Metallica is releasing a new album, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, on Friday. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, you will likely hear from the band (and its defenders) that the new record is a return to form of sorts. This is certainly understandable; no band can be expected to downplay a new record before it’s even available. But we’ve been here before. Let’s face it: Metallica hasn’t really released a real Metallica album since Load in 1996. Since then, they released 1997’s Reload (a little rushed), 2003’s St. Anger (let’s just move on) and 2008’s Death Magnetic (far superior to its predecessor, but kinda just loud for the sake of being loud).
Not that Metallica is the only band to have lost its fastball in the studio. Many of their contemporaries from the past 25 years still record new material, even when they shouldn’t. These are a number of veteran bands who should have hung it up long ago. To clarify, we are referring exclusively to recording new material, as most of these bands (Metallica included) still bring it live.
Scoff if you will, but there was a time when Coldplay appeared on their way to being their era’s U2, who we’ll get to in a bit. Coldplay's first two albums, Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head expertly blended pop stylings with technical expertise, and even their third album (X&Y) is a flawed yet underrated treat. But then, the bottom fell out. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is what happens when a band starts reading its own press and decides to change things up a bit. Different musical sound? Check. Weird album title? Check. Lead single that is simultaneously catchy and obnoxious? Oh, you’re damn right. It’s been downhill ever since for Coldplay, not so much commercially, but from a musical standpoint. The band still sells out arenas and goes platinum, but hasn’t released a quality album in over a decade. This is somehow Gwyneth Paltrow’s fault.
This one hurts, mostly because American Idiot is probably my favorite album of the past 15 years, and because Dookie was the unofficial soundtrack to any junior high kid in the mid-'90s. That said, Green Day hasn’t released any music of consequence since Idiot, its 2004 political-concept comeback record. People really wanted to like 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, mostly because the band had built up so much capital from American Idiot, and because the album was also a well-meaning piece of social commentary — that, sadly, just didn’t have the juice of its predecessor. The band took a few years off and returned with a trio of records – Uno, Dos and Tre; one album for each band member – and that was an epic fail. Green Day rebounded with last month's release of Revolution Radio, and while it’s certainly an improvement over the band’s recent material, the album sounds like Green Day are sorta going through the motions.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Proof that you can ride one trick only so far, the Red Hot Chili Peppers rose to prominence on the strengths of uptempo, hip-hop-flavored songs about love and drugs in California. Only issue, aside from a brief spell around the turn of the century (the Californication/By the Way era), the Peppers never really branched out beyond that. Not to fault them; they became rich and famous and earned millions of fans via a very simple approach. However, the Peppers — particularly on their last two records — sound tired and out of ideas. Losing guitarist, not to mention their heart and soul, John Frusciante in 2009 only expedited the band’s trip to musical stagnancy.
When you release an album for free, one that easily downloads onto every iPhone owner’s smartphone, and the public universally rejects it...yep, the golden days are gone. Such was the case with 2014’s Songs of Innocence, but in truth U2 had been slowly alienating its fans for years. It all began with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, a good album but one that began to show some cracks in U2's foundation (it’s the one with the godawful “Vertigo”). The underwhelming No Line on the Horizon followed, and the aforementioned Songs of Innocence — a complacent, lazy record — only furthered the band’s slide. U2 can still put on a live show like no other, but when you hear Bono bellow out, “Here’s one from our new record,” best to hit the concession stand.
We’ve covered this in detail previously, but Weezer is proof that sometimes it’s too late for redemption. The band came out of the gate with two phenomenal albums, but when the latter of those (1996’s Pinkerton) was commercially rejected, front man Rivers Cuomo seemed to make it his mission to punish his fans by consciously releasing terrible music. So the band spent the next decade releasing half-assed effort after half-assed effort, only to turn it around and get serious again with the release of the self-titled “White Album” earlier this year. Only problem is, it’s too late. Most Weezer fans tuned out long ago.