Friday, August 31, 2007
Ramblings on the "what if's"
In 1989, The Stone Roses, arguably one of the most important players in the “Brit Pop” genre, released its self-titled debut album. Following a successful and rapidly growing performing career amidst the budding “Madchester” rave-rock scene in Manchester, U.K. The Stone Roses rocketed the band into international stardom and was welcomed with open arms by critics who would eventually label them “one of the greatest British rock bands of all times,” a title the band’s pompous but brilliant front man Ian Brown wore on his sleeve with pride. Then something strange happened. After a grueling five-year hiatus that included constant feuds with record labels, recording procrastination, and quite possibly fame overload, The Stone Roses finally released its delayed sophomore album Second Coming, an underrated follow up to its predecessor, which only recently has started to garner more critical acclaim. Shortly thereafter the band called it quits, despite being at the top of its game.
The Stone Roses joined a long list of short-lived bands or artists whose cannon can be summed up in one or two brilliant albums and then simply vanished. While some people may applaud musicians who record a couple of masterpieces and then clear the stage while they’re ahead (the safe route that avoids a career of ups and downs), I can’t help but wonder about the possible futures that could have arisen from these ephemeral artists had they simply taken some risks and headed into an uncertain future. Is it better to be remembered for a short but sweet career or for one with possible highs and lows? Afterall, if The Beatles thrown in the towel early on after its first couple bubble gum pop records the world of music might be a different place today.
Take late 80s atmospheric, noise-rock pioneers, My Bloody Valentine, a perfect example of a breakthrough band that mysteriously called it quits after a couple EPs and two unprecedented soundscape masterpieces, 1988’s Isn’t Anything and 1991’s Loveless. While there are myths and theories surrounding the hectic making of Loveless (some say Valentine’s mastermind Kevin Shields went a little crazy during the long drawn out and expensive recording process), the reasons for band’s ultimate demise remain fairly unclear and I can’t help but wonder where Valentine would have taken us next had it just taken the next step.
In 1998, ex-Fugees siren Lauryn Hill unleashed her monumental solo-debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which remains, in my mind, one of the best albums of the nineties. Since then, with the exception of a lackluster and overly preachy live MTV Unplugged album and some minor guest appearances, she has strayed away from an official sophomore release. There’s no doubt in anyone’s minds that recording a follow up to any breakthrough album is no small feat, however, I’ve always been more interested in those who are willing to try even with the pressures of besting their best.
I’ve often said that Talking Heads was one of the best American bands because it explored its musical range over a solid twelve-year run with eight great albums (yes, I dig 1988's Naked) and then called it quits to pursue other ventures. Modern groups such as Radiohead (a band that clearly takes cues from Valentine), Wilco, or as fellow writer John Dorhauer pointed out, the White Stripes, remain some of the more interesting bands working today because they are not afraid to take risks and thus have expanded their musical gamut with time rather than stopping prematurely and fading away.
Perhaps its merely wishful thinking on my part to question bands like Valentine’s musical volition or ponder over why my favorite Eric Clapton super group, Blind Faith, only produced one album since the music they did create will always hold a special place in my heart. I don’t think there is a music lover out there who doesn’t wonder what the future might have been like for a band like Nirvana had Kurt Cobain not taken his life or whether the Sex Pistols would have been as prolific as say its contemporaries, The Clash, had the original band not imploded after just one album. I suppose some things happen for a reason but as someone who is passionate about music I can’t help but think that these short-lived musicians who are alive and well may still have a couple aces up their sleeves.