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Mergoo - When the Music's Over

  by Jon Rogers

published: 16 / 4 / 2012

Mergoo - When the Music's Over


In 'Hitting the Right Note' Jon Rogers asks whether bands actually improve with age or more often than not burn out quickly

Let's be blunt about this. Far too many bands and artists long outstay their welcome. Really they should have had the intelligence to have got off the stage - both literally and metaphorically - long ago. Invariably artists become less interesting over time rather than doing more interesting things. The list is rather extensive but really someone should really have a quiet word in the collective ear of the Stranglers and tell them, "Look lads, isn't it time you thought about knocking it on the head?" Since 'Golden Brown' what has the band done of any significance? Similarly, with Bob Dylan. Surely the only artist who can murder his own songs live on stage nowadays? Critics may point to a few albums in recent years as evidence of a resurgence of talent. Well, compared to the awfulness of albums like 'Shot of Love' or 'Saved' then, yes, he has regained some strength, but he still pales into comparison with the peak of his career in the late sixties and classics like 'Blonde on Blonde' or 'Highway 61 Revisited'. As much as I adored Sonic Youth throughout, later albums like 'Rather Ripped' were a shadow of their more inventive releases like 'Evol' or 'Daydream Nation' or even the experimental 'Kill Yr Idols'. As with any general rule of thumb, there are exceptions as a number of Pennyblack writers have pointed out. This group might certainly be in the minority, but are well worth looking at. Some artists do have the talent to maintain their creativity and standards throughout, often actually becoming more experimental as time goes on. The obvious example here is the Beatles. Those four loveable Mop Tops from Liverpool started out playing cute, little pop love songs. And very good they were too as Beatlemania can testify. But instead of just keep on churning out the hits they started experimenting and doing vastly more interesting things, like 'Tomorrow Never Knows', than standard three minute love songs with a cute little chorus. Heartthrob and teen sensation Scott Walker started out making girls get over-excited in the Walker Brothers and as a solo artist and the hits came rolling in. Then he effectively ditched it all, became something of a recluse shunning the limelight, and nowadays he sporadically makes wildly experimental albums that some critics cite as being virtually unlistenable. Marvin Gaye went from Motown hit machine and singer of songs in the classic ballad format to protest singer. But the vocalist on the great 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' managed to ditch all that, develop a social consciousness and write the startling 'What's Going On'. And there are others too, like Talk Talk who went from synth pop also-rans to making some startling records like 'Spirit of Eden'. After a few years of bashing out bog-standard indie guitar fare the Boo Radleys surprised everyone with the experimental album 'Giant Steps'. Others too like Kate Bush and the Blue Nile have made consistently stunning albums, even if there have been wide gaps between records. It's not just the pop world that pops out the odd late developer. Jazz giants John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman developed from playing some great jazz standards to doing wildly experimental albums like 'Ascension' and 'Free Jazz'. But, unfortunately, these artists are the exception rather than the rule. For most it is a case of diminishing returns after, say, one or two hits,but why on earth do these people never have the good sense to know when their time is up and to vacate the stage? This can work in a literal sense too. Who wants to be sat at the back of some cavernous stadium listening to some rock veteran warble on and on and on for three hours (or more) as they encourage you to "make some noise, London... Yeah, we love you all!," and bash out yet another run-through of their best loved songs? Will someone wake me up when it's all over? [The exception to this is Leonard Cohen who is still going strong even though he should really be in retirement at his age.] Surely it's much more exciting and thrilling to be down your local watering hole in Camden Town to hopefully catch the next big thing bash out a rough and ready ten-minute set full of passion and hopefulness (and the odd bum note). Basically, give me an early Jesus and Mary Chain gig over the slick, stale rock outfit they became. Better ten minutes of passion and brilliance rather than two hours of boredom. Simply, some people just don't know when to stop. No doubt with inflation-busting concert ticket prices the artist thinks they are giving the audience value for money if they keep playing for hours and hours. But wasting a couple of hours is relatively nothing compared to some artists who just waste years and years carrying on with their slowly rotting careers. In fact a lot don't even realise that their careers have rotted away long ago and all they have left is carrion. Firstly, many artists fail to really