Some people just don't know when to give it up. You know what I mean? Statistically speaking, it is completely impossible for everybody on the planet to have their so-called fifteen minutes of fame, so if you happen to be lucky enough to get your moment in the spotlight, particularly as far as musicians are concerned, I've always been of the mindset that you should accept it humbly and then gracefully fade into obscurity. Precious few artists can maintain that level of success throughout a career that spans decades.
But apparently that doesn't stop people from trying.
Let's not even talk about acts that try to make a “comeback” twenty years after their musical genre went the way of the dinosaur (I actually saw a listing a few weeks ago for a Toronto concert date with DJ Jazzy Jeff, if you can believe that. No Fresh Prince, though, curiously).
No, I'm talking about the acts who have been diligently plugging away for the last fifteen to thirty years, endlessly rehashing their greatest hits catalogue in an effort to keep those royalty cheques flowing and maintain a stable of willing groupies who “just want to be close to the music” no matter how many times “the music” might soil its Depends and forget its bandmates' names.
Or, even worse, those pitiable creatures who try very, very hard to adapt to the modern era: those who refuse to admit the wheel worked just fine as it was, and desperately attempt to reinvent themselves every two years or so in their ongoing battle against time and artistic irrelevance.
There are a few artists out there who have managed to trump the curve and stay on top long past their shelf date, and I'll give them kudos in a minute, but first let's have a little fun at the expense of Aging Rockers Who Should Know Better.
Okay, I know it's kind of in vogue to make fun of the Masters of Puppets, especially after the trainwreck that was “Some Kind of Monster”. I was made to sit down and watch that embarrassing display in which the bandmates come to terms with one another's infantile insecurities while drinking herbal tea and painting each other's toenails. Okay, I may have made that last part up, but if you've seen it you know what I'm talking about. The Wiki page for SKOM states that fan reactions to the film were “mixed” with many fans poohooing the effort as nothing more than “a glimpse inside the world of insecure rock stars struggling to come to grips with age, maturity, and diminishing popularity”, and of course that's what we're here to talk about.
Anybody remember the last time Metallica released an album someone wanted to hear? Maybe you have to be a big fan of the genre to really “get” what they were trying to do when they recorded St. Anger, but frankly it sounded like somebody gave a bunch of speed to some rabid ferrets and locked them in a garbage can for an hour and a half. I'm sorry, that's not fair: I should have said rabid whiny ferrets. Maybe Metallica has released something worth listening to since then (I hear a lot of fanboys screaming Death Magnetic for some reason) but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me. As far as I'm concerned, these guys should have had their Rocker cards revoked around the same time Lars launched his jihad against teenagers who refused to pay twenty bucks for their latest shit shingle and instead “stole” the track from the internet. The way Lars went off the handle you'd think these kids had been running train on his wife, rather than helping themselves to yet another copy of “Enter Sandman”. Just kidding – Lars doesn't have a wife. Anymore.
You know, I used to be a really big fan of Green Day. When Dookie was released in 1994, it introduced me to a whole world of music I'd never encountered: it was a short trip from Billy Joe Armstrong's misanthropic whining about masturbation and mean girlfriends to the Ramones' poppy-yet-frightening “I Don't Want To Go Down To The Basement”, and from there the sky was the limit. Dookie itself stays in regular rotation on my iPod to this day, nearly twenty years later. But somewhere along the line, these guys didn't just lose the thread: they lost the whole punky sweater.
I'll grant them Insomniac; there were some decent tracks on that album. I'll even go so far as to look the other way when Nimrod comes calling, even though I'll never forgive them for “Time of Your Life” (Good Riddance indeed). But after that they just seemed to lose faith in the silly pop-punk sentiments that made them popular to begin with, instead cultivating a sort of left-leaning trendy political posture that culminated in the insufferably saccharine “Wake Me When September Ends”. Some nameless stand-up comedian I saw on MuchMusic probably put it best when he said “we've got all these young teens wondering what they should think about Iraq and foreign policy and whatnot, and the answer they're getting is 'I know, let's ask the guys who made Dookie'”, and while I know he was attempting to make a joke, I think the sentiment rings true. When the songs that made you popular start giving way to highbrow experimentation that alienates even your die-hard fans, it's time to hang up the electric guitar, grow a big beard and rename yourself Yousef Islam.
The unrivaled Godmother of Modern Pop is starting to get pretty long in the tooth these days. That's a polite way of saying that with each passing year she's looking less and less like the sex goddess she was in the '80s and more and more like Kim Cattrall on the home stretch of a week-long meth binge. That's to say nothing of her music – once groundbreaking and controversial, it's become a homogenized mess of bad dance tracks set to videos featuring the creaky starlet attempting to rekindle some of her Viking-boob sex appeal, but instead single-handedly murdering pubescent boners the world over. And what the fuck is with the accent? I know she was married to Guy Richie for a while but I'm pretty sure you can't catch British.
In a way I can't fault Madonna for trying to keep up with the Jonses (or in her case, the Britneys, the Christinas, the Kellys, what have you) because she really was the forerunner that paved the way for the successes enjoyed by the rest of them. “Uncle” Neil Young has stayed musically relevant partially by collaborating with his younger proteges (oh, and being cool and talented as hell to boot); Madonna's trying to do the same thing, but what kills her is her public face. Not just literally either – though I could stand to never again stare into the abyss that is her tooth gap – she's taken the focus away from her music and placed it squarely on her bizarre personal life. The Kaballah thing, the rampant adoption of African children, and of course the aforementioned affected accent: these have taken the place of the genuine musical talent she once commanded and changed her from influential entertainer to conversational oddity. And now she's rehashing “Like A Prayer” for the Haiti relief effort. While some people might call that charity, I can't help but call it the last-ditch effort of a fading starlet to remind the world that she used to matter. Time to hang up the pointy bra, Esther.
