Some music groups evolve and get better with every single album they put out. However, other groups start out hot…and then regress for the rest of their musical careers. Here are five bands who started out with all sorts of promise, only to get mired in mediocrity.
#5 – The Killers
Sometimes a band tries SO hard to evolve and experiment and grow that they find themselves instead regressing and devolving. Such is the case with the Killers.
After breaking into the mainstream with 2004’s multi-platinum Hot Fuss, the album behind mega-hits “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” and “All These Things that I’ve Done,” the Killers became one of the contemporary rock world’s biggest acts virtually overnight. You couldn’t have blamed Brandon Flowers and Co if they had simply stuck to the recipe that made Hot Fuss such a success. But instead, on 2006’s follow-up album, Sam’s Town, things started to get weird.
Sam’s Town brought us hits like “When You Were Young” and “Bones,” but had very little else to offer. It was a bold move to make an album that seemingly came straight out of the 1980’s arena-rock days, but Sam’s Town was met with scathing criticism to match every positive review. But I guess the Killers didn’t get the memo, because 2008’s Day & Age was ten times more experimental and arena-rock-esque. Lead single “Human” was so far removed from the band’s early hits that most fans had to look up whether it was really produced by the Killers. 2012’s Battle Born received some positive reviews as well, but the band’s commercial success has steadily declined since their first, and best, album.
Let’s all remember what it felt like to be Mr. Brightside.
#4 – Death Cab for Cutie
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Death Cab sometimes. It’s not that any of their albums have been offensively bad or lazily thrown together, it’s just that…they should have stuck with the formula that made them downright awesome.
While Death Cab started making music several years prior, they really broke onto the scene with 2003’s gorgeous, nearly-flawless Transatlanticism. With Ben Gibbard’s intellectual songwriting and perfect musical accompaniment, Transatlanticism was absolutely transcendent, and every pseudo-emo kid and thoughtful adult in America took notice. Then, in 2005, Death Cab became a household name with Plans, and hit singles “I Will Follow You into the Dark” and “Soul Meets Body.” The band was poised to become the biggest hit in the indie/soft-rock world. But 2008’s Narrow Stairs was a step back. With the stalker-esque “I Will Possess Your Heart” as the lead single, it was a given that the album wouldn’t be as emotionally available and relatable as the group’s previous releases. You can’t blame the band for trying to evolve, but by incorporating too much music and synth and not enough of Gibbard’s fantastic lyricism, Narrow Stairs fell short of expectations. Then, there was their most recent release, 2011’s Codes and Keys, which included even more synth-powered experimentation. The result: a loss of the sincerity and understated beauty that made Death Cab awesome in the first place.
We know Ben Gibbard is still capable of working absolute magic, as evidenced by his absolutely fantastic 2009 collab with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, but it would be nice if he could get Death Cab back on track. Until then, you can find me listening to Plans and Transatlanticism.
#3 – Counting Crows
God bless the Counting Crows. Their first album, 1994’s August and Everything After was, without a doubt, iconic. If you’ve never heard “Mr. Jones” or “Round Here,” I have no idea what rock you’ve been hiding under your entire life. It’s a damn shame that the band peaked with their first record, because the Crows’ work post-1994 has been mediocre to say the least.
1996 album Recovering the Satellites was certainly no match for their prior record, but it was still a fantastic album, detailing lead singer Adam Duritz’s struggles with alcoholism and depression while adjusting to his newfound fame. Certainly worth a listen. 1999’s This Desert Life was alright, but you can only listen to so many sad songs before the album bums you out enough that you turn it off. And then came 2002’s Hard Candy, which was the band’s jumping off point into sugary stuff without much substance…kinda like, you know…hard candy. BOOM. I mean, at least the Crows had a cool cover song in Shrek since then, but really, does anyone care about anything they’ve put out since the Millennium? I daresay no.
We’ll always have “Round Here” at least…and the goofy, youthful Adam Duritz captured forever on video.
#2 – Jimmy Eat World
Now, to be fair, I fucking love Jimmy Eat World. Their music was a big part of the formative period of my adolescence and early adulthood. Jim Adkins and Co have had impressive lasting power in the American alternative rock scene for well over a decade. However, when delving into Jimmy Eat World’s catalog, what you see are three fantastic early albums…and then a steady decline into mainstream bubblegum boringness.
While everyone knows Jimmy Eat World for their 2001 album Bleed American, and it’s iconic single “The Middle,” this band’s pinnacle (in my opinion) came in 1999 with the beautiful and influential Clarity. While the album wasn’t much of a commercial success, it’s become a cult favorite and a veritable army of musicians have listed Clarity as one of their greatest influences. So, Clarity was fantastic, Bleed American was still excellent, while also achieving breakthrough mainstream success, and then there was 2004’s Futures, which was another flawless addition to the Jimmy Eat World discography. But then, in the four years between Futures and 2008’s Chase this Light, something happened to the dudes in Jimmy Eat World. They traded their trademark sincerity and understated, beautiful lyrics and musicianship for bubblegum pop hooks and half-assed, boring rhyme schemes. Whether this is due to apathy or a regression in their older age, from a band that is capable of so much more, Chase this Light and subsequent releases Invented and Damage, were downright bland.
So, let us harken back to the Jimmy Eat World we used to know, with this track of 2004’s Futures. Rest easy, Jimmy Eat World. We’ll always have the memories. And you’ll always have my teenaged heart.
#1 – Weezer
Was there any other possible choice for the #1 spot on this list? I can’t think of a better example of a great band who, after a critically-acclaimed early career, simply stopped giving a single fuck about the quality of their music.
In 1994 this group of nerdy, heartfelt kids came together to produce one of the most influential alt-rock albums of our generation, the eponymous Weezer (Blue Album). This is the Weezer album that defined the band, flush with catchy songs that continue to get radio play today – “Say it Ain’t So,” “Buddy Holly,” and “My Name is Jonas,” anyone? Weezer seemed destined to be the poster boys of the 90’s rock world, and they only cemented that title with their 1996 follow up, Pinkerton. With it’s goofy, self-deprecating themes on love and life, Pinkerton was also a mega-success, both critically and commercially.
But then, something terrible happened to Weezer. After a five year hiatus, the band released Weezer (Green Album) in 2001. Their heinously uncreative and half-assed album title should be seen as a sign of things to come for Rivers Cuomo and his boys. The Green Album wasn’t bad, and it did spawn hit singles in “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun.” It was no Blue Album or Pinkerton, but it was a perfectly decent alt-rock record. But then, things got out of control quickly. 2002’s Maladroit was mediocre as hell. 2005’s Make Believe gave birth to the incredibly catchy “Beverly Hills,” which made it fairly commercially successful, but critics weren’t as enthused with the mess of an album. 2008’s THIRD self-titled album, Weezer (Red Album) felt just as
half-assed quarter-assed as the name, and the three albums to follow it were so embarrassingly awful I don’t even want to discuss them.
Indeed, it seems that with every release since Pinkerton, Weezer has fallen deeper into the black hole of suckiness that has enveloped the band. Rivers Cuomo, you’re a Ivy League-educated dude. Get your shit together.
The last time Weezer was good…1996. Here it is.