understand the basic, inherent nature of a great pop tune. Perhaps Nick Cohn in his book 'Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom' was the first to articulate the non-verbal essence of great pop music. It's fleeting, a brief flash of Day-Glo neon that sparkles and then dies away all too suddenly and then it's gone. It's transitory, a mere flash or pop, like fireworks exploding. The audience goes 'awww...' at the spectacle in the sky for a few seconds but it doesn't last... But not to worry as there will be another pop, bang, fizz in a few more seconds and you can gape in awe at that. There's nothing wrong with Art (with a capital 'A') in popular music - and this writer loves a good dose of art, too - and it can work very well but great pop is all about the moment, the here and now. Too many artists though, once they've had a bit of fame, take themselves all too seriously and think they are creating great art that will last for centuries, up there with the paintings of Vermeer and Rembrandt. And that's when it is time to call it a day. And the economics of the record industry push artists to exceed their sell-by-date. Just imagine the scenario: a new band comes along with a demo tape, get signed by a label and get a smallish advance. But, as a lot of songs are already (mostly) worked out, recording costs are low and not that much is spent. Plus the label won't want to invest too heavily as the new group are an unknown quantity. The band perhaps have moderate success or (worse) have a big hit or perhaps fail miserably. But either way the record company keeps faith, especially if they have managed to break even on the act, but the pressure is on to get that big hit and recoup some of those advances. For most, however, there is only a moderate amount of talent, and they are creatively bankrupt and have nothing left to say... But the pressure is on for the artist to write more material and get it out there. And so the second album is often a big, fat plump turkey - The Sugarcubes' second album was still born, and as much as I love 'Marquee Moon' and Tom Verlaine, the band's follow up was more than disappointing. No matter what happens after the first record a lot of bands are stuffed from the start. If the record is a hit, the label will throw money at you like it is going out of fashion as they hype the new big thing (or perhaps hype you before the hit so you are the new big thing - sound familiar Lana Del Rey?) and the pressure is on to get that hit. If the album dies a death, in an attempt to recoup their losses the label will throw more money at you and the pressure is on to get that hit. Either way, you'll be given one last crack of the whip, and never mind that the artist might be artistically bankrupt already. And another reason is that being a rock star is better than being a mini-cab driver or even an accountant. The rock star may very well know he has seen better days but what does life offer after you have been worshipped and adored by fans? Even if it is a sordid grope and snog in the back room of some glorified pub in amongst the smell of stale beer and puke. The roar of the crowd- even if only a couple of hundred - the lights, the attention, the hero worship - that's got to be better for the ego than being at the beck and call of customers wanting to get home after a night out, and having to clean up an assortment of bodily fluids from the back seat at the end of the night. A normal job isn't quite so glamorous, is it? Better stick with being a musician. And so while the crowds get ever smaller and the gigs get fewer and farther between, at least it's better than anonymity. And let's face it, the more popular you are, the less likely you are to go into a 'normal' job once the lights have been turned off. Who wants to commute by tube, crushed into a carriage and have someone's smelly armpit in your face when you can ride around in a limo surrounded by flunkies and groupies? The muse may very well have left them years ago. but those distant memories of what once was still appeals. And still, better that than having to repeat: "Would you like fries with that?" every few minutes. Like the punch-drunk boxer who has seen better days and really should know better, many stars on the way down just want one more shot at the title. That opportunity to be someone, be a contender. And so the fading star gets in the ring one more time to see if he's still got it. For a while the crowd love him, cheering on the brave underdog and fading memories of past successes. And then, wham, he's down for the count in the second and it's all over. Similarly our fading music star just wants one more chance to reclaim the fame and fortune, and rekindle some faded glory and adulation. There might be something valiant about wanting to pursue your dreams and it certainly isn't easy knowing when the music's over, but there is something very pathetic about those artists who stubbornly refuse to get off the stage.

Visitor Comments:-
561 Posted By: Myshkin, London on 26 Jun 2012
Well said. And let's not forget that for many a band/artist. The music never even started, let alone finished. Kasabian, anyone?

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