Browsing Tag

reviews

Career Killers: “No Code” by Pearl Jam

There were several reasons why Neil Young got the moniker “Godfather of Grunge.”

His 1979 album, Rust Never Sleeps, featured a highly distorted guitar sound that proved to be very influential with several major grunge musicians, including Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder.

Young would become a close collaborator and mentor to Pearl Jam, performing, working and touring together throughout the 90s and 00s. Young even helped inspire the name “Pearl Jam.” According to Rolling Stone, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were already considering using the word “Pearl” in their band’s name, and after attending a Young show in 1991 that featured several long instrumental jams, something clicked.

But it wasn’t just his music that was inspirational. Long known as an artist who refused to play by anyone else’s rules, Young was famous, or perhaps infamous, for making music for artistic reasons without regard for commercial success. In fact, his label once pressured Young for a rock album and he delivered a collection of rockabilly songs (they didn’t specify what kind of rock they wanted). His label then sued him for making music that was “not commercial” and “musically uncharacteristic” of his previous recordings.

Pearl Jam would take a page from Young’s book for its fourth album, 1996’s No Code. The more experimental, less mainstream and barely promoted album ended their run of commercial dominance and abruptly halted their seemingly inevitable march towards becoming the biggest band in the world. However, it may have also saved them.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Career Killers: “In Pursuit of Leisure” by Sugar Ray

Prince was right about a lot of things. It is easier 2 use the numeral “2” instead of the words “too” or “to” (and U definitely save time using the letter “U” instead of the word “you”). Changing your name to an unpronounceable symbol can be an effective way of getting out of a record contract.

And he knew 1999 was going to be a party.

Many of the biggest artists that year were primarily about fun and brought the good times and vibes. Boy bands and pop princesses were starting to dominate the charts and airwaves, while Latino dance artists like Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez were exploding in popularity. Grunge was dead and upbeat rock groups like Smash Mouth, the Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies and Third Eye Blind all had a banner year in 1999.

Arguably, none of those rock bands were as big that year as Sugar Ray.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Alone Again” by Biz Markie

A bit of a departure for me on this one. I wrote an ABA Journal cover story in 2019 looking at songs that changed the law. The issue of sampling has become an important one when it comes to copyright law. A major reason why was because of two 1991 cases. I spotlighted the first: a lawsuit filed by members of 60s era band The Turtles against hip hop group De La Soul. I decided to take a look at the second one, which involves the recently deceased rapper Biz Markie.

When the Diabolical Biz Markie died in July, many publications made sure to emphasize that he was more than just a one hit wonder. Widely known for his big personality and sense of humor, the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop” (he once recorded a song about picking his nose called “Pickin’ Boogers” – either that or “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Gotta Boogie,” is the best songs ever written about nose doo-doo) was a highly influential rapper who was beloved in hip hop circles and by his fans.

But the fact remains that most people only knew him by his big hit, 1989’s “Just a Friend.” A major reason why he never had another was because of a lawsuit that helped set a precedent in the then-grey area of sampling.

(more…)

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?

(more…)

Career Killers: “Results May Vary” by Limp Bizkit

What was the talk of this year’s Lollapalooza festival? Was it the fact that it was the first big rock concert in Chicago since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted? Was it whether the proof of vaccination/negative test requirement for entry would be effective in preventing the show from turning into a super spreader event? (So far, it looks like it has been successful in that regard.)

No. It was Limp Bizkit seemingly replacing frontman Fred Durst with either his dad or an extra from the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video.

Gone was the trademark red Yankees cap. In its place was a thick hat of gray hair that made people wonder whether or not it was a wig. Throw in the long grey handlebar mustache and sunglasses and he looked like he was wearing a disguise — as if he were in witness protection or something.

The consensus: He kind of pulled it off. The other consensus: Limp Bizkit were reasonably well received by attendees and live stream viewers, most of whom probably hadn’t heard of them since “Nookie.” As such, in the days following the show, the band’s back catalog saw a nice spike in sales and steaming numbers. Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, indeed.

Of course, there was a reason why he seemed so unrecognizable. Once reliable hitmakers and a ubiquitous presence on MTV, Limp Bizkit has been long forgotten about and reduced to a punchline — a much maligned footnote from a bygone era when nu metal was so popular, even established superstars like Metallica tried it.

This is the album that started Limp Bizkit’s decline.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Adore” by the Smashing Pumpkins

Mike Love may be a good rock ‘n roll heel, but Billy Corgan is an actual heel. The longtime wrestling fan and eventual promoter and on-air authority figure made a conscious decision, from the beginning, to be the bad guy. “In the early years of the Smashing Pumpkins, I saw that I was going to be treated as an outsider,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. “So rather than play along, which is what you’re supposed to do, I decided to play heel, in wrestling parlance, and have fun with it… I’d rather be that heel than the babyface who goes along to get along.”

