Sucking, much like talent, is a complex thing with several different levels and degrees of severity. It comes in many forms and is often not as easy to spot as you might think. Rather than an all-encompassing "find a new job" kind of suck, many bands and musicians just have one fatal flaw that keeps them from being mentioned among the true music greats of the world.
If your favorite band or musician has never quite gotten the recognition you think they deserve, give this article a quick read. Maybe it will shed some light on what went wrong. Here are five subtle clues your favorite band secretly sucks.
#5. They Make Better T-Shirts than Albums
Here's a sentence I promise you will never hear anyone say with any seriousness: "Hey, remember all those great albums Lou Reed made?" Don't get me wrong, he's had his moments, especially if we're including the Velvet Underground in the equation. And if you're trying to sell anyone on the merits of Lou Reed as a musician, you damn well better be, otherwise there isn't much else to work with. We're talking about a guy whose best known solo album is the one that sounds terrible on purpose.
The working title was How to Tell Your Fans to Go Fuck Themselves.
That's not a good sign. Sure, he'll always have "Walk On the Wild Side" to hang his hat on, but with the possible exception of "Stairway to Heaven" I don't know if a more overplayed rock song exists. I'd honestly rather listen to it provide the soundtrack to this hilarious "very special episode" of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch's career ...
... than the original version of the song. At least the Marky Mark version doesn't come with that obligatory moment of discomfort that's inherent to hearing a white person use the phrase "colored girls."
Now, taking Velvet Underground and that one song out of the discussion, what else has Lou Reed done? He's made 20 goddamn albums. Can you name ... three? I can't. Nevertheless, doesn't it seem like Lou Reed has always been around? He has, but it's not because he's made tons of great music, it's because he makes a great T-shirt:
I'd totally wear that shirt, by the way.
I should clarify, I don't mean Lou Reed actually makes shirts. I'm sure a Lou Reed shirt is stitched together on the dusty floor of a sweatshop in Southeast Asia like any other band or musician. It's just that some eras in music history have their iconic faces, and Lou Reed happens to be one of those faces. For people looking to align themselves with the Velvet Underground's bleak, nihilistic outlook on life without partaking in any actual nihilism (like overdosing on heroin, for example), the next obvious step is to throw on a Lou Reed T-shirt. You can tell me he's been such an enduring figure because of his music all you want, but I will never buy it (just like his music).
Tupac is another good example. He's arguably the most influential rapper of all-time, but how much of it has to do with his actual music?
And how much credit goes to the abs?
You can cover the "essential listening" section of Tupac Shakur's catalog on one album. You might even have room to spare. If his singles were some of the greatest in rap history, it only worsened the fact that the albums they teased were generally mediocre at best. There's something to be said for dying at the right time, though, and when Tupac was tragically shot and killed, he was at the height of his "Thug Life" proselytizing. And damn if "Thug Life" isn't a fun life to claim you lead. If that's the life you've chosen, Tupac is your Jesus. That's why he'll live forever in the annals of history. It has little to nothing to do with his actual songs. Sorry if it hurts to hear that, suburban white teens.
"You claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife!"
Because I'm not going to let myself get out of this entry with a single friend left, I should also add Henry Rollins' name to this argument.
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Seen here raging against the machine, fifth from the left.
Talk all the shit you want about teen pop stars, but if you're looking for a fine example of a career built mostly on personality and attitude as opposed to good music, look no further. He's been coasting on the "success" of having inaudibly screamed his way through a couple of decent-ish Black Flag albums for decades, and now people revere him like some kind of punk rock Abe Lincoln.
What all three of these musicians have in common is that listening to their music (or at least pretending to) is more of an endorsement of a frame of mind or set of beliefs than the quality of their work. They aren't extraordinarily talented artists; they're Che Guevara T-shirts with record deals.
#4. They're Just 'Technically' Good
I have this theory. It goes something like this: Starting a conversation with "I have this theory" is a great way to make sure people immediately stop listening. Thanks for hanging on this long. If you were hoping for a theory that's relative to the topic at hand, try this: Every band is someone's favorite. I believe that. There wouldn't be so many terrible bands in business today if that wasn't the case.
So when I look at a list of, say, the best guitar players of all-time and see names like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, or Yngwie Malmsteen (a name I staunchly refuse to learn how to properly pronounce), I have no doubt that somewhere, someone is wondering why one those three names isn't the absolute biggest and most respected in the history of music. After all, these aren't just guitar players, these are the guitar players the guitar teachers of the world think about when using their calloused fingers to rub one out moments before you drop your kid off at Guitar Center.
The rest of you probably couldn't even point each one out correctly by name from this lineup. I don't even think I can anymore, and I just tossed the picture together in Photoshop like six minutes ago.
I just know that's definitely Stephen King on the far right.
What's with the disparity? Easy. If music is a language, these are the guys who have a gigantic vocabulary and insist on using it every chance they get. They're the Dennis Miller in the Monday Night Football booth of music. Sure, hearing a virtuoso player shred on a solo constructed from an obscure guitar scale that was discovered just six months earlier etched into the side of a cave in the Balkan Mountains is a lot of fun ... but only once. And even then Ralph Macchio better be involved somehow.
It's not the kind of thing that's going to stick in your head for weeks afterward, though. Eventually, there needs to be a good song wrapped around all of those guitar heroics or everyone but the most staunch of purists will lose interest.
When that happens, it's not because the public doesn't appreciate technical proficiency, it's because that particular musician doesn't know how to make good songs, no matter how face-melting the solos may be.
#3. They Sell out Huge Venues but Don't Sell Records
If you were basing your judgment on nothing but concert attendance, it wouldn't be crazy to assume that Phish is one of the best bands in the world. Of course, anyone with four hours or more of space between them and their last magic mushroom trip knows that's not the case. Phish is a terrible band.
Imagine I'm speaking as this guy for the first part of the next sentence.
"Well, it's not that they're a bad band, per se, it's just that what they do onstage doesn't really translate to the studio," some dirty hippie probably said just now. They're wrong, though, because if Phish (or the Grateful Dead before them) was a good band, they would find a way to make their shit work everywhere.
It's not impossible. Plenty of bands make great albums and also put on consistently great shows. Bruce Springsteen has been doing that for decades. If the only way you can pull a strong performance out of a band is to put them in front of thousands of adoring fans, it's not because they're awesome, it's because they're shitty songwriters who have to play minor variations of the same idea for minutes on end before it becomes even remotely listenable. Their only role in the music universe is to give the last few thousand people in the world who still do acid a relatively safe place to go when the planetarium is closed.
Homeless shelter for hippies.
Whether fans want to admit it or not, bands like Phish didn't build their vast live following by making good music. They did it by consistently throwing great drug parties.
There are some exceptions in this particular realm right now. Pearl Jam has built the same kind of live following, but they did it on the strength of years and years worth of memorable songs and albums. Even the Dave Matthews Band manages to pair incessant noodling onstage with relatively tight studio work on occasion.
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Even the blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.
So let me ask you this: Is it fair to give someone like the Grateful Dead a pass as a "great" band even though all of their good albums are live albums and their studio stuff is mostly forgettable? Trick question, there are no good Grateful Dead albums. The live ones are the best, though, because, again, it's "hard to recreate what they do onstage within the confines of a studio, man."
Listen, I'm not saying people who make that claim about a band like Phish or Grateful Dead are incorrect. I'm just saying it means those bands are less talented than a lot of other bands.