Bands That Still Have the Benefit of the Doubt
Last week, I compiled a list of bands that need to stop making music altogether, for good, kaput. The response was fairly huge; it was the first article I'd ever been a part of to crack 100 comments. And while a few of you predictably attacked the choices, a surprising number of people seemed to agree. Even more offered up further musical sacrifices, bands or artists that they hated on or just wanted to fade out gracefully into nothingness. Some were very sound (The Rolling Stones, who I was too tired to include when I wrote the article). Others made no sense at all (Radiohead).
But some of those mentioned in the comments made me think, "You know? I don't think that band/artist deserves that. Someone needs to step in and say something."
So, now I'm here to play devil's advocate. The following bands or artists may have had tough times, but they have yet to run into the kind of despicable mediocrity that others have. I'll still give them a chance. And before you tear me apart, hear my justifications; maybe you might think about some of these bands a little differently.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
This band received a rather shocking amount of flack in the comments of the previous article. I can somewhat understand why; there will always be those who prefer the harder-rockin' Peppers from back in the day. Others hear singles like "By The Way" and "Dani California" and wonder whether they are running in circles musically, going nowhere. But to those who've dug deeper into the last couple RHCP albums, they've been making some of their most creative and evocative of their entire catalogue. With the unbelievable guitar work, not to mention the trppy vibe he brings to the group, they have spent the last few albums both revisiting their classic sound, but also advancing in a way that few of their nineties rock peers have.
I have to admit, as much as I hate to admit it, a part of me really likes American Idiot, Green Day's rock opera reinvention. Despite unpromising singles, listening to the album game me the clear and pleasant impression of a band who wants to try and advance their sound and their audience into a new millennium, with surprising lyrical intelligence and a pulse on the punk youth in the middle of the Bush years. After years of perfecting but ultimately trudging through a banal pop-punk sound, the grand transformation was welcome and made them relevant again. Now, we still have to hear the new album, and that may determine whether this new formula can sustain them. If their new single ("Know Your Enemy") says anything, I'm almost ready to give up on them. But not quite.
How the Boss manages to keep making such impressively crafted albums without falling into Bob Dylan's realm of dull repetition, feet falling into holes made by his own boots, is almost entirely attributed to his contemporary. It seems the more bands that try to emulate the classic Springsteen sound, the easier it is for him to remain fresh as a musician. In a weird way, he has changed both in accordance with and in opposition with those who've stolen his sound, an impressive concept. Plus, the man is still a master live, and was probably the best of this new wave of ancient musicians taking over the Super Bowl halftime show.
Panic! At The Disco
Wait. Hear me out. I, as much as (and possibly more than) the average person, hated Panic At The Disco's first album with a passion, and when they announced a follow-up, I couldn't have cared any less. But from the first time I listened to "Nine In the Afternoon", I couldn't deny it's catchiness, it's audacity. Since when does an emo band grow up? Since when do they channel The Beatles? But there it is, and, frankly, I couldn't be happier for them. Panic At The Disco has become the model example of a band that actually listened to what people had to say and DID something about it. The best part of Panic At The Disco? Irony: They were discovered and signed by Fall Out Boy douchehole Pete Wentz who said that this band's sound was the music FOB had always wanted to make. Then, after only one album, Panic grew up, and Fall Out Boy is still trying to capture that initial shitty emo sound. Fall Out Boy looking stupid? Can't beat that.
Presumably because of my inclusion of Bob Dylan on the last list, Sir Paul's name graced a few comments. This makes sense. He's had the same problem, making records that all sound too similar and bland, with few if any gems to be had from the lot. He's old and seemingly irrelevant to the musical landscape of today. But McCartney has one thing Dylan doesn't: The Fireman. True, the songs on The Fireman's Electric Arguments were co-written by McCartney and his producing partner Youth, but that hardly diminishes the quality of the work. Probably the best album McCartney's made since Band on the Run, Electric Arguments features fantastic range. First, Paul proved he still has some punch with "Nothing Too Much, Just Out Of Sight", then he got folky and let his falsetto dance on "Two Magpies", and the album moved from there. Rich in arrangements and musical ability, not to mention a major departure from previous work, Paul McCartney retained my respect, and managed to avoid my previous list, with The Fireman. Now we can only hope his next solo album fares as well.
Will these artists survive on this list forever? Maybe, maybe not. We can only hope that they don't get shittier and lose our respect for good. But for now, there's still reason to respect and listen to their music without despair. If only we could say the same for others...
Christian Hagen is a music journalist from Minneapolis (who is also in a band), who likes to waste his time writing about nothing, and who has yet to launch his own website (though one is on its way), so for now he can only link to his MySpace profile.