What does that song mean?

The Lifecycle of Your Favourite Band

Posted Oct 26th 2011, 19:17

Regardless of genre or era, many long-lived bands tend to produce albums that follow a particular arc.  This article was inspired by Grant Snider’s comic, The Discography of Your Favourite Band, where he points out that many successful bands seem to have similar album covers, depending on where they are in their career.

I’ve decided to illustrate it using real examples from some of the bands I’ve liked for a long time.  I’m not saying they’re better than your favourite bands, but you’ll probably be able to swap your own band’s albums in. Starting with...

1- The Groundbreaking Debut Album Nobody Heard

Nirvana - Bleach

Nirvana – ‘Bleach’

Just about everybody born between 1975 and 1995 has a copy of Nevermind that’s fallen behind their CD rack, which has fallen behind their computer desk. But few but the most die-hard fans bothered to go out and buy Bleach.  The album took 37 hours and $606 to record, but was nearly never released due to Sub Pop Records’ financial woes. It is dark and heavy, and was born of Cobain’s disappointment with the reality of 1980s punk music, and his raging disgust with the reality of everything else. 

Despite being cheap and messy, Bleach broke ground in many ways.  It marked a significant break away from the sounds of Mutt Lange and hyper-produced 80s metal like Def Leppard and Whitesnake, and it made flannel and jeans cool again.

2- The Album That Made Them Famous

Brand New - Deja Entendu

Brand New – ‘Deja Entendu’

Brand New did much better in the States than in Europe, but one thing their fans can all agree on is this: their first album was crap. The genre had just recovered from the likes of New Found Glory, and so another bleeding heart nasal emo-rock album was the last thing most fans wanted – and Brand New delivered. 

Drummer Brian Lane said, "Jesse [Lacey] wrote a lot of the lyrics about different things than 'I just broke up with my girlfriend' for the new record." With haunting vocal harmonies, intricate and experimental guitars, and complex, masterfully-crafted lyrics, Deja Entendu was one of the most influential albums I’ve ever owned. They’ve produced two more albums since, both more experimental than the last, but neither has quite made the same impact.

Like any self-respecting hipster, frontman Jesse Lacey reportedly wrote all of the songs on an acoustic guitar in his bedroom.

3- The Album Where They Tried to Top Their Famous Album

RX Bandits - Mandala

RX Bandits – ‘Mandala’

Mandala was a great album, full of new concepts and bursting with musical talent, but there was one problem with it: it came after ‘…And the Battle Begun’ which quite simply contained much more of the above. RX Bandits excels in experimental rock fused with blues, jazz and reggae, and it’s as complex and political as it gets. While not mainstream by any means, most people will have heard one or two tracks off “Battle”, but most of the songs on ‘Mandala’ never saw the airwaves.

4- The Album Where they all Fought Too Much and Took Too Many Drugs

Smashing Pumpkins - Adore

The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Adore’

‘Adore’ is many Pumpkins fans’ favorite, but to me it’s always been a sign that things were rotting deep down, and that the band was highly fragmented. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain had been fired after overdosing on Heroin, and the rest of the band was picking up the slack when it came to narcotics consumption.

With Chamberlain out of the way the massive ego of Billy Corgan was allowed to run wild, and he recorded most of the instruments himself (as he had done on several other records).  The band was simply there for window dressing.

5- The Double Concept Album About Recovering From Fighting Too Much and Doing Too Many Drugs

Smashing Pumpkins - Friends and Enemies of Modern Music

The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Machina: The Machines of God’ and ‘Machina: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music’

Nobody went quite as off the rails out of the bands I liked as Billy Corgan. After seizing total control of the entire world, booting out ‘cute-as-a-button’ d’Arcy and hiring ‘my-bass-is-actually-a-metaphor-for-a-penis’ Melissa Auf de Mar, Corgan embarked on a drug-fuelled odyssey of self-aggrandizement, creating an entire mythology around some character called ‘Glass’ and his search for his long lost love, ‘June’ (foreshadowed in many previous albums’ lyrics).

Machina I was gritty, weird and heavy, and I still enjoy it.  But when Corgan announced that the band was breaking up, and that they would release one last album for free on the internet (something nobody had really done properly until then) every fanboy got excited.  Until it came out, that is. ‘The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music’ consisted of some remixes, an acid trip and plenty of keyboards, marking an ignominious end to a truly massive musical career.


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