5 Alright Bands That Are One Tiny Change Away From Greatness
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!
The Foo Fighters Should Be A Trio
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.
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 ...
Prince Needs A Boss
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 ...
Metallica Should Stop Listening To Their Fans
If you ask most music fans to pinpoint the exact moment in history when Metallica fell out of favor with the general public, they'll inevitably bring up one of two things: Napster or the Load album. In both cases, those fans are mostly wrong. I mean, yes, at least one of those moments does represent a bit of a turning point, just not in the way people think.
It's not the Napster thing. Someone suing that site was inevitable, and Metallica did it because a song they hadn't even finished yet showed up on the site. That's kind of a big deal, for everything from quality control to sales reasons. A band should have a say in whether songs they aren't ready for the public to hear get released online; that's not so unreasonable. From a music standpoint, it shouldn't impact their legacy at all.
The uproar over their 1996 album, Load, and the 1997 follow-up, Reload, is a different story. Even though it was a huge commercial hit, fans viewed the band's new alt-rock-esque direction as proof that they'd abandoned their thrash metal roots for good.
It's like a band can't even record a song with Marianne Faithfull without being called sellouts.
That they would follow these two albums with a live album recorded with the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra and a covers album that featured a Bob Seger song as one of the key singles ...
... didn't help much either.
Those fans were right, of course, but so what? Bands change and evolve and, ideally, get better. Even if that wasn't the most musically satisfying period of their career, at least it was a sign that an incredibly talented group of musicians was willing to try something new. I imagine the only thing more boring than playing music that all sounds exactly the same for the entirety of a career is listening to music that all sounds exactly the same for your entire life. A lot of metal fans are more than happy to do the latter of those two things, and they tend to feel betrayed when the bands they enjoy aren't willing to stand in the exact same place forever.
Unfortunately, it seems like the whirlwind of criticism that seemed to follow the band for so many years. The problems started with 2003's St. Anger album. After years of weathering claims that they'd gone soft and turned into a mainstream rock band, Metallica released ... I don't know, a System Of A Down album or some shit?
Filmed at San Quentin, because this song is a crime against music.
It featured an obnoxiously out-of-tune snare drum, zero guitar solos, and an accompanying documentary starring a dork in a Cosby sweater, and is clearly meant as an "Oh yeah, well watch this!!!" kind of response to rumors of their declining metal credibility. It also borders on being completely unlistenable.
They promised their next album, Death Magnetic, would be a return to the mullet-friendly form that made them famous, and I suppose it was in a lot of ways. That said, it's also been decades since that sound was something anyone cared about in any kind of widespread way. The album got decent reviews, even if the version released for a video game sounded significantly better, but it's impossible to not see a group as huge as Metallica trying to recapture the glory of their fourth album as anything more than pandering. They obviously want to do other shit; they should just do it. No one's going to care either way at this point.
Linkin Park Should Be An Instrumental-Only Band
I cannot deal with Linkin Park, and it's for one simple reason -- I have problems of my own. If I wanted someone to bum me out by complaining about their life struggles in the name of entertainment, I'd go to an open mic right here in Los Angeles. At least there's moderately less screaming.
That said, aside from the fact that I hate all of the words that come out of their mouths, Linkin Park does make some interesting music. Remember that time they recorded a mashup album with Jay Z? The songs that feature him rapping over their instrumentals are amazing ...
... right up until the point where Chester Bennington starts screeching about his parents or girlfriend or whatever the fuck. He's also far and away the worst thing about the band's collaboration with Busta Rhymes ...
The other worst thing about it is the size of Busta Rhymes' neck.
... as evidenced by the fact that this version where Houston rapper Chamillionaire handles the chorus on his own ...
You know, Chamillionaire, from the Weird Al parody!
... which sounds way less like something you'd hear in the trailer for an awful action movie. Speaking of movie music, though, easily the most interesting (and listenable) work to come from the Linkin Park camp is probably Mike Shinoda's score for the film The Raid: Redemption.
You've never seen this movie.
It sounds like Daft Punk if they weren't French. Or something like that. What's important is it's mostly instrumental music, making it the absolute dream version of Linkin Park. Shinoda's mostly silent contribution to the Medal Of Honor: Warfighter soundtrack makes for pretty fun listening as well:
However, moments like these are few and far between. For the most part, the band's output is either cartoonishly angsty, like every Linkin Park song ever, or overbearingly inspirational ...
... like every Fort Minor song I've ever heard (which is three). Basically, the members of Linkin Park are at their best ...
... when everyone stays silent. I'm just saying, more of that, please.
No New Artists On Dr. Dre Albums
Listen, I know this is going to sound counterintuitive, but in the big scheme of things, Dr. Dre doesn't have the best track record when it comes to finding talent. Sure, The Chronic was filled with all sorts of future superstars ...
... and he obviously gets credit for discovering Eminem, but the list of names who've appeared on Dr. Dre "solo" albums never to be seen or heard from again is way longer. For example, I know the end of Straight Outta Compton makes it seem like the point where the sequel will pick up, but I have a hard time believing that movie is actually going to address this album:
Remember that garbage? No, of course you don't, not any more than you remember any of the names of the artists who appeared on it. Snoop was still seeing other producers at the time, and Eminem and his Alf shirt were still a few years away from being rescued from Detroit. None of the Death Row artists who appeared on The Chronic are present.
As far as I recall, the production work is still mostly fine, but in general, it's a damn terrible album full of shit you have no reason to remember. The "official" follow-up to The Chronic, simply titled 2001, is a much better album. The reason for that is obvious. Most of the names you know and love from The Chronic were back in the fold ...
If you don't like this song you should be stripped of your voting rights.
... and Eminem and Xzibit made for nice additions. Even then, the rest of the album is overrun with marginal talent. The artist who appears the most, a rapper named Hittman, doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, much less a Dr. Dre-produced album that anyone's ever heard.
I feel like Dre definitely didn't know he was in this video.
See, that's the other thing. Dr. Dre is a busy guy, what with dedicating so much of his time to swindling the headphone industry over the past few years. So, when you see an unknown name on one of his albums, you know to not get emotionally attached, because the chances of that artist ever building any career of any sort are slim to none. They're mostly just good for cockblocking your quality time with Dre and Snoop.
Which brings us to Dr. Dre's most recent album, simply titled Compton. It was apparently inspired by the recent N.W.A. biopic, but only one of his former band mates, Ice Cube, makes an appearance on the album. Eminem and Snoop are on one song each. Kendrick Lamar makes an appearance. Beyond that, it's a bunch of new names and faces that will mean absolutely nothing to most music fans five years from now.
Who are you and what have you done with the Dogg Pound?
That's probably why no one bought it. Sure, it was certified gold by the RIAA, but seeing as how each generation gets only one new Dr. Dre album in their lifetime, you'd think this release would've been a little bit more of an event from a sales standpoint. It probably would've been if it just featured a few more songs with the acts who helped make Dre famous. I mean, fuck, he's had like 15 years to work in between albums; he couldn't crank out, say, four spare Snoop songs worthy of appearing on an album in that time?
Speaking of that time, are we just never going to hear that Detox album? That was in the works for a Chinese Democracy length of time -- how is it that every single song is so terrible that all that work amounted to nothing? And then the album is replaced with something that was apparently assembled in slightly less time than it took to shoot Straight Outta Compton that mostly features new artists the world has never heard of? That's insane. It's also precisely the kind of thing that makes people forget about Dre.
Adam is on Twitter: You should follow him there @adamtodbrown.