July 18, 2004

If music be the food of blogs

Rose and I tried to go see Death Cab for Cutie last night at the Siren festival in Coney Island, but the sound was for crap. After about a minute of thinking, well, we can't see over the heads of all the tall guys in front of us, it's a little claustrophobic, and the speakers just sound muddy, we bailed. Since I only had time to see one band out of the zillions that were playing, it might have been smarter for me to come earlier in the day in hopes that the crowd would be smaller (I would also have been happy to see TV on the Radio, for instance), since presumably the sound was better closer to the stage.

Next week there's Pere Ubu on Thursday, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists on Saturday, both of which I am very psyched about. Unfortunately, Ted Leo's scheduled on the same day as our Shakespeare reading group, but Twelfth Night is a quick read. And then They Might Be Giants are playing on Friday the 30th. I'll be camped out early for that one.

(What's that? You wish to buy CDs by Death Cab, TV on the Radio, Pere Ubu, Ted Leo, and They Might Be Giants? I am here to help.)

Speaking of music, lately I have been trying to complete the following analogy:

The Cure:2004::______:1989

By which I mean, you know -- the Cure is a band that was making incredible music in 1989, but that was also the year they totally peaked. Since then it's been a slow decline, with a series of pretty good to not so pretty good albums featuring a few tracks that made you remember what a fine band they used to be (I really like "End" from Wish and "The 13th" from Wild Mood Swings, for instance).

So...in 1989, what band (or singer) had been in a slow decline for 15 years or so, but was still cranking out albums for a dedicated fan base that clearly didn't want to admit that they'd mostly lost it, despite their ability to still write a memorable song now and then? My best answer is...Jethro Tull. Jethro Tull kicked ass in 1972 and then failed to reliably kick ass thenceforward. Well, except for 1977-1978, when they surprisingly released two terrific albums (Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses) after a series of albums featuring, respectively, three minutes worth of hooks stretched out to one pretentious album-length song (A Passion Play), ambitiously baroque prog-folk that could not possibly be less catchy (Minstrel in the Gallery), a dippy concept and weak lyrics (War Child -- still the best of the batch, though), and embarrassing posturing (Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die). After Heavy Horses, it pretty much all went to shit, and by 1989, they were treading more water than Jesus Christ out for a jog. So there you have it. I say The Cure is to 2004 as Jethro Tull is to 1989. Any other theories?

(Actually, although I haven't tracked a copy down yet, I am told that the Jethro Tull Christmas Album from 2003 is quite good, so perhaps the Cure will surprise us all in 2018 with a big comeback. Maybe a Halloween album.)

Posted by Francis at 11:23 AM

Hoaw about the Stones?

Posted by: Alex G at July 18, 2004 05:40 PM

I don't know...it feels to me like their prime years both start too early and end too late. Certainly by 1989 they'd lost it, but given that they were still credible as late as 1981, they just didn't quite work for me. But one could make an argument for them.

Posted by: Francis at July 18, 2004 07:45 PM

Could it be Billy Joel?

I mean, I don't think a whole lot of him anyway, but I understand why someone could have liked him in '72 when "Cold Spring Harbor" was out, but as you progress through the years you get the forgettable years, with stuff like "Turnstiles" ('75) and "52nd Street" ('78). These were followed my the bland years, featuring such treasures as 1980's "Glass Houses" and 1982's "The Nylon Curtain".

While, in theory a line could be drawn at the "Greatest Hits, Volumes 1 and 2" between the tripe and the really offensive stuff, I dare say that "The Bridge" ('86) would fall to the left of that line, whereas "Storm Front" ('89) was just out and out junk.

And yes, knowing the words to "We Didn't Start the Fire" got me out of taking an especially hard history test in the 6th grade. But no, that doesn't make it okay.

Posted by: brian dermody at July 19, 2004 12:33 AM

I also considered Billy Joel. Part of the reason I didn't go with Billy is because I'm not sure there was ever any indie cred involved in being a Billy Joel fan, whereas Tull at least had some of that countercultural hippie-type thing going on for a while. And while one can argue that the albums you cite are forgettable (god knows there has hardly ever been a songwriter whose non-singles so frequently fit the definition of "filler" so well), that time period still produced tons of hit songs for him, and honestly, those songs are actually pretty good, if one can judge them simply on the merits of being decent radio fodder and not on the fact that they've been overplayed an ungodly number of times. So do those years represent a long, slow slide in quality? I'd say no.

(As for "Storm Front" being total crap, you'll get no argument from me.)

Posted by: Francis at July 19, 2004 01:06 AM

What did I ever do to you people that made you so disappointed in me? I only wanted to give you beauty.

Posted by: Billy Joel at July 19, 2004 03:52 PM

If it makes you feel better, Billy, I still unreservedly love "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", "Stiletto", and "Prelude/Angry Young Man" (among others, but those are my favorites). But come on, "The Downeaster Alexa"? No.

Posted by: Francis at July 19, 2004 03:58 PM

But "The Downeaster Alexa" is my most heartfelt song about the shipping industry! All my other songs about the shipping industry are much less heartfelt.

I bet you guys weren't this rough on Gordon Lightfoot.

Posted by: Billy Joel at July 19, 2004 06:45 PM

Songs about seafaring begin and end with Looking Glass' "Brandy." The guy's life, love, and his lady was the sea.

Posted by: Alex G at July 20, 2004 01:23 PM