up subsequent albums showed what a mistake DCT was... And nothing put it on display more than BS&T's abysmal cover of Sympathy for the Devil.

The Who - Live @ the Super Bowl
Some musicians age well, some actually even get better with age.  Pete can still play a mean guitar but as much as I love The Who's early catalog, Daltrey's voice is now shot.  Please please please don't tarnish my memories of how great Roger once sounded by making me listen to how poor he sounds today by comparison.  Not to mention, to me it's just not The Who any more without John and Keith.

Styx - Cyclorama
Styx put out a halfway decent album in 1999, Brave New World.  I'd argue that it hearkens back to their pre-Kilroy Was Here days.  Then Dennis DeYoung was forced out/fired/let go/whatever.  In 2003 with Tommy Shaw steering the Styx ship and DeYoung replaced by Lawrence Gowan they released this flat, bland, uninspired piece of crap-- Cyclorama.  I gave it a chance, I really did but it was unoffensive and boring.  Without DeYoung's contributions the only thing this album excelled at was its own mediocrity.

Chicago XIII
I know Chicago already made the list once, but this album deserves at least a dishonourable mention.  This was Chicago's foray into disco just as it was coming OUT of vogue.  The only shining star on this album is guest trumpeter, Maynard Ferguson's killer trumpet work on Street Player.  The band was a generally coked up mess still coping with the death of guitarist Terry Kath.  And while he performed at least respectably on Hot Streets (aka XII), guitarist Donnie Dacus was at best a disappointment and at worst a downright embarassment on XIII.  This was Chicago's rock bottom. 

What albums/songs/moments/etc. would make your list?  Do you think when once great bands release real lemons it tarnishes their legacy?  Why or why not?  And to Barry's (Jack Black) corollary question-- is it better to burn out or fade away?

14 comments:

Charlie said...

It's better to burn out. Fading only away generates the dreck you wrote about here. I would add to that 75% of the stuff released by Paul McCartney under the name Wings. "Silly Love Songs" or Eleanor Rigby". You choose. After Wings Paul improved but for most of the 70s he sucked.

Jeff said...

One interesting one that I would bring up is King Crimson. I know the majority of people love their album Discipline, but I think it was trash - especially compared to the rest of their catalog. I wish Robert Fripp would have just called it quits with King Crimson and changed the bands name to Discipline - as he had initially intended to do. While I don't like to hold it against a band to continue to release material later in their career - because it doesn't take away from the great material they already released - I always knock King Crimson down a few notches for their post Red work. If they would have called it quits at Red I would hold them in even higher regard than I already do.

It would also have been nice if Genesis could have called it quits after Hackett left. Uh, the Phil Collins era tarnished their great name.

Perplexio said...

Charlie: You raise some strong points about Sir Paul's post Beatles output that certainly support the Burn out argument.

Jeff: I couldn't agree with you more about King Crimson. I've tried to get into Adrian Belew era KC and it just doesn't do it for me. I also partially agree with your sentiments on Genesis. I think they should have changed their name after Hackett left. They released some technically superior pop material in the 80s and as far as 80s pop goes, Genesis body of work in that era was certainly some of the more listenable... That being said it was still a mere shadow of the material from Nursery Cryme through to Wind & Wuthering.

Barbara said...

I think I'm doing both at once, :(

Dan said...

When I look across the banner of this web page, I dont see many artists who have faded away or burned out for that matter. I think all musicians have had a clunker or two or even a whole album worth. When personnel changes so radically as Genesis and King Crimson, their output can be a lot more suspect.

For me, after The Cars first 2 albums their output went downhill. They had a few good songs later but nothing like the self titled album and Candy-O. Those albums were great from beginning to end.

I think for some bands when they start out and get recognized they have a unique sound and some great songs and when the great songs run out it can be slim pickings to reach the height they started out at. Other bands have more talent and song writing abilities.

I think their environment can play a role in how well they create music. When the environment changes ther creative juices do as well.

Dan said...

I also do believe that age does tend to burn out most artists, but not all. Daltrey is a good example. His voice is shot and should not be trying to hit those notes anymore. Although they can continue but they have to stay within their range, so they may not be able to sing the songs like they were originally sung.

I think of Robert Plant or even Bob Dylan. They sing the old stuff much differently now than the albums version, typically and thats ok with me too.

Dan said...

I agree with Barbara. I sometimes feel I am doing both as well :-)

Perplexio said...

Dan: I think that's kind of what happened with Chicago. Their first 3 albums were Double-LPs. Their 4th album was the 4LP Live @ Carnegie Hall set. All of those albums were released between 1969 and 1971! They basically blew their load early on (creatively). While later albums had an ocassional song or two per that were good there was a substantial and noticeable drop in the quality of their material from about the 6th album through the 10th. The 11th was an improvement over the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th albums but right as they seemed to be getting their shit together they fired their longtime manager, Jimmy Guercio, and then founding member Terry Kath accidentally killed himself. They never fully recovered from either incident.

David said...

I heard Meatloaf on the telly recently singing Bat Out Of Hell with some female opera singer. It was a car crash of a performance! Mr Loaf's voice had lost pretty much all of the power and passion that made this such an exciting song and the opera singer just clashed horrendously with both the song and with Meatloaf. Very sad.

Barbara said...

BTW, Perplex: AWESOME POST, thank you!

Sean Coleman said...

When you look at some of the wreckage on the "rock highway" there are countless examples of artists that checked out early, nullifying any chance of carrying on and becoming mediocre parodies of themselves. Those that soldiered on through middle age and beyond were destined to fall into complacency. Let's face facts: the enthusiasm and energy you have in your twenties is a warm summer afternoon that no one likes to see the end of, though we all know that those long shadows inevitably move in and it's gone. McCartney made a comment some years ago about the Beatles work schedule that tells all: "My how those boys worked!" All of the giants of the sixties saw their work go into decline with the passage of time. There are a few exceptions, of course, but the expectations of listeners will always outweigh the ability of writers to be consistently brilliant.

Excellent post., sir.

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Vinny "Bond" Marini said...

You know I felt the same way after the Super Bowl but then I saw Roger in concert here in Memphis (With Clapton) and he sounded great

Anonymous said...

I think we judge rock musicans more harshly then we do other entertainers or artist when they age, every band that has had a long career has released a few clunkers or albums that where not as good as they where in the past. Roger Daltry may have had an off night at the Super Bowl or maybe he can't hit those notes anymore, either way it does not matter, because unlike alot of modern musicians he sang it live, warts and all it was the true spirit of rock n roll, and a man is mid 60's went out there and did the best he could, live without a net. Anyway I also wanted to say I am enjoying your site,

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