On The Record: The (Sorta) Sophomore Slump
Remember the Arcade Fire? Buncha Canadians … liked John Kennedy Toole, one of ‘em poo’ed clouds or something like that.
How about Bloc Party? Not the Dave Chappelle flick — the British band. Had a drummer with a collapsible lung, opened for Panic! at the Disco a while back (then bailed after a couple of gigs, reportedly due to that collapsible lung). They ruled!
This is not some conversation lifted from the snobby ILX message board in the year 2014 (provided both ILX and message boards still exist in 2014 — maybe by then we’ll all be sharing our longwinded diatribes about the Boredoms via mental telepathy). It’s the kind of thing that goes on in my head at 3:43 p.m. on a Saturday while sitting in McCarren Park — deep in the hipster epicenter of Brooklyn, New York — watching a buncha bearded dudes play kickball. Ah, the Williamsburg Weekend …
But getting back to the fast-fading flavors of the month mentioned above, it’s not exactly breaking news that we live in an era of, well, breaking news: a time of decreased attention spans and increased ways of consuming information. And in that era, the concept of “fame” has been morphed and stretched into … well, who knows what (see: Hilton, Paris; Hilton, Perez). And perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than in the ever-crowded and tumultuous blogosphere, where, through endless hyperbole and a steady stream of blurry photos, kings are crowned — then subsequently dethroned — quicker than a Shane Douglas IC title reign.
Of course, no one seemed to notice this in the heady days of 2004-2005, when both the Arcade Fire and Bloc Party — plus acts like the Arctic Monkeys and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — rode waves of “blog buzz” into the mainstream. Back then, the quick-to-pick foibles of the hype machine were lauded as revolutionary, and authors of blogs from here to Helsinki were being touted as tastemakers. Composing breathless odes to undiscovered bands became less of a hobby and more of an honest-to-goodness job (you could get paid for sitting around in your underwear and writing about the Hong Kong!) — a job that thousands were interested in landing. And shouting the loudest was the easiest way to be heard through the crowds.
But then, something rather unfortunate happened: All those “next big things” turned out to be nothing more than, well … bands. They toured, did interviews, landed some high-profile gigs. And then, perhaps reacting to the fast-tracked success they were afforded, they all got back to doing what bands do: making their follow-up records. And suddenly, none of them really seemed to matter much any more.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Some Loud Thunder bowed in January, and has, to date, sold less than one-third of what their self-titled debut did — and has garnered thoroughly middling reviews, to boot. Bloc Party’s sophomore album, A Weekend in the City, followed in February — though, to be honest, I had to Wiki that — and has all but disappeared from the cultural zeitgeist (as has the band, save frontman Kele Okereke’s ever-entertaining, grammatically enlightened feud with Oasis). Most notably, the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible hit shelves in March, and though it debuted at #2 on the Billboard albums chart, it’s quickly begun to drop down the charts and hasn’t had nearly the, er, “life-affirming” effect that Funeral did (read: these guys no longer care).
And on Tuesday, the Arctic Monkeys’ second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, dropped, and though it’s still early, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s not gonna have the same Stateside impact that Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not did. Call it a hunch.
Of course, this phenomenon is in no way the fault of the artists. They did what good bands are supposed to do: release interesting sophomore albums that were stylistic departures from their debuts (some of them, like Weekend and Nightmare, are arguably even better than their predecessors).
It’s just that the hype machine worked so well that nothing they did could possibly live up to the expectations. Everyone associated in the process was looking for a brilliant follow-up along the lines of Paul’s Boutique or The Bends, and what they got was a series of Second Comings: perfectly serviceable — though certainly not world-changing — albums.
And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. After all, the sophomore album has been the bane of the music industry. What’s troubling is that, in our rush to the next big thing, we tend to be too dismissive, too close-minded. We miss too much. And though you get the feeling that most bands welcome the return to (relative) obscurity, it’s certainly a bummer to see a lot of really good albums go unloved.
It’s both frustrating and comical to see the wheels of the hype machine keep spinning, but we’re living in an era when careers are measured in months, not years, when success is measured not just in sales but cyber-picas. And it doesn’t look like that’s gonna change anytime soon. So you’re left with two options: You can rage against the machine … or you can hype the New Young Pony Club. The choice is yours.
B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week
This is exactly the kind of insightful, socially responsible political commentary I’d expect from a guy who spells his first name Deryck: “Sum 41 Kill President In New Song — Deryck Whibley Says It’s ‘A Metaphor’.”
My Chemical Romance bassist ties the knot. Millions of MCR fans “OMG!” and “WTF?” in unison: “My Chemical Romance’s Mikey Way Gets Married, Takes Break From Band.”
Chris Cornell covers Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on his new solo album with predictably hilarious and horrifying results:
“Chris Cornell Ready To Carry On As Solo Artist: ‘I’m Best In My Own World.’ “
Lists Are Lazy: A Hastily Assembled Collection Of “15-Minutes-Till-Deadline” Musings
A few weeks back, news broke (and I use that term rather loosely) that Swedish popsters Rednex were auctioning themselves off on eBay for the low, low price of $1.5 million dollars. Amazingly, they didn’t find a buyer. But that hasn’t stopped them from posting the auction again. (It ends on Friday, in case you are trying to get your funds in order.) Initially, I thought about bidding, but after realizing that I was a few bucks short (1,499,873 of them, to be exact) I decided to look elsewhere for a cleaning service. But upon discovering that the auction was still going on, I got to thinking: If I did own some of today’s rock acts, how would I put them to work for me? Here’s a partial list of what I came up with:
Panic! at the Disco: Responsible for organizing my vast menagerie of gauzy blouses and newsboy caps, procuring circus-themed entertainment for any and all soirées.
TV on the Radio: Officially in charge of updating my blog and going completely ballistic over seemingly inconsequential issues (Dave Sitek is particularly adept at this).
White Stripes: Duties to include color-coordination, updating and drafting my various numerological charts, periodic throttling of the Von Bondies’ Jason Stollsteimer. Member-specific: Jack to convert all my MP3s into sufficiently retro phonograph form; Meg to giggle slightly, stare vacantly into the distance.
Björk: Continue to rival Manny Ramirez for the title of “Most certifiably nuts person I spend an inordinate amount of time IMing friends about”; assembling and training the army of robed, effervescent background singers that I got on loan from the Polyphonic Spree.
Deftones: Breaking in my collection of massive boardshorts and tube socks; delivering my long-awaited-yet-ultimately-disappointing new album (this will happen every four to five years).
Questions? Concerns? Quick and easy quiche recipes? Hit me at BTTS@mtvstaff.com.