He did a great job. Despite his obvious talent (the Pumpkins singer and lead guitarist wrote almost all of the songs and played, pretty much, everything except for drums on the band’s first two albums), Corgan became one of the least likable people in music. He tossed off arrogant quotes to the music press more easily than Ted DiBiase threw his money around to move to the front of the line at an emergency room, close down a public pool or buy himself a championship belt because he was upset he couldn’t win the actual one. He treated his bandmates like employees, hiring and firing them at will or blaming them for breaking up the band when he was always on the one in charge. And he certainly wasn’t humble. “Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is yes, I do,” he said to Rolling Stone in 2010.

So like watching the hated heel get his comeuppance, there was quite a bit of schadenfreude in seeing Corgan fail. And with 1998’s Adore, Corgan did so in spectacular fashion, bringing his band’s momentum to a screeching halt and ending its run as one of the biggest and most popular alternative rock bands in the world.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Cyberpunk” by Billy Idol

As we’ve seen, bad concept albums can kill careers and destroy their creators in the time it takes to throw a CD into the garbage, send it to China to be used for road paving or sell it to a used record store for half-pennies on the dollar.

In Billy Idol’s case, it did that and then some. But it also set the stage for an interesting critical re-evaluation. Was 1993’s Cyberpunk, a bloated concept album about machines, technology and consumerism that also happened to be one of the first major studio releases recorded mostly on the computer, packaged with a floppy disk containing bonus content and marketed via the internet actually ahead of its time?

Yes, it was. Without question.

Content wise, Idol’s musings about technology proved to be prescient, while his recording and marketing methods established a blueprint that almost every artist of the mid-to-late 90s and early 00s would copy and emulate, right down to the bonus floppy (although CD and DVD-ROMs predictably replaced the floppy as the technology became more ubiquitous and affordable).

But that doesn’t mean the album is good or deserved to be successful. And it’s certainly no surprise that it ruined Billy Idol’s career.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Kilroy Was Here” by Styx

There have always been extremely successful artists that were so unlikeable, unappealing or unoriginal that it became fashionable to hate them. Nickelback, Creed, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, Limp Bizkit, Train, and more recently, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons and the Chainsmokers have generated significant amounts of vitriol from critics and the general public — all while stockpiling hits and performing sell-out shows before thousands of adoring fans. If anything, the widespread hatedom only makes their fans love them even more.

Before them, Styx was the one that it was cool to hate.

Critics, in particular, despised them and commonly referred to the band as “Stynx” (one memorable review compared their music to a parking lot full of whale vomit – something that may very have inspired the famous “Shit Sandwich” scene in This is Spinal Tap).

Despite that, Styx sold tons of records and performed countless sold out shows. From 1972 to 1982, the band amassed 11 Top 40 hits, including their sole #1 hit, the polarizing “Babe,” as well as four RIAA-certified gold and five platinum albums. Starting off as a progressive rock group, the band found success when it moved to a more arena-friendly (some would argue, “corporate”) sound, merging hard rock with synth pop while displaying a flair for the dramatic (or melodramatic, as their detractors might argue). Even as it found mainstream success, Styx retained some of its prog leanings, writing thematic, narrative style songs, while releasing a series of concept albums throughout the late 70s and early 80s.

With 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, Styx took on its most ambitious and risky project yet. A concept album about a dystopian future where religious and political fascists have outlawed rock music and use technology to enslave mankind, Styx planned an elaborate live show that would be part rock-opera, part concert, part multimedia spectacle. If the boys from Chicago could pull it off, they would set themselves up to be the spiritual successors to Pink Floyd or The Who.

They did not pull it off.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Summer in Paradise” by the Beach Boys

To borrow a pro wrestling term, Mike Love has long been one of the best heels in rock ‘n roll.

Widely hated by critics, fans, media, liberals and even fellow Beach Boys (actual headline from Vice.com: “Mike Love is Kind of an Asshole”), Love is so despised that it’s arguably more rock ‘n roll to defend him rather than pile on with his many detractors. Indeed, if anyone could have an entire arena full of people chant “asshole” at him a la Vince McMahon or Roman Reigns, it’s Mike Love. A relentless self-aggrandizing self-promoter, the only thing you can say about him is that he’s not dripping with phoniness or fake sincerity like Brother Love.

