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Sunday, December 6, 2009

When bands are loosing it

I think most of us regularly go through the motions of eagerly awaiting a new release from one of your favorite bands, just to find it to be a rather moderate achievement or an outright disappointment. Sometimes we loose patience with a band and more or less give up on them, expecting nothing from them that would deserve our attention.

Why write about this topic? Don’t we just get over the disappointments and get on with it? There are after all plenty of other bands we can depend on to deliver what we need.

It is true that we turn to other sources, but if you are like me you never really get over the past. Once awed by the talent of “your band”, you tend to crave more of the same, and if you don’t get it, you wait, hoping for the day when they will take themselves together and bring back the “sound” of their former glory.

Reality check: Are the bands in question really getting worse in means of quality or did something happened to our perception of them?

Yes. Most bands are getting worse, either for real, or in relation to our expectations.
It is a known fact that great quality and innovation instills equally great expectations, expectations we tend to let grow regardless of how well a band keep churning out good quality music. We always expect or at least hope that “the next” album will give us as many, or even more, exciting moments as its predecessor. So, for a band to stay “on top of the game” they constantly need to outdo them selves. Maybe this seems unfair, but that is just how it works, music is above all entertainment, and if it doesn’t entertain its existence is moot.

So basically there are 2 ways a band can “loose it”:
1. The quality of their music it truly getting worse
2. Their talent has stagnated, enabling them to keep the level of quality, but produce nothing new that challenges or surprises the listener.

To back up my line of thought, lets look at some examples.

Dream Theater
Problem: Stagnation

This used to be my all time favorite band. What’s up with these guys? Here you have an orchestra whose members can be counted among the best of the best when measuring their talents on their respective instruments. They are in the club of the few that have fronted or even pioneered a genre (only counting those that have some level of public success). Unfortunately they seem content in doing what they do, and leave it at that. Their last time they really innovated was with the “Scenes from a memory” album. Everything since then has, broadly speaking, been more of the same.

Pain of Salvation
Problem: Quality

My first introduction to POS was "The Perfect Element" and “Remedy Lane”. Never before had I heard music and lyrics that carved a piece of my heart like that. The effort put forth on those two albums would be hard to maintain….as has been proved. Their last regular albums “BE” and “Scar Sick” were a huge disappointment to me, and the latter even features one of the worst, in my opinion, songs of the year (Disco Queen).

Neal Morse/Transatlantic

Problem: Stagnation and Quality

When it comes to creating real epics Neal is a mastermind. Lately though, his involvement has been rather 'its hard to put my finger on it, but it feels like something is missing’ish. Not too many years ago Neal made a decision to make Christianity the central part of his message, since then it seems like he has lost some of his genius. He never makes bad songs really, but they are just not as good as they used to be. I’m not sure how big a finger print he has on the latest from Transatlantic, but the trend seems to be similar…

Problem: Quality.

What can I say? My favorite “late teenage” heroes seem to have lost their soul…completely. I don’t know where they play, but it’s definitely not a band I hear in my “now frontier”. This ex-band is simply as close to zero as you can be on my care-o-meter. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little…..or maybe not. Just take a listen to anything released since “Promised Land”. As a side note: Try to listen to one of their recent live albums and notice how Geoff has to go low on some notes that caused him no problem s earlier.

You could say that all this is not important since the mission of most band members is NOT to do what you like, but to do what they enjoy…playing their music. That is true to some level, but since I have invested time and money in their music, which helps them (I hope) to keep their dream alive, I feel I have the right to complain when I’m disappointed.

Now to the tough question: When a band fails to deliver would it be better if they just called it quits? I’m not sure, but sometimes it feels like the only justification for some bands to still exist, is to milk the cow for all its worth.


stringray said...

I agree with all your statements and also your appraisal of all mentioned bands. But I answer your tough question with "no".

Earning a living with our music is the dream of all of us musicians. How great would it be to get up, have breakfast, make music, and have a great evening/night. No "day job".
All the musicians who achieved that should do it and it should be accepted by everyone.
Who am I, expecting Dream Theater to split and stop making music, just because of the fact that I am not interested in it any further. As long as there are enough people paying money to hear their music, they should carry on their business. They went through many years of hard work for achieving it. How can you even think of them giving up, now that their aim is reached?
I always lament about the unused talent in those bands, which is a pity, but that's more a matter of my personal interest. as long as they can earn a living without my support I'm gonna let them live. They don't actually hurt me or do me any harm.
So don't kill them, please.

