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THE TRENDSHREDDER: JUMPING THE SHARK
Do you remember when Metallica released St.Anger?
Think about human history since that album came out. Has anything truly good happened since?
No it has not. It’s been nothing but a compilation of catastrophes and desolation set to increasingly horrible music. Pandemic outbreaks, societal upheaval, political corruption and mass shootings have abounded at alarming frequency in the wake of that digitally mastered rhinoceros turds’ release. This may sound like speculation, and it is, but deep in my gut there’s an uneasy certainty, slowly eroding my stomach lining into an ulcer and telling me that St.Anger has irreparably damaged the entire human race, and is without a doubt a harbinger of our forthcoming demise.
Now as bad as St.Anger was, it wasn’t nearly as terrible as Chinese Democracy, a sledgehammer to the kneecaps courtesy of Guns and Roses that we were forced to wait nearly 20 years for. That’s another scarring black mark on our species, and I’m just going to go ahead and blame the worldwide rioting and protests of the last five years entirely on the fact that a collection of songs that horrible was permitted to leave the tormented prison that is Axl Rose’s mind.
Hey, you’re a smart kid. You’ve probably picked up on an emerging theme here. And no, it’s not “Bands that don’t remember the 80’s.” I’m talking about otherwise awesome groups that just don’t know when to step back and throw in the towel. Bands that used to be legends, and released some truly fantastic albums, but didn’t have the good sense to walk away while they had it all and ended up ruining everything.
The subject of this week’s Trendshredder is those artists that besmirch the sacred name of their former glory by overstaying their welcome and taking it one, or in some cases, four or five albums too far.
Friends, countrymen, lend me your bloodshot, screen-weary eyes. This is:
Jumping the shark: why it’s best to quit while you’re ahead
This week I’ve been tasked with reviewing Green Day’s recent three part album series, titled “Uno!”, “Dos!” and “Tre!”, respectively. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, because quite frankly I’d rather do pilates naked in a piranha tank full of boiling vinegar while covered in salted papercuts than sit through three albums of new Green Day, so spoiler alert, the reviews probably won’t be glowing.
But that’s okay, right? There are lots of shitty bands out there, and people seem to enjoy reading my step-by-step eviscerations of their failed musical outings. That’s like, my thing. What am I complaining about?
Well the thing is, I used to fucking love Green Day. Dookie and Nimrod were downright awesome albums that hit me at a crucial point in my early years and really left a lasting mark. Even Warning, largely panned as an aptly titled omen of the bands ugly future, I found sorely underrated. I had a soft spot for them for years, and still kind of do, which may be why Billie Joe Armstrong so frequently finds himself staring down the barrel of my sawed off insult-shotgun. I’m overcompensating because there’s still a part of me that wants to grab that bitter old sack of cocaine and self-loathing by the shoulders and scream the lyrics to “Walking contradiction” right into his cold, dead, make-up encrusted eyes, in a desperate attempt to awaken the man within the douche.
“Wake up Billie. Just please wake up.”
As big as those albums were, they’re somehow soured to me now by what the band has done since. I just can’t enjoy them like I used to. It’s like looking at pictures of Baghdad before all the explosions and war happened. You can’t enjoy the majesty of what the place was without the chilling reminders of what it’s become today. Which is why I wish that Green Day, and a lot of other bands, had just called it quits while they were at their peak, so we could all enjoy the fond memories of what we had without having to look at the wilted cadavers that the merciless hands of time have twisted them into.
You might be saying “Well who the fuck are you to tell an artist when to stop creating?”
Well calm down. There is no need for profanity. I’ll tell you who I am. I’m a fan.
And what’s an artist without fans? I’m not saying there should be a cut-off date for musicians, and I’m definitely not proposing some kind of dystopian musical version of Logan’s Run where aging musicians are dragged off stage permanently at a predetermined date never to be heard from again. I am however in support of maybe retiring the name after a certain point.
If Axl had released Chinese Democracy as some sort of sad, lonesome solo album, I’d still be able to blast his older stuff and only be disgusted at the person he became, and not the awful music that person continued to make.
If Blink-182 had decided to let their mature and calculated 2003 self-titled album be their swan song, we wouldn’t all have needed to ignore the sonic skid-mark that was 2011’s Neighbourhoods to pretend they’d left it on a strong note.
Of course, like any rule, this one has exceptions. Bad Religion deserves commendations for continuing to make palatable, consistent music for what seems like centuries now, even if it all tends to sound a little same-y after a while. Hell, Sublime didn’t even really hit excessive popularity until a year after Bradley Nowell’s death, even if it was by releasing tracks with the departed vocalist on them, so it’s not like every band that continues plugging away at it is destined to crash and burn.