In fact, like the best heels, he believes he’s justified in behaving the way he does — especially in his eternal quest for the credit he feels he deserves for the band’s success. Brian Wilson may have been the creative genius behind the band, but Love will argue that he should get as much, if not more credit than the erratic Wilson for keeping the band going and co-writing some of their best known songs. Whether it’s suing Wilson for royalties in court many times; inflating his role in the band’s great moments and minimizing his role in the less successful ones (sometimes doing both on the same thing – like criticizing Pet Sounds or Smile when they seemed like they’d be failures and then taking credit for both when they became acclaimed); or going Vince McMahon and firing Wilson and Al Jardine from the band in 2012 after what was otherwise a successful reunion tour, Love gets very little of his namesake emotion from critics, commentators and even fans of the Beach Boys. Heck, he once used the staid and formal atmosphere of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony to deliver a WWE-style promo talking trash about a bunch of bands and musicians that, until then, probably had nothing but respect for his band and everything it has accomplished.

And much like how WWE treats certain non-PG segments from the past like they never happened, that’s how the band views the Love-led 1992 album Summer in Paradise. I guess that’s understandable, considering Summer in Paradise ended the band as a creative force and turned it into a full-time touring/oldies act.

(more…)

Career Killers: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

In honor of Genesis’s recently announced reunion tour, let’s take a look at the band’s most recent (and in all likelihood, final) studio album, 1997’s Calling All Stations — an epic flop that broke up the band and is considered to be the red-headed stepchild of its discography. In other words, it’s no son, it’s no son of theirs. (Sorry. That’s the last pun, I promise. That’s all.)

(more…)

Career Killers: “Turn It Upside Down” by The Spin Doctors

UPDATE (07/06/2021): Thanks to Todd in the Shadows for citing this review in his latest episode of Trainwreckords.

We may remember the 90s as a turbulent period in music, full of angsty grunge and alternative bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, introspective singer-songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan, gangsta rappers like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Biggie and 2Pac and superstars going through ironic and/or cynical stages like U2 and R.E.M.

But not everything was doom-and-gloom. Divas like Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Shania Twain sold boatloads of records and dominated the pop and album charts. The 90s also brought us the extremely non-ironic and safe-for-mass-consumption Hootie and the Blowfish, who became a cultural phenomenon when they released Cracked Rear View, one of the best-selling debut albums of all time. The decade also saw 80s stars like Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Sting reach even greater heights. Even the hip hop world found room for decidedly non-gangsta acts like The Fugees, PM Dawn, Will Smith, Arrested Development and OutKast. And of course, by the end of the decade, the biggest-selling artists were bubblegum acts and boybands like NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.

Then there were the Spin Doctors.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits (UPDATED)

Originally published in 2010 prior to the end of 24‘s original broadcast run. Updated to include 2014’s 24: Live Another Day, as well as some additional content.

“Nice work, Jack. Have you noticed that there’s always a body count wherever you go?” — George Mason

“He said you were a born killer. Is that true?” — Jonathan Wallace

During his time on 24, Jack Bauer killed a lot of people. Main characters. Supporting characters. Featured stars. Unnamed Extras. You name it, Jack has probably killed it. As such, it was very difficult to narrow down the list of Jack’s greatest moments. And let’s face it. He also had plenty of badass moments where he didn’t kill anyone – instead relying on his wit, charm, resourcefulness, and powers of persuasion.

So, in honor of one of my favorite shows, I give you “Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits” (A/K/A “The Moments that Made Amnesty International Cringe”).

(more…)

Career Killers: “Yes Please!” by The Happy Mondays.

When it comes to movies, there are box office bombs and then there’s Heaven’s Gate.

The 1980 western epic went massively over-budget thanks to a disastrous and well-publicized troubled production and received infamously bad reviews upon release. The film ended up being such a box office bomb that it single-handedly killed director Michael Cimino’s Hollywood career and star Kris Kristofferson’s potential as a leading man (one particularly brutal review from Vincent Canby of The New York Times wondered if Cimino had made a deal with the devil to produce his last movie, Oscar-winning classic The Deer Hunter, and now the bill had come due).

And that was just the beginning. According to the documentary Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven’s Gate, the movie may have also killed off United Artists, the studio that produced it. Shortly after writing off the film’s entire $44 million budget (equivalent to nearly $140 million in today’s money), UA was sold to MGM and ceased being an independent studio. The movie may have even killed the era of the all-powerful director, as runaway disasters like Heaven’s Gate, Apocalypse Now, At Long Last Love and others caused studios to step in and start asserting control.

By those standards, Yes Please! by the Happy Mondays is the Heaven’s Gate of albums.

(more…)