By Scott Whitley
Ok, stick with me. I am in no way suggesting that by some freak accident the singer of your favourite band is going to morph into another Bono and that we can look forward to a future full of sunglasses wearing well-doers wandering the Earth asking for your money and making dull ignorable albums. Yes, good reader, that would be a dystopian future of true despair, but are we in fact already heading that way?
If you take a listen to U2’s back catalogue you will find the point when they stopped progressing and stopped searching for the sound they so desired! Everything up to the Joshua tree has edge and is raw and full of gut punches and foot stompers. Then on that seminal album, the album that catapulted the boys from a good band to worldwide stardom, it stopped. No anthems like Sunday Bloody Sunday or Pride, just songs that wouldn’t irk a man stuck in 2-hour traffic jam. They had stumbled upon the sound that would make them rich and have a legacy that would stretch for over thirty years and allow them to force an album on any unfortunate soul who happened to use iTunes.
Going back to pre U2 days, bands like Queen and the Rolling Stones arrived on the scene to a successfully formed and already rocking signature sound, but there has always been progression, given it is quite small, but I would liken it to an age old family recipe that you tweak and improve, a recipe that is then passed on through the generations. Now, let’s take a look at Green Day, one of my favourite bands when I was an unruly adolescent. When I picked up Kerplunk and heard the opening chords of 2000 Light Years Away, the love affair began and it was the longest relationship I had with a band at that point of my life. The affair lasted right up until the meteoric American Idiot. I remember being sat in my living room waiting for the debut of the music video after it had been teased on MTV2 for a week, and then after three minutes, the love affair was over. I tried to make it work, I listened to the album, and I even tried to learn the words.
Had I outgrown them or had they outgrown me? Once again after that album, the one that launched Green Day into the stratosphere, not one album has been remarkable but have sold into the millions, they found that sound and sold records. Who can blame them? Around the time my relationship with Green Day was ending my head had been turned by another young American group known as Kings of Leon, there was something about the lack of finesse and the confident swagger and I just loved Caleb Followill’s at times almost inaudible vocals. This relationship lasted for 3 albums, up until the mega-hit Sex on fire, again I waited patiently for the track to debut and when I heard the song my man parts jumped inside my body, it was over. Kings of Leon had found the sound, the sound that sold. I remember listening to Aha shake heartbreak and my Dad opening the door and saying “what is this shit, turn it down or turn it off!” He now walks around in a Kings of Leon t-shirt! Every album since has been average, the kind of music you put on to drown out the silence.
I want to talk about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. When I mention this band to people, I have albums like One Hot Minute, Blood Sex Sugar Magic and Californication in my head, yet the guys you see walking the streets proudly sporting a by the way t-shirt have barely listened to these almost perfect album’s, “They are a bit to………heavy for me.” I tend to tie the decline of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in with them kicking the ol’ heroin addiction, which is only a good thing because they may not be with us otherwise. However, on by the way, they found that sound and that was it another U2 was born. Is all this down to record labels? More than likely, however, there are plenty of bands and singers that didn’t just stick to one sound because they were told to. Blur for instance changed from album to album and never seemed to be willing to stick, they would always twist. Even now, Damon Albarn is out travelling the world looking for something to inspire him to find a new sound. He is much like Robert Plant in that sense, a man who was a part of one the biggest supergroups ever to shower us mere mortals with their electric presence and even now at the ripe old age of 66 he is experimenting with his music and searching for something different and surprising and is still always willing to take a risk.
People will say I don’t like a band because they sold out. This is a completely justified opinion due my writing and ranting above. However, just think about the bands and singers that you once loved and think about the moment that unconditional love died, was it because they didn’t change, was it because they were no longer the band/singer you fell in love with. Or was it because your Dad started to like them? This article is dedicated to anyone out there who believes you never find the sound, the sound is supposed to be chased until you look back and realise you always had the sound, you just didn’t know it.