ProgMetal Alchemist said...

Although you could probably make the stagnation argument for most bands that have been around for the better part of a decade or two in most genres of music. It's probably harder for bands that have been around that long to push their creativity and challenge the listener without alienating fans who have stuck with them for the better part of their careers. Hence the same old same old approach by Dream Theater. A vast majority fans (but not all, I'm sure) would rather have them take the same old approach than try something new because it's what they know and like for the most part.

Why fix what isn't broken?

guitarsean said...

I would answer the question the same way Ray did. I've noticed bands like Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen do the same thing over and over. I lose interest, but they pick up new, younger fans who don't know the back catalog. The reason this approach looses my interest is that I feel like, for example, DT has lost their fire. Again, this is a personal thing, but now when they go 'noodly-noodly' is lacks any passion or drama. I like noodly, but not if it sounds like the band just doesn't care.

Other bands like Metallica change their sounds but the result is the same. I lose interest but they gain new fans. Bands like Iron Maiden and King's X make a few missteps (IMO) and come back to form.

Rush is an anomaly in my collection. I like everything they've done even though their sound has changed. And I really can't figure out why I like all Rush but not all Metallica. Of course, most bands don't last long enough to have a Rush-like evolution. I guess regardless of the style of the sound, if a song speaks to me I will like it.

It is a challenge to constantly write music that an artist finds satisfying. It took a while for me to feel ok saying "this band seems to be following their muse. I don't like it anymore but that's ok."

Anonymous said...

Much like most aspects of life, Darwin’s evolution does seem to come into play. I actually want my favorites to experiment and grow as artists. Sometimes it works and sometimes not. But a band like Yes is a perfect example of a band that has evolved with almost every album.
I grew up listening to the early to mid 70’s version and that is still the most important period for me, but I have kind of rediscovered some of their later cd’s, like Talk and Magnification and found them to be much better albums than I thought on my initial listening.
I think it’s almost impossible for a band not to evolve to a certain extent. As people get older their tastes change, they have more experiences and influences (some good some bad). The better musicians learn and grow, hopefully in a way we the listeners like.

Adam (Shredhead) said...

Some real good points here, but I think one aspect you're not taking into account is finances. In the case of Dream Theater, it seems they're writing more mainstream-type songs today, eschewing the concept ideas (SFAM) and orchestrations (SDOIT). I still like their music, which is a testament to how good they are, but we know they can do better. But they are 40-somethings now with lots of children, and they need more money than they did 10 years ago. You can almost feel MP and JP struggling to make music that will appeal to longtime fans yet be accessible enough to get some sort of airplay. Keep an eye on Opeth, too, now another Roadrunner Records band. I'm not a fan, but I did notice that Watershed had a lot more clean vocals and less death metal than previous releases. It'll be very interesting to see which route they go with their next album in 2011. Same goes for Symphony X, now with Nuclear Blast. Their last album, Paradise Lost, reeked of accessibility.

As for the Ryche, it's all Tate now, and this is the music he wants to make nowadays. His voice is no longer what it was, though at 50, one can't expect it to be.

One other point: progressive music is about "progression" and experimentation, but there's not much that hasn't been done. Think about can't play any better or faster than the Rudesses and Petruccis of the world. We've already seen orchestras, 76 minute songs, female growls and male sopranos. Artists have infused their rock music with reggae, Latin, Asian and Mid-Eastern music. I'm not sure there's much area to explore, any longer.

guitarsean said...

That reminds me of what I've thought of some recent releases. Metal is cool again and it seems like Dream Theater and other bands have founds new audiences by leaning more metal and less prog. Partly evidenced by DT signing to Roadrunner. I can't begrudge them doing what they want to do, I'm just not interested anymore.

I agree with your point of having heard it all (the orchestra, Mid-east influence, etc.). As a songwriter I often ponder where I can go that no one else has.

MAVIII said...

Where do we go from here?

Man, we are away for awhile and we get inundated with cool articles!

