Let down and hanging around


I feel that disappointment is a very core feature of music. When you fall in love with music, you become expectant of it. When you become aware of the quality of a piece of work, you hope, and sometimes demand, that the next piece of work you hear will live up to its mental predecessor. And if it doesn’t, there is the disappointment of an album or song wasted.

One of the reasons that I created my musical autobiography was to try and get some new material to write about for this blog, and looking through it I’ve noticed a recurring theme where I have been let down by albums I have invested time and money in. There are different ways that a band can disappoint me. I think the most demoralising of these ways can be summed up by Snow Patrol.

On a whim I had purchased their 3rd album (but their major-label debut) “Final Straw”. It proved to be a very worthwhile risk, it is clever and holds the attention. The style evolves as the album progresses and though the quality does vary there is a lot to enjoy from it. It was one of the first indie/rock albums I ever bought and “Run” quickly became one of my favourite songs. It was critically well-regarded, did fairly well commercially considering the style. They even managed to get to play at Live 8, although they were given one of the lowest billings.

Unfortunately, it seemed as though the small achievement willed them into changing their style, their ambitions suddenly growing after that small morsel of success. Their next album, “Eyes Open”, was released around a year after I first got into them, and I purchased it on the first week of release. Their sound had changed, they had become a pop band with basic guitar backgrounds and dull, cliched lyrics. The album was difficult to get all the way through and I have played it on only a handful of occasions since.

Now this in itself is bad enough. A band aiming for bigger things and needlessly changing their style is a disappointment. What annoyed me even further was its overwhelming success, eventually becoming the most-purchased album of 2006 in the UK. Snow Patrol were a household name.

It would be all too easy for me to come across sounding bitter and elitist, harping on about how “they sold out” or how “becoming popular has ruined them”. The point I want to make is that every time I heard a clip from the album on TV or I heard its popularity being discussed, I would silently wince to myself, and wonder how the album had become so widespread when “Final Straw” was by far the superior album. It annoyed me when an album of better quality was not getting the recognition obtained by the dreary “Eyes Open”. And of course, from thereon in Snow Patrol could not return to their more carefree, loose sound. They had mass-appeal pop-rock to make. A talented band had been shot down by the need to make money.

Of course this is all just my opinion. But the disappointment I felt, along with a lot of Snow Patrol’s earlier fans, was acute. No doubt many people are enjoying Eyes Open, more so I imagine than ever enjoyed the previous albums. I cannot help but wonder if maybe we would have seen one or two more special albums from Snow Patrol had their kept their heads and not irrationally evolved a sound that contravenes the one that clearly worked for them.

On a number of albums I have noted a change in style in an attempt to win over a certain audience, and it is often the album that is referred to as the “breakthrough” album. Note the popularity change for Kings Of Leon between “Because Of The Times” and “Only By The Night”. The former is a Southern drawl of an album, mixing together dirty rock and bluegrass sensibilities. The latter is packed with radio-friendly tunes, laden with simple riffs and a sense of indifference that went against the scorn of “Because Of The Times”. The disappointment I felt with “Only By The Night” seems to have somewhat put me off of previous Kings Of Leon albums, in fact the whole genre of American garage-rock seems to have somewhat decayed in my mind since their sudden rise. Bloc Party’s “A Weekend In The City”, Muse’s “Black Holes & Revelations”, Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible,” these records followed some of my favourite albums of the decade, and in each case the band took a direction that was anticlimactic to me after their earlier successes. None of the bands have recovered in quality since.

That is not the only way to be disappointed musically. Several times I have heard great things about an album, both critically and by word-of-mouth, and found the album not to my taste. Although this is a let down, it often teaches me what styles I should avoid in future. I now know that albums referred to as “the new Agaetis Byrjun” are not for me, as I found the original to be plodding and monotonous, with the moments of beauty drawn out, thereby nullifying their effect. I also can confidently avoid Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Silversun Pickups albums, safe in the knowledge purchasing them would only lead only to disappointment already felt by the well-reviewed albums “Show Your Bones” and “Carnavas”.

On rare occasions, however, it is worth persevering with an album, and band, that at first did not appeal. Personally, had I given up on every album I did not enjoy first time round, I would have missed out on the glorious darkness and cold beats of Portishead’s “Dummy”, having persumed it to be a one-note album after the first listen. But my taste has evolved since then, and I regard myself as a happy owner of Portishead’s entire discography. TV On The Radio also originally passed me by, “Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes” not having registered on my musical subconscious until after a few listens.

So the moral of the story is, disappointment is integral for music, sometimes to make you hark for the early days of now mediocre bands, sometimes to let you know what styles will suit your taste, and sometimes to give you a little lesson in perseverance. It’s just as important as enjoying a piece of music first time round.

By the way, Pitchfork have started their Top 200 Albums Of The Decade list, and if you like music, even if you dont share Pitchfork’s taste, I recommend you check out their lists, because they really are good for starting debates. Admittedly, I’ve only heard 6 of the albums between 200 and 151, but 2 of those 6 will be in my top albums, and there are maybe a half-dozen more on the list thus far that are by bands I have a vague interest in. I hope the list will assist me in writing my own, which I may publish soon. Well, it’ll definitely be published by the end of the year anyway. “Soon” is a particularly ambiguous term.

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About Alex Pavitt
I work in the field of emotion. My tools are instinctual feelings and my laptop is the medium between my brain and the outside world. I deconstruct and rebuild. I imagine. I steal other people's lyrics because somtimes, my own words aren't enough. I spend all of my time somewhere inside my head. I worship Douglas Adams, and in the back of my mind I am always painfully aware that I will never be as good as him or, for that matter, anybody else.

4 Responses to Let down and hanging around

  1. Ignus Iudicium says:

    You’re getting on track with this blogging lark. I’m glad. Your first couple were a bit difficult to read, a bit self-conscious. It’s nice to see you’re getting on your feet. I knew you would.

    Every time I read your blogs I’m always inspired to do my own stuff like this. That’s a good sign I think. You’re very inspirational!

    I’ve been listening to The Resistance again. I hate to say I’m getting into it. I’ve always irritating when bands get bad after starting so promisingly.
    But still, you’ve always got the bands that get better and better after bad starts.

    Radiohead! 🙂

    • Alex Pavitt says:

      Well thanks for that! My first posts were probably too wordy, and not really as music-related as they should’ve been. Doing that musical autobiography really helped give me some ideas for new posts.
      I’ve still only listened to The Resistance twice, though I’ve heard Uprising and United States of Eurasia more. I just think it’s far too excessive, and far too many of the ideas that are thrown at it don’t work.
      Cheers for all the commenting!

      • Ignus Iudicium says:

        I love how you talk to me as if I’m a complete stranger. 🙂

        • Alex Pavitt says:

          would you prefer if i talked to you normally
          cos i probly woulda just said “shut up bitch” to your first comment rather than the more erudite version you see here…

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