Browsing Tag

Michael Jackson

Career Killers: “Door to Door” by The Cars

Many artists have done the “back to basics” album at some point in their careers.

Sometimes, there are legitimate artistic reasons for this. Maybe they’ve been experimenting with new sounds for too long and felt like there was nowhere else to go. For instance, U2 seemed to hit the electronic wall following Pop, resulting in their back-to-basics follow up, All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

Or maybe they veered too hard into commercial territory, got backlash from their hardcore fans, and decided to get back to their roots. This was the stated purpose for Metallica’s St. Anger album, until lots of other things got in the way. Ultimately, their follow up albums, 2008’s Death Magnetic and 2016’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct were more in line with their 80s classic sound.

But sometimes, a “back to basics” album is a “Hail Mary” — a desperate ploy from an artist to stop his or her decline, or from a band to paper over some cracks and avoid a breakup. The proposed Get Back album and movie project for the Beatles turned out to be examples of this, as the band broke up before either were released (we’ll get to see some of that footage in November, when Peter Jackson’s documentary is released on Disney+).

Likewise, Door to Door (1987) marked the moment The Cars broke down and got put on concrete blocks, ending their run as hitmakers and exacerbating personal conflicts between members that broke them up for the better part of two decades.

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Career Killers: “Witness” by Katy Perry

It’s strange to think that Katy Perry’s career as a major pop superstar could be over.

Between 2008 and 2016, Perry released three multi-platinum albums and amassed 18 Top 30 singles as a lead artist, including nine #1 hits. Her 2010 album, Teenage Dream, produced a record-tying 5 number one singles (only Michael Jackson’s Bad has managed to match that). She’s been credited with selling 143 million records worldwide, putting her ahead of Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Lady Gaga, Adele, Britney Spears and many others.

That track record of sustained success should have protected her career from being completely derailed by one flop. And yet, plenty of critics and observers wrote her off after 2017’s Witness, with some even wondering if her decline marked the end of an era in pop music. Perry’s career choices since then have only seemed to confirm that her best days are behind her. In 2018, she went to the place where many music careers go when they’re on life support — the judge’s table at American Idol. Then, she did what a lot of over-the-hill pop stars do when they start to transition to being a nostalgic act: she announced a Las Vegas residency, which is scheduled to begin in December. Meanwhile, her 2020 album, Smile, landed without much fanfare and became her worst-selling record since her 2001 self-titled Christian music debut, when she was still known as Katy Hudson.

So what happened?

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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: “Schizophrenic” by J.C. Chasez

When it comes to transitioning from a boyband to a successful solo career, the rule of Highlander is typically in effect: There can be only one.

In other words, boybands rarely produce multiple solo stars. For instance, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen both launched solo careers after the first Take That breakup, but neither of them made much of an impact – at least not compared to their fired colleague, Robbie Williams, who became one of the biggest pop stars of the 00’s. Nick Lachey and Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees both released solo albums, but whereas the former had one big hit and one theme song that became fairly ubiquitous, I had to look up Wikipedia to remember the latter. Meanwhile, it might be too early to write One Direction’s epitaph, but it looks like Harry Styles is going to be the only real star to emerge from that group (sorry Zayn).

A couple of bands have bucked this rule. New Edition spawned multiple successful solo careers, but even then, only one member had more than one successful album. And of course, Michael Jackson completely eclipsed his brothers, something that, apparently, stuck in Jermaine’s craw – despite the fact that Jermaine managed a couple of gold albums and a handful of Top Ten singles.

So J.C. Chasez was already behind the 8-ball when he embarked on his solo career following NSYNC’s breakup. Bandmate Justin Timberlake had beaten him to the punch, releasing the popular and well-regarded Justified in 2002. That album, which would go on to be certified triple-platinum by the RIAA, was filled with infectious pop/R&B hits, funky beats and ear worms that allowed Timberlake to immediately establish himself as a solo superstar.

But if anyone could rise to the occasion, it was Chasez. The best singer in NSYNC and, possibly, out of all of the late 90’s/early 00’s boybands (Timberlake even admitted as much), Chasez had charisma, good looks, dancing chops and a proven track record. All he needed was to link up with the right producers and songwriters the way Timberlake had when he worked with the Neptunes and Timbaland for Justified and Chasez would be well-placed to break the Highlander curse.

Unfortunately for him, he recorded Schizophrenic.

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The Reluctant Pop Star

“There is no such thing as a reluctant star. Stars are almost always people that want to make up for their own weaknesses by being loved by the public and I’m no exception to that.” — George Michael, 1987.

But there is such a thing as a reluctant pop star. George Michael was no different from the many singer-songwriters desperate for critical acclaim and credibility. What made him unique was that he was willing to throw away his chance at being the biggest pop star and sex symbol in the world because he believed that his songs were good enough to sell themselves.

And in most cases, he was right.

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Music Was The Least Interesting Thing About David Bowie

I’ll admit it. I was never a David Bowie fan. I didn’t care for his music, nor did I really understand his appeal. I have one David Bowie song in my iTunes library – and it’s a song that’s more identified with Queen than with him.

Then I read about him.

Bowie passed away on Monday at the age of 69 after suffering from liver cancer. The news came as a shock to most people, as Bowie had kept his diagnosis private. His death has, obviously, prompted a tremendous outpouring of grief, as well as the usual assessments of his long and successful career. It was kind of a shock, actually, seeing the huge numbers of people who were sad to find out about his passing. After all, he hasn’t had a hit record in years and, arguably, hasn’t really been relevant as an artist since the 1990s. Whether it was because he kept a low profile away from the stage or because he never settled into the nostalgic oldies singer role that many of his colleagues had, most of us simply haven’t seen much of him in recent years. As such, it was easy to forget about him and the music that he continued to make up until his death (indeed, he released Blackstar the Friday before he passed away).

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Shaq’s Rap Career: A Retrospective

Call it “The Day The ‘Music’ Died.” Tuesday brought sad news for the dozens of fans who loved Shaq as a rapper (more than few people bought his debut album, which went platinum and cracked the top 40 on the Billboard 200). TMZ reports that Shaq has called time on his rap career. “Would I ever go back [to rapping?]” asked O’Neal. “No man. I’m 45 years old.”

Looks like we’ll just have our memories of MC Shaq. He can rest assured that, compared to other NBA athletes that tried to rap (Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, Ron Artest, Chris Webber, and yes, Kobe Bryant), he has had the most success.

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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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Celebrity Death Pools Make a Killing

Original article at Columbia News Service (archived here).

The reviews are coming in:

Looks like someone Dugg it.

Stiffs.com seemed pleased with my work. And I now write for Columbian Ewes Service, apparently. I guess. After all, Columbian Ewes need representation, too.

Elizabeth Taylor hasn’t been this popular since “Cleopatra.” The Rev. Billy Graham, who was recently ranked the most influential preacher in the world, has another No. 1 ranking – one that he’d rather not have. And Fidel Castro, after many near misses in the past, might finally accomplish this year what many have long hoped for him.

Strange as it sounds, people are rooting for them to die this year.

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