Well, "My Opinion is just a Point of View, and Your Position is the other side"...
-Fates Warning

Dream Theater
I have been a fan since I purchased WDADU on LP. I was dissapointed with "Falling Into Infinity" like most fans at the "time" it was released, since then, it has grown on me alot, even though I enjoyed most of the songs on the album anyway.
"Systematic Chaos" is now my least fave, yet 4 songs really stand out.
So whats with Dream Theater?
The "Whipping Boys" of Prog Metal.
I am sometime astounded at what new Bands are "Popular" (PrOgulus rated songs for example) and then DT gets smacked silly, I can't help but say, "Don't they hear how amatuerish this band is?" or "The Words/Lyrics are terrible, or the Vocals are off key!" :?
...I keep it to myself.

Everyone (it seems) wants another "Images and Words" when they've been there and done that. I have seen/heard each album as a "slow" progression on a Road that has no end (I hope).
I hear alot of harsh words about DT, from PA to the PrOgulus Chat Board, and I don't know why they are put so high on a pedistal.
Fates Warning may have "Influenced them", but they created a ressurgents in Prog and Prog Metal.
I think (imo) LaBrie's Vocals has really shined through on the latest with a various array of tones and keys, and even how he inflects certain words. I do believe he is getting better and better (I'm sure they are not deaf to the criticisms).
So okay, 1 song on BCSL has Petrucci going "Noodly", but as a whole, he has some new tricks up his sleeve, and again, sometimes "less is more" because they understand telling a story and setting a mood.

I think on the other-hand, they need a "Break". GO enjoy life, enjoy time with Family, work on side projects and get invigorated with the Music again, and just maybe, re-invent yourselves.
But as you see in Lamneths Graphs,
no matter what, DT still comes out on top (I wish it was Rush but so be it ;).


MAVIII said...

Pain of Salvation
Fan since "Concrete Lake" release, went backwards and forwards through their catalogue. "Scar Sick" was a sign of the fall, but again, it recently has grown on me and hehe, "Disco Queen" is just them having fun and using the Disco Theme to tell a Story.
But my opinion about their new release is like Queensryche's last 4 records, "Whats with going back to the Grunge Era?"
PoS sounds more gritty, moody and
"Less is more" and to me is NOT PoS. Again, so far thats what I hear, and is it me or is the latest a "EP" or a whole album?

You know, they are what they are
and thats Old School EPIC Prog, and they do it well, and its not everyone's Cup of Tea.
I know there are folks that HATE remakes of songs but I don't mind them at all. It comes out of having fun, and trying your own interpitation no matter how radical or as close as you can get, it must be fun to play.
I'd do the samething if I had a Band.
But if someone can say, "I liked 'In the Dead of Night' better by Yngwie than the original by UK", then you know that its all a matter of Tastes, and maybe Generation.

Once my Fave Metal/Prog Metal Band,
Followed them with their 1st EP "before" it was released (1st heard on an LA Stations new All Metal Show)...
They blew it. I even liked "Hear in the Now Frontier" but at the time wondered, "Why are they making a Grunge Album, when Grunge is over?".
If they like it or not, Chris DeGarmo was a damn fine Guitarist, Writer, Back-up Singer (And Lead on "Stay with Me Forever") but if HITNF was the beginning of the End, it died when he came back for "Tribe", DeGarmo didn't have the heart anymore, just another Guitarist wanting to "Fly".
"Promised Land" is my Favorite Album, they reinvented themselves, then went the way of the Dodo.
No "Passion", no dynamics, lackluster playing, and the replacements for DeGarmo were Guitarist more akin to playing in NUmetal Bands.
Tate, many have problems with LaBrie? At-least he trains his voice to keep fit and can still hit the highs, Tate seems like he doesn't care, I don't say that maliciously, I say that in sadness.
They simply lost their way, my biggest dissapointment and loss :(

I agree with Sean about Rush, and same goes with Fates Warning. Both will not become like The Rolling Stones, being loved only for reputation, popularity or their by-gone past. Rush (and FW) strive to achieve telling a Story, creating Art in their own terms.

Maiden and Kings X may have a few duds as Sean said, but they come back, even if it is a bit familiar, they do what they do really well and back it up with great shows, lyrics and they Rock.

Well thats my view, but hey, its all subjective.