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Elvis Presley

Career Killers: “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya” by Boyz II Men

We’ve seen how splitting from hit-making songwriters or producers in an ill-fated bid for creative control can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how record label politics can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how failed musical makeovers in the face of changing times can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how deteriorating personal relationships can fester and kill an artist’s or band’s careers.

What happens when all of those things happen at once? You get Boyz II Men.

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Career Killers: “Paula” by Robin Thicke.

I wrote a review for Robin Thicke’s Paula when it first came out in 2014. I decided to revisit it for several reasons. 1) I’m lazy, 2) It was obvious, at the time, that this record would tank his career and 3) I see him every week as a judge on The Masked Singer and I can’t decide whether being on a hit show means that his career has recovered from this debacle of an album or if it’s confirmation that his musical career is over and that he’ll just be a reality show judge from here on out. In other words, did his album about one Paula (Patton) have the effect of turning him into another Paula (Abdul)?

In retrospect, “Blurred Lines” wasn’t the start of something great for Robin Thicke. It was the beginning of the end. And Paula ended up being the nail in the coffin.

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Career Killers: “Hot Space” by Queen

Plenty of artists like to experiment with new sounds and different genres. Sometimes it’ll be a temporary or one-time thing, like when KISS tried disco (I’m sorry, KISSco), the Rolling Stones went psychedelic or Garth Brooks kind-of went pop.

Other times, it’ll be a catalyst for long-term re-invention. Chicago had a surprise hit with “If You Leave Me Now” and they continued writing songs of that ilk, transitioning from a jazz-and-big-band-influenced rock group into an adult contemporary band. The Bee Gees resurrected their careers and eventually became a full-fledged dance band after recording “Jive Talkin’.” Less successful bands like The Goo Goo Dolls, Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth embraced their black-sheep hits and permanently changed directions in order to continue churning out similar-sounding singles and albums.

We’ll never know if Hot Space was meant as a permanent shift for Queen because it flopped so hard that the band promptly retreated back to more familiar territory – but not before tanking their popularity in America.

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Career Killers: “On Every Street” by Dire Straits

There are two types of “one man bands” in rock music. There are literal examples like Nine Inch Nails, World Party or Five For Fighting, which each consist of one permanent member and are, essentially, solo vehicles in all but name. Foo Fighters started out as a one man band before Dave Grohl decided to make it into an actual group.

Then there are the bands where one member does, virtually, all of the work. John Fogerty was the primary songwriter, lead singer and lead guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Same with Kurt Cobain for Nirvana, Billy Corgan for Smashing Pumpkins and Syd Barrett for Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, The Cure’s Robert Smith sings, writes, plays guitar, bass, keyboards and other instruments, produces the albums, and decides who will stand with him on stage. Usually what happens is either the other members of the band get fed up and quit or the person in charge realizes he or she doesn’t need the others and goes solo.

For Dire Straits, both of those things happened.

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Career Killers: “Switch” by INXS

Plenty of bands choose to soldier on after the death of an iconic, seemingly-irreplaceable lead singer.

Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen went with established singers, touring and recording with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame before moving onto “American Idol” alum Adam Lambert. AC/DC took the opposite approach, hiring then-unknown Brian Johnson to replace Bon Scott. The Eagles did a bit of both, replacing Glenn Frey with country superstar Vince Gill, as well as novice musician and Frey’s own son, Deacon. Bands such as Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even the Grateful Dead have carried on in some form, with mixed results.

Other bands chose not to try and replace the irreplaceable. Nirvana broke up after Kurt Cobain died by suicide – as did Mother Love Bone following Andy Wood’s fatal heroin overdose (although two members of the band ended up forming Pearl Jam). The surviving members of The Doors continued as a trio after Jim Morrison’s death, releasing two uneven albums on their own before calling it a day. On the other hand, Chicago decided not to break up after Terry Kath’s death and became an adult-contemporary powerhouse under Peter Cetera in the 1980s. And perhaps the most famous example is New Order, which formed out of the ashes of Joy Division after frontman Ian Curtis’s death, and achieved more fame and success than its predecessor.

Then there are some bands that give it a go with new singers, only to flop badly, ruin their legacy and confirm to everyone that they should have just let their band die with their late vocalist.

INXS was one such band.

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Career Killers: “The Long Run” by The Eagles

Plenty of bands fail to follow up a career-defining album. Fleetwood Mac decided to experiment on Tusk and ended up selling only a fraction of what Rumours did. Hootie and the Blowfish rushed out their second album, Fairweather Johnson, and cemented their legacy as a “one album wonder.” Smile, the Beach Boys’ attempt to follow up Pet Sounds, broke Brian Wilson and sent the band into a long decline.

But none of those records caused the band, itself, to break up. None of those records saw a band crack so completely and thoroughly from the pressure of following up one of the most popular and critically acclaimed albums of all time. None of those records caused a rift so wide and so seemingly irreparable that, when it came time to release the contractually obligated post-breakup greatest hits compilations or live albums, band members wouldn’t even be able to be in the same state as one another, let alone communicate without going through lawyers. None of those records poisoned the well so thoroughly that band members said they’d reunite when hell froze over.

None of those records were The Long Run.

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Album Review: “Paula” by Robin Thicke

Robin Thicke’s “Paula” is the most interesting album of the year. And it might be one of the most interesting albums of the last decade.

That doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, the album is extremely repetitive and difficult to listen to. With the subtlety of a jackhammer, Thicke bares his soul in 14 gut-wrenching songs, alternating between pitiful begging (to his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Paula Patton) and “TMI”-level introspection. It’s refreshing to hear an artist drop all pretenses and sing what’s on his or her mind- after all, it’s difficult to accept this as Thicke’s mea culpa unless he’s being open and honest about everything.

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Back to the Future – A Concert Review of U2 at MSG.

Concert Review:

U2

October 14, 2005

Madison Square Garden

It’s hard being serious all the time.

U2 realized that in 1988 after critics savaged their concert film “Rattle & Hum,” accusing the band of being pretentious and over-indulgent. It wasn’t their outspoken political views that got them in trouble. In fact one of the high points of the film was the band’s emotional performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that took place hours after the Remembrance Day Bombing that killed 11 in Northern Ireland on November 8, 1987. Bono launched into an emotional rant during the middle of the song condemning the bombing and yelling “F— the revolution!”

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