There are very few music acts in this world that you could honestly say have been consistently great for their entire career. Yes, they may have had great albums or even a long stretch of them, but over time, the magic inevitably starts to wane and great bands slowly become just decent. We talk about a few on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Dani Fernandez and Cracked editor Tom Reimann. Specifically, we talk about tiny fixes that would make formerly awesome bands awesome once again. "Like what?" you probably didn't ask. Glad you asked!
5The Foo Fighters Should Be A Trio
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The Foo Fighters have three really great studio albums to their credit. Unfortunately, none of them were released during this millennium. Well, unless you count their excellent but super hard to find covers album, Medium Rare, which was released exclusively on vinyl and only available on Record Store Day in 2011.
Quick, check out this cover of a Vanity 6 song before Prince finds out!
Even then, that's just a collection of songs as opposed to an official album, and they didn't write any of the songs in that collection, so if it counts at all, it's just barely. Once you take that out of the equation, it's been over a decade and a half since the Foo Fighters released a truly great album. Don't get me wrong, they've had plenty of really great singles over the years, but not so much with full albums, and I think I know why. To put it simply -- there are too many people in the band.
If you think back on their three legitimately great albums ...
Accept no substitutes.
... you'll note that they all have something in common. At the time each was recorded, there were three members or less in the band. For example, their self-titled debut album is basically just a Dave Grohl solo album. He played (almost) all of the instruments and wrote all of the songs.
For their second album, the also excellent The Colour And The Shape, the band had expanded to four members technically, but Dave Grohl was unhappy with most of the drum parts and replayed them himself, prompting drummer William Goldsmith to quit. So, that's still just three people.
They recorded their third album, which some (including Dave Grohl) would argue is their best, as a trio. The title (There Is Nothing Left To Lose) is in part a reference to the fact that band members kept leaving. It is a goddamn wonderful album, their first to earn them a Grammy, and the only one they actually deserved to win one for.
Immediately after the release of that album, Chris Shiflett, former guitarist for punk band No Use For A Name, was added as a permanent member of the Foo Fighters. Things have never been the same since.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
You did this!
Well, that's not exactly true. Their songs have all sounded the same for about 15 years now, so they've been consistent in that way, but that's obviously not a good thing. I don't mean the songs are identical; it's just that the band's sound as a whole hasn't changed in a long damn time. Part of what made their first three albums so great is that they all sound radically different from each other. The debut sounds like it was recorded in a storage shed.
The second album is closer to the mainstream rock sound they've been clinging to for the past decade, but it also includes some of the best songs Dave Grohl has ever written.
Their third album sounds like nothing else they've ever done. It was recorded in the basement of Dave Grohl's house in Virginia, and it is a delight.
On second thought, maybe computers are the problem. Their next album, One By One, was the first that used Pro Tools software during the recording process. It was also their most expensive record, at least up to that point, and the first where the individual band members weren't in the same room when they recorded their respective parts, probably because they hated each other at the time.
They won a Grammy for it, but we all know how much that matters when it comes to the actual quality of an album. Even the band eventually admitted that over half the songs were mostly forgettable. That said, it's way better than the subsequent two albums that earned them music's biggest award. It's hard to explain what's wrong with the stuff they've released since Y2K struck, other than that a lot of their songs just aren't that good. Even the singles have gotten progressively less interesting. The In Your Honor album was a mess on account of being about 12 songs too long, but at least "Best Of You" was enough of a jam ...
... that Prince actually covered it at the Super Bowl. Quick! Name a song from Wasting Light or Sonic Highways that you'd be interested in hearing Prince cover. Better yet, just name a song from either of those albums. Of the two, Wasting Light is far superior, but it also destroys my previous theory that maybe they should just stop using computers. They actually used the exact same setup as their third album. The only difference ...
How big is Dave Grohl's basement?
... is that there were a lot more people around, including a third guitar player, Pat Smear, formerly of Nirvana and The Germs. I don't know how, but the Foo Fighters have to be the only band on Earth that manages to sound more like stadium rock every time they add a guitar player from a punk band.
I think the implication is clear -- the Foo Fighters need to fire some people. And since I brought up Prince ...
4Prince Needs A Boss
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Remember that time Prince got so mad at his record company he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol make his music harder to promote and wrote "Slave" on his face while out in public as a message to them? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for sticking it to the man when the situation calls for it, and maybe this one did in some ways. However, whether the move was justified or not, it's worth noting that ever since his falling out with Warner Bros., Prince's music has been very consistently average. I get that he's not the kind of guy who lets people tell him what to do, but it sort of seems like he should sometimes.
Almost as soon as he launched his own New Power Generation record label, shit got weird, mostly in the form of him doing entirely too much rapping on his songs. I'd love to share an example with you here, but because of his strict adherence to the Jehovah's Witness tradition of not allowing your copyrighted material to appear online, there's no video available.
Express your frustration by viewing this fantastic GIF instead.
So, you're just going to have to believe me when I say that Prince made way better decisions, at least in terms of what music he releases, when he had a team of evil corporate music executives pressuring him to make hits. Also, speaking of the Internet thing, music isn't the area of Prince's professional life that could use some oversight. He could also use some help with ... fucking everything. Aside from his live performances, which are almost always fantastic, damn near everything Prince does either alienates people or makes him look borderline insane.
That was definitely the case with the name change, which turned him into a walking punchline for several years. His repeated attempts to sell music directly to fans, be it through websites or 800 numbers (Google it, kids) has almost always been a debacle. Like the time he held his highly anticipated box set Crystal Ball over his fans' heads, refusing to even consider pressing the first copy until he'd received 50,000 preorders, at which point it still took more than a year for the album to be shipped. When it arrived, preorder purchasers were dismayed to learn that, if they wanted artwork and liner notes for the collection, they'd have to go to a website and print it out themselves. Even worse, just a few weeks later, a retail version of the set arrived in stores, complete with artwork and everything.
If crystal balls really worked, someone might have seen all that coming.
That was just one of the earliest examples of Prince making terrible decisions all on his own after swearing off major labels (almost) forever. He was also one of the earliest proponents of Web Sheriff, a company that scours the Internet looking for cases of potential copyright infringement, no matter how small, and forcing the perpetrators to take the offending items down. That's not unreasonable if we're talking about pirated music or some shit, but Prince went so far as threatening to sue several of his most active fan sites just for posting pictures of him. That's harsh. Maybe if someone else with a vested interest in the success of his music had a say in things, Prince would be a little bit less of a jerk, you know?
Someone willing to look at him like this when the situation calls for it.
Unfortunately, he doesn't, and it's antics like these that keep the general public from being interested in or even knowing about new Prince songs when they're released, and that lack of interest sometimes feels like it rubs off on The Artist himself. He's been consistently making music over the years and even experienced a minor comeback with the Musicology album a while back, but it's been a long time since he's cranked out a piece of work that could be described as great or even sort of on par with his previous work. I guess I can't prove that a lack of oversight is the problem, but it definitely seems like that's when things changed. Oh, and speaking of bands that sue their fans ...