I was thinking the other day [instead of concentrating on my JOB] about R.E.M. because of the impending [as in doom] release of the Warner Bros. years catalog [remastered, bonus tracks, all the bells and whistles]. And I asked myself, why did I grow to … loathe this band so? Did I turn away from a band that did some very good/bordering on great work in the 80’s or did they turn away from me? Which led me to a broader question: How is it that we can complain about bands who change and also complain about bands that stay the same?
Let me state up front that this is not to bash R.E.M.; I wouldn’t buy one of their new records if they were giving away gold bricks with them, but I can say the same for U2 after the disasters that were Zooropa and Pop. And while I see myself interested in only ONE of the WB catalog, the under rated Monster; maybe Green— used, and I still believe they should have followed their original plan and broken up with the millennium [or when Bill Berry quit… Buck lost a powerful part of his rock and roll voting block there and Mills and Stipe took advantage of the power vacuum], I can see that some people still did them. I don’t get it, but I don’t get a lot of things. Who are they making record for these days? Is there some urgent void in music that only they can fill or is it because it’s what the DO, the only thing they CAN do??
Staying on R.E.M. for a second: they made those great jangly records in the early 80’s that no one was making anymore. Peter Buck and those Rickenbacker’s and clean arpeggios ringing out like bells instead of sludging around in power chords like everyone else… it was another breath of fresh air. And that group was frighteningly original, the bass player and drummer only falling together by accident most of the time, not locked into each other like every other band, and Michael Stipe like a big old fog horn in the middle of it all. [Thanks to Musician magazine for the imagery]. They showed a touch of roots in folk, musically and politically] beginning on Reconstruction of the Fables/ Fables of the Reconstruction [Green Grow the Rushes, Wendell Gee], but by the time of their major label debut, Green, featuring the worst pop song in the history of music, Stand, they seemed torn between folk and rock, not really finding a middle ground, and it seemed the album suffered as a result. I was disappointed in their next effort, the decidedly un-pop but very popular Out of Time [well produced, but kitschy], never heard much of Automatic for the People, reveled in the return to rock of Monster, then got lost in the lushness of New Adventures in Hi Fi, bought Up, listened once and sold it back…
The band changed, but so did I. Why was I unable to roll through these changes? What was it about these albums that made me want to retch? How about the Replacements fan who put on Don’t Tell A Soul and said ‘What happened to my favorite band?’ Neil Young changes styles and bands like some people change their jeans, and not that I like every one of Neil’s records, but you can never be sure so you have to check them out. David Bowie is also famous for his changes and shifting gears and again, some of it works better than others. Ryan Adams is struggling with who he wants to be. I think part of him wants to be a rich and famous Rock and Roll STAR, and part of him wants to be the guy with the guitar singing sad songs in bars, and the only time he’s put them both together in a completely satisfying way was Gold. Unfortunately I can no longer buy his records on the strength of his name. Unfortunately Aerosmith is stuck making their 90’s records over and over and now they’re something I can’t stand the sight of anymore. They updated their sound for Permanent Vacation, a good [not great] record, Pump rocked, they they [or their record company] decided they have to sound like Bon Jovi and they have ever since, much to the dismay of those who remember and still worship Toys in the Attic and Rocks. U2 also updated their sound with resounding success on Achtung Baby, but then did one okay record and one over the edge record and now I am no longer interested, no matter how much you tell me they sound like Boy or War. Wilco continues to make challenging and interesting albums, refusing to be locked into anyone’s box. There may come a day when I say Tweedy too has gone to far though.
On the flip side of the coin, we have bands that don’t change: the safe as milk bet. Son Volt made Trace, then Trace 2 and Trace 3… or so it seems. One was a critical hit and a good record, why didn’t the other two connect in my mind? The Stones changed way back in ’68 and grew into something great, but they’ve been regurgitating that formula ever since ’72 with mixed success… only Some Girls and Tattoo You seem to have had any lasting bite in the last 25 years! AC/DC continues to go in and out of style, but they rarely alter the formula. The Black Crowes regurgitate the Stones, Faces and Zeppelin but I love that…
I guess I just need to know if we’re all thinking the same way: we want what sounds different but the same from out favorite bands. We want them to grow but not grow. We want to grow up but not change too much. We want to have it both ways.
The great part of music is that what I like and dislike and what you fellow listeners like and dislike are all matters of opinion. I try to make you a convert to what I like and vice-verse. We argue, we debate, but I think in the end we agree that we will never all agree. And that’s the fun part. You make me explore something I haven’t heard before and I turn you onto something. The we all gang up on someone else and make him listen to something we both like. And the beat goes on, eh?