If there was ever a band that proved beyond the shadow of anyone's doubts the staying power of the Beatles, it's got to be Oasis. The obviously-derivative Brit Pop pandering that began with the deceptively catchy Definitely Maybe and slightly improved upon for 1995's (What's the Story) Morning Glory somehow turned into a fifteen-year romp through John and Paul's catalogue, up to and including ripping licks and melodies directly from the Fab Four, and the curious – and pompous – living homage spawned by Noel in the form of his son “Lennon”. I've said before that I actually liked Morning Glory but I'd like to couch that sentiment now in the hard fact that I was eleven when the album was released and hadn't yet discovered good music. I have no idea how they've managed to extend a musical career that started grating like Johnny One-Note playing the kazoo somewhere around 1996 into a fifteen-year long escapade through mediocrity, and part of me wonders how much of my soul I'll lose if I ever figure it out.
And before certain music nerds leap upon me like I was a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti, I am aware Oasis has finally broken up (for now), but it literally took Noel Gallagher getting body-checked over a monitor in my home town before they finally got the point that people are tired of listening to their nasally Liverpudlian yammering, their schlocky overproduced records, their constant public arguments and bar brawls, and everything else they've done to live directly into the bullshit rock and roll cliche they probably always were. Do me a favour: go back to Liverpool and take up basket weaving or something, the both of you, and now that you mention it, no – I probably wouldn't say that to your faces, because I like mine where it is.
THE ROLLING STONES
Oh sweet baby Jesus on the cross, haven't we had enough of these guys yet? I will be the first person to stand up and wax poetic on the Stones' undeniable contribution to music throughout their staggeringly long career, and they are the only band on this list that I still really like to this day. But I'm torn as to whether I should applaud the fact they're still touring at their age (both Mick and Keith are sixty-seven) or castigate them for hauling their arthritic asses out on stage to play “Jumping Jack Flash” again and again for forty-three years and not bowing gracefully out to make way for other acts. On the one hand it is genuinely impressive they've been able to keep up this pace for almost twice as long as I've been alive, and to be fair I'd probably rather watch Mick wobble anaemically around the stage asking us to guess his name than I would sit through some abominable indy-hipster show where the band won't play their hit because they're trying to be “ironic”. But on the same token, I could probably never hear “Ruby Tuesday” again for the rest of my natural life, and you'd have to jackhammer the smile off my corpse.
I'm standing way out on a limb by myself with that statement, though, if legions of classic rock fanboys are to be believed. You can't walk around on a summer's day in my parents' neighbourhood in suburban Ontario without seeing at least one lame middle-aged Weekend Warrior drinking Molson Ex on his front porch and screaming along with Mick about his lack of satisfaction. Actually, I think I can lay the blame for the Stones' lack of regard for their own expiration date squarely at the feet of these balding, pudgy also-rans who are still desperately trying to hold on to the golden age that was nineteen-seventy-whatever when they still had a thirty-inch waist and hadn't yet succumbed to Yuppiedom. It's over, guys. Time to grow up and embrace the lame: go buy yourself a Best of Michael Buble album, a minivan and a pair of elastic-waisted jeans. And as for the Stones? Well, you guys got blasted off stage a few years ago at SARSfest by another group of septuagenarians and Justin Timberlake of all people. If that isn't the writing on the wall, I don't know what is. I might remind you, Mick, that you once said you'd rather be dead than singing "Satisfaction" by the time you were 45; have you looked at a calendar lately? You've had a good run – better than most – so don't ruin it by overstaying your welcome. Besides, I hear Shady Oaks Retirement Home has a shuffleboard table. And shuffleboard is awesome.
Of course, not every long-running act inspires the kind of vitriol I've just spewed all over your screen. Contrary to popular belief, I do actually like some things.
Leonard Cohen has been releasing consistently good music for the last eight hundred years at last count, and while his voice has been progressing slowly from angelic coffee-house folk to scary Tom Waits growly growl, he's still prolific and entertaining and knows how to play just enough big songs to keep people plugged in without driving them to throw their hands in the air in frustration and just go buy the Greatest Hits collection.
I mentioned Neil Young earlier, and I'll mention him again if I damn well please, thank you very much, because he's wonderful. I was never a huge fan of his Granny-Man singing voice, but his songs are just as telling and important now as they ever were and for some reason I never tire of seeing him go onstage with Eddie Vedder.
And then there's Tom Petty, who is releasing a new album with The Heartbreakers this year, and I'm almost-unduly excited. While I could happily erase “Free Falling” from my memory, old Tom has an incredible back catalogue of work that is just a little less Southern rocky than the likes of The Boss or Steve Earle (two other favourites) which titillates my oft-maligned pop sentiments. His Dylan-esque vocals and the general tightness of The Heartbreakers as a band bring to mind what Bobby Zimmerman might have been like if he hadn't got batshit insane and instead kept making good music. The 2010 tour in support of Mojo will be coming through Toronto at some point, and there's a distinct possibility I'll go see it, if only to prove you haters wrong by illustrating that I'm not completely full of bile and cynicism. I'll even sing along if he plays “Free Falling”; I promise.
So there you have it. Music always comes down to a question of personal taste, and while mine probably doesn't match up with yours, I hope you find something in this article to agree with. Because at the end of the day, we all need to come together on common ground and take a stand against music that's starting to smell up the place. So let's all remind the Red Hot Chili Peppers that nobody gives a shit about California. Seriously. Enough.
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