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Well, it's inevitably happened -- you excitedly play the long-awaited new album by your favorite band and are horrified to find that ...

They suck now.

Betrayal! Contempt! Contempt for the band that spurned your devotion! But is it fair to expect artists to never lose it? Why can't artists just be good forever? Well, that's just because ...

They're Afraid of Repeating Themselves

A good artist is constantly evolving ... or so many of them seem to believe. Fear of failing to evolve leads successful artists to change from one thing into another, alienating the portion of the audience that already liked them. Don't make the mistake of assuming that people will follow you down any old path just because it's you Chris Gaines. Oh, and God help you if your appeal is based on youthful angst that you and your entire audience grow out of halfway through the second album. The best part? The audience is just as likely to abandon you for NOT changing.

Interestingly, some mediums or genres (metal) have for whatever reason (metal) come to embrace notions of not changing. This limits the (metal) audience to people who want the same thing over and over again, and as a result, that audience will be unlikely to levy accusations of sucking. You can't start to suck if you never change. You can't get brilliant and conquer the mainstream, either, but then odds are you weren't gonna do that anyway.

Success Changes You (Into a 400-Foot-Tall Alien)

One of the reasons we love art is for its power to reflect the joys and horrors of daily life. The problem is that the further an artist moves from that life, the less the audience will respond to his or her work, and the more laughable the artist's attempts to relate to regular people will seem, because I'm just Jenny from the block.

Why was their early work so good? Because it was made by people like you. Why is the new album, well, not? For the same reason you don't run into George Lucas in the salad dressing aisle down at the shitty discount grocery store you shop at -- because extremely successful people live on a different planet (we call it $aturn), and the transmissions about ranch life that they beam to our pale blue dot are no longer relevant to us (at least until they go bankrupt and fall to Earth with an Inspiring Comeback Album).

If chasing success motivates you to create great work, then what happens when the dog catches the car, as it were? "Kings of Leon Phase II: The Suckening," apparently.

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People Only Have So Much to Say

Imagine you're given a podium and an entire day to talk to an audience about the things that interest and inspire you. It'll be a hell of a speech at first, but after four or five hours, you're gonna be running on fumes, because one can only harbor so many compelling observations. Now spread that meager few hours of content over a career's worth of albums and you can see the inherent problem in uninterrupted decades of artistic production.

A better tactic might be to leave your audience wanting more by cutting your speech after an hour (aka breaking up after a critically acclaimed debut album), but you've got bills to pay, and children to support. And by children we mean all the roadies and merch guys and production staffers and Korean animators who derive their livelihood from the continued existence of your little cottage industry. In other words, as long as sucking pays the rent, this speech is gonna drag on until goddamn midnight.

They ARE Still Good, You Just Didn't Notice

It's human nature to see a narrative in everything -- all we care about is a good story, and the good story we most care about is the one we create in our own mind. This can predispose the way we enjoy art: If three identical artistic offerings are presented to you in three different ways, it's the most compelling context that will decide what you go for. Their new stuff might not be worse; the problem is that no second album can replicate that sensation of discovering a new artist for the first time. To put it another way, if one divides the story of a great artist's career into three sections, all of identical quality, you might find that they weren't actually better before -- maybe it's just their backstory that's boring now.

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Alternatively: They Sucked the Whole Time, You Just Didn't Notice

Or maybe they just sucked all along. Some artists can at first disguise their vast sucking, possibly through the audience assuming they are being clever/ironic when in fact they are not. How does this happen? Well, a simple lack of information can lead to some grotesque misconceptions. And then, when the full picture is revealed over the course of decades, it is often a cruel and shocking garden path that has you feeling nauseous and homicidal by the end.

Making Good Stuff Is Really Hard

Making good shit is fucking hard -- that goes for airliners and oil rigs as much as it goes for music and paintings. That's why a world of billions of people has produced like five timeless sitcoms (and five good airliners), and why 90 percent of bands don't interest you, and why 90 percent of movies are forgotten forever three seconds after you're done with them, and why 90 percent of porn is just powerfully unsexy, probably. The good stuff is rare and special, which is why we like it to begin with.

That's why the new album sucks -- it's hard enough to be good once, let alone fucking forever. Sure, they'll eventually create a computer program that writes perfect pop songs, but it's gonna be boring as fuck (see the aforementioned bit about narrative). All humans are imperfect, so maybe those distant, wealthy superstars aren't so hard to relate to after all. Except for Bono -- he is a poison dwarf.

So don't jeer the one-hit wonders for what they didn't do -- cheer them for what they did, 'cause they've got one more hit than most of us will ever have.

Or you could just shut up and listen to metal.

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