The Beach Boys are one of those rare musical acts where they’ve been around long enough, prolific enough, and most importantly good enough to say that everyone probably likes something they’ve done. Even if you’re not a diehard fan, you have to at least tip your cap to the sheer songwriting genius of Brian Wilson. His intricate song structures, diverse instrumentation, and carefully arranged vocal harmonies were so far ahead of their time that people are still having trouble keeping up with him – and Pet Sounds came out 45 years ago. If any pop or rock musician had earned the right to call his music “teenage symphonies to God,” Brian Wilson was that man.
But we’re not here to talk about Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys. That band was one of the greatest of all time. No, we’re here to talk about what that band eventually became after Brian’s drug problems and mental illness sadly phased him out of the picture. By the late 1980s and early ‘90s they’d completely abandoned nearly all traces of their classic sound, creating some depressingly lousy music in the process.
Seriously, I was shocked to discover just how far this band had fallen. But I guess that’s what happens sometimes… When Bad Songs Happen To Good Bands.
About a year ago Bloc Party released their third studio album Intimacy as an online download for ten bucks. The download featured ten songs (“Talons” was added for the CD release, along with a bunch of bonus tracks), and since iTunes was still charging 99 cents a song at the time it seemed fair enough. (Plus, like I said, they’re one of my favorite bands.) In the months leading up to the online release of the new album, they’d put out a couple of heavily electronic singles. First there was “Flux,” which is a straight-up synth-driven dance song, and then there was “Mercury,” which turned out to be the lead single from Intimacy.
While “Mercury” took some time to get used to (as opposed to the instantly catchy “Flux,” which I think should have been the lead single instead), I found myself wondering if Bloc Party was about to release their Kid A — that is, an album where an established rock band suddenly shifts gears and explores electronica. Their change in sound between Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City, while perhaps not the most popular of decisions, at the very least showed that they were a band who were willing to try new things and didn’t want to make the same album twice. So when the download became available, I snatched it up and decided to give it a listen.
Three minutes later, I found myself hoping I hadn’t made a big mistake. I had been greeted with a song so violently chaotic, so disorienting and confusing, that perhaps it makes sense that it was named for the Greek god of war. And no, I don’t mean this guy…
Bloc Party’s “Ares” is just another example of what happens… When Bad Songs Happen To Good Bands.
“You see, I think drugs have done some good for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes, and all your CDs and burn them. Because you know what? The musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were real fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes.”
— Bill Hicks
Mr. Hicks had a point, you know. Some of the greatest music ever made was created by people who were stoned out of their minds. You name it, musicians have smoked or injected it. Hell, Keith Richards alone has probably singlehandedly sustained a few Third World economies. If he gets cremated when (if?) he dies, his ashes would probably give you the most incredible buzz in the history of mankind.
But of course musicians are only human. Not every song they create is going to be a classic. Even the greatest musicial minds are prone to churning out some clunkers. Nobody’s immune to failure. And no matter how high you get, a lousy song is just a lousy song.
This is what happens… When Bad Songs Happen To Good Bands.