But for the most part, the rule remains true that most bands have a sweet spot of two to four albums that really fall into a groove of excellence before they fall off the ball and start making garbage. Look at Alexisonfire. Those dudes were instrumental in bringing harsh vocals and hardcore inspired riffs into the popular music scene, Watch out and Crisis were fucking solid releases. Everything was going great for them and the world was their collective oyster, until Dallas Green left his recessive uber-douche gene unchecked for too long and allowed the band to devolve into infighting and feuds, the result of which was the significantly less enthralling Old Crows/Young Cardinals, which while not nearly as bad as the likes of St.Anger or Chinese Democracy, is still a damn sight from their former greatness, and was an unfortunate final outing for a band that achieved a great deal in their heyday.
That’s really the crux of my disjointed ramblings here, the final curtain is just as crucial to a band’s legacy as anything else they do, and a tasteless, flailing release is in many cases enough to sour the bands reputation entirely. A group’s golden years can be an opportunity to reflect on the journey they’ve undertaken so far and expand upon their established formula, and when viewing a creative body of work as a collective whole, it’s like watching an artist spend years painting a masterpiece on a canvas, only to complete the final strokes with a crayon, and then retire forever.
It doesn’t bother me so much when it’s a band I never cared about to begin with getting worse as they go. My Chemical Romance can continue getting progressively shitter for the rest of eternity and I won’t bat an eyelash because I’ve always thought they were a lump of crusted shit and I expect nothing more from them.
However, when a band I grew up loving dearly up and decides to become horrendous one day, it hurts like a motherfucker. It feels like something has been stolen from me. Like a part of who I am has been stripped from me, abused, tainted, and handed back filthy and ruined.
Dexter Holland has a fucking masters in molecular biology. A man of science should know better than this.
Did you watch that video? Did you hear that fucking song? Dear god. These are the same guys who brought us Bad Habit and Nitro. The dudes who dropped legendary tunes like ‘Come out and play’ and ‘Killboy Powerhead’. Sure, shit got a little dicey when ‘Pretty Fly For A White Guy’ and ‘Original Prankster’ hit the scene, and I think we all could have done without ‘Hit That’, but the video above seems to be a deliberate attack on the demographic that grew up thinking albums like Smash and Americana were cool as shit, as if Dexter and company were intentionally trying to make us regret ever having worn their merch every day to school thinking we were super-cool-rebel-dudes.
Maybe that’s just the natural order of things. Sunrise, sunset, and all that shit. Nobody can be cool forever. Perhaps it’s not my place to question the long standing tradition of musicians slandering their rich histories through shameful parodies of themselves.
No, fuck that. We as fans deserve better than half-assed, one-foot-in-the-grave albums made out of spiteful contractual adherence, or a need to cover rent, or the nefarious desire to make the things we once loved stupid and lame.
There’s an amazing new trend emerging in the music scene right now where bands fund their albums based entirely on contributions from their fans, setting a goal on sites like Kickstarter and appealing to the diehards to help them cover the costs of recording, effectively cutting out the cold blooded interloping record executives entirely. This alone bodes well for the future of music, leaving the creative output in the hands of the creators, and not the sharpened talons of the soulless suit-demons that sabotage music to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
It’s showing great promise, with bands like Protest The Hero surpassing their target goal within 30 hours, and continuing to rake in more than enough money to fund an awesome, unadulterated album all by themselves. I cannot wait to see the results of their unrestrained creative freedom and I think it’s high time someone muscled out the major label mafias from ritualistically ass-ramming devoted artists.
Moreover, it’s nice to see an elegant, rational solution to the problem of piracy, and it’s refreshing to think that maybe there is hope for the syphilitic, incestuous cesspit that the music industry has become. Maybe when the albums are funded by the loyalty and devotion of a band’s core fanbase, the bands themselves will take more consideration not to make shitty music. Not that I like to think any band intentionally fails at making music, I just think if they knew every cent of their new release was being funded by the people they’d impressed with their previous outings, they might be a little more careful not to shit on the hands that pulled them to the top.
Most importantly, though, all bands need to be instilled with a self-awareness that prevents them from decaying into tragic parodies of themselves. Remember what made you great, and stick to it. Don’t be the same forever, and don’t be afraid to take risks, but keep true to the fundamentals that made people like you to begin with.
Sometimes it’s just unfortunate luck that leads bands down the wrong road, and sometimes members get sick of each other but are forced to keep churning out songs to repay their label, and as terrible as that is, at least there’s a reason for it, or at bare minimum, the band can throw up their hands after the album flops and say they had no idea that it would fail.
Others, however, stink of something more sinister. Apathy. I can believe a mediocre release was meant to be good, even an overtly bad release. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief, if I liked your old stuff enough and can hear your earnest belief that you thought you were making something good.
What I can’t believe is that nobody sitting in on the recording sessions for St. Anger, Chinese Democracy, or Days Go By had the good sense to step into the booth, slap someone in the mouth, smash all the gear and tell them to start from scratch, because it’s painfully obvious that they just weren’t trying hard enough, and it’s the path of least resistance that leads to crooked rivers and terrible fucking albums.
I think that’s how that quote goes. I’m too lazy to look it up.