The Case Against Change: Five Acts Whose Sound Evolved for the Worse
If you're one of the many Muse fans around the world or you checked out Nathan's excellent post last week, then you've probably seen the teaser the band put out for their new album, The 2nd Law. To say it's been controversial with a certain segment of their fanbase is putting it lightly. Some people are really upset about the dubstep thing.
That 30 seconds out of context from the rest of the album would cause such a stir highlights one of the many issues that face a band when they hit the studio: some people hate change.
When asked, most music fans would say that they want their favorite artists to evolve but in reality it's rarely that simple. Even shifts that are relatively small in the grand scheme of things, such as Metallica's evolution from thrash to mainstream metal to Southern metal, are met with a vocal minority eager to cry that the band is finished.
While we won't know the 2nd Law's fate until September, music history provides us with multiple examples of bands and artists that changed up their style up, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, sometimes to the love of millions and sometimes to thousands of returned records. Here are five case studies in what happens when artists flip the script on their sound.
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1. Bad Religion heads Into the Unknown: Bad Religion's debut album How Could Hell Be Any Worse hits the ground running from its first second with a charge of guitar, bass, and drums. Over the next 30 minutes and 14 songs it rarely lets up, unleashing a straight forward punk-rock sound that formed the foundation of the band that we still love 30 years later.
It's a sound that may be a bit more refined and better produced, but listen to their debut album and then listen to 2010's The Dissent of Man and you know it's the same band.
A curious thing happened in 1983, something the band has spent the next three decades trying to sweep under the rug. That year they released Into the Unknown, a strange combination of progressive rock, punk production, and Greg Graffin's distinct vocals.
It may start out with a guitar, but before long you're treated to synth that sounds like something out of a bad '80s training montage. Their fans hated it and the band quickly went back to their punk sound. As of this writing Into the Unknown has never seen a CD release and likely never will.
2. Motley Crüe searches for their place in Generation Swine: They are one of the bands that defined that '80s hair-metal sound that is both loved and mocked to this very day. The Crüe were '80s excess personified: The hard partying, the giant hair, the catchy hooks. Then grunge rock showed up, the band experienced some personal turmoil, and it seemed like they would follow their fellow hair-metal brethren into the afterlife.
In '97, they realized that there was more money to be made together than apart and the band reunited to release Generation Swine. To their credit the band decided to release a more modern sounding record rather than put out another Dr. Feelgood. Unfortunately, the result was less than stellar.
Generation Swine sounds like everything going on in modern rock at the time without understanding of any of it. The hooks might be there, but the songs are darker, the electronics are out of place, and it sounds like a band trying too hard to be relevant.
The band blames the commercial failure of the record on their label, but compare Generation Swine to Saints of Los Angeles and ask yourself if it was the label or the music.
3. Bruce Springsteen is Born in the U.S.A.: There is no denying that Born in the U.S.A. was a tremendously successful record. It took home a ton of awards, sold millions of copies, is considered to be one of the greatest albums of its era, and made Springstreen incredibly rich. There are few records that are as big a critical and commercial grand slam.
That said, there is still a segment of his fanbase that see it as nothing but a commercial sellout and point out the record as being the beginning of a long, slow creative decline for the Boss. To them, it's the moment where the artist chose profit over passion.
Forget the cheesy synths of "Dancing In The Dark," the real crime on this album to some is the title track. Writing a song that's fairly deep and political then wrapping it in cheese and those anthemic keyboards? Needless to say there are still some pockets in the Springsteen universe where people haven't gotten over it.
4. Liz Phair introduces everyone to a poppier Liz Phair: When it comes to Exile in Guyville, Phair's classic debut LP, people tend to focus on two things: the lyrical content and the production.
That's not to say that those things aren't important: People identified with the stark, honest nature of the lyrics and the production does make the record stand out. What a lot of people overlook is that those songs, with their "real" lyrics and "direct" production, are also catchy.
They are not as catchy as the songs on Liz Phair, which found her working with songwriting crew The Matrix and features glossy production. Talk to most critics and fans who championed her work when she arrived about that self titled record and they'd be hard pressed to even have opinions on the non-Matrix tracks.
People were genuinely upset that someone who sang about blow jobs worked with the same people who worked with Avril. For some fans it's not about your work but who you work with.
5. Dredg leave the past behind on Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy: You start a band, you write some songs, and you get a record deal. You hit the road, play shows, build a fanbase, then work on another record. You repeat this process a few times, with your most dedicated fans following you every step of the way. Feeling that you can do no wrong, you take a chance and release a record that sounds nothing like your previous output.
On their fifth album, Dredg departed the land of slide guitar and art rock for a world of electronic beats and textures, which is to say they got rid of most of the things that made them who they were over their last four albums. It was an ambitious move, but one that alienated the majority of their fanbase.
As soon as the album leaked people hit Facebook and Twitter to try and figure out what happened to the band they loved. The band has spent the last few months working to build back up some of that goodwill on the road, where they're preforming their old albums in their entirety.