This was another phenomenal year for rock music. Weezer, U2, The Black Keys, and Foo Fighters lead the pack with outstanding albums. They followed a strong 2013 year that featured releases from David Bowie, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, and Fall Out Boy. Rock music is not dead. It may not dominate the academy awards anymore, but that’s not really what this post is about.
This post is more of an opinion/rant/explanation about age. It’s 5:10 in the morning and I had myself a thought.
One thing that pisses me off is when people instantly assume something new is going to suck just because whatever came before it was so great. This can be applied to anything, not just music. That’s what happened with The Office after Steve Carell left, but any of the true fans that stuck around for the last two seasons know what a success they were. Not to mention that the series finale was a home run. That’s also what’s currently occurring within the movie universe, as the next installment in the Star Wars saga approaches. It can be applied to anything.
But for now, I’m going to focus in rock music because it has the best examples. And I’m more educated on the subject.
Including some of the bands I mentioned earlier, 2014 proved that age is mostly irrelevant. I’m not saying that any of these albums are the absolute #1 best album by any of these artists, but what I am saying is that they’re not absolute shit as many pessimists go on the record as saying before they’re actually released. Let me list some veteran rockers who released critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in 2014:
Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye
Yellowcard – Lift a Sail
Jack White – Lazaretto
U2 – Song Of Innocence
Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Beck – Morning Phase
O.A.R. – The Rockville LP
Pink Floyd – The Endless River
Coldplay – Ghost Stories
Switchfoot – Fading West
311 – Stereolithic
Counting Crows – Somewhere Under Wonderland
All these albums have received favorable reviews, have charted, have had at least one commercially successful single, and/or been nominated for a Grammy.
That being said, I’d like to point out that I’m not saying these are criteria for what makes a good album. Obviously that’s completely subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But there comes a point when even if you aren’t a fan of the genre or the album, you have to recognize its impact on the genre and it’s greatness. For example, I’ve made it clear that I’m strictly a rock guy. I like my fair share of country, and there is some pop, hip-hop, and rap I do enjoy. Even though I’ve clearly separated myself from those genres, I still recognize the greatness of albums like It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, The Blueprint, and Ready To Die. I know where they rank among albums of other genres. Albums in specific genres can impact the spectrum as a whole, as they usually do.
The point is that just because something that’s been made before was so good, it may have even been perfect, doesn’t mean anything else after it will suck.
For example, fans of Weezer often cite the Blue Album and Pinkerton as perfect albums. I agree with that too, I do think they’re perfect. But as the release of Everything Will Be Alright In The End drew near, I saw all over social media and comment sections about how awful this album was going to be, from people who clearly hadn’t listened to it yet. This may not be the best example, because for a long time that was the case with Weezer. The last great, complete album they had was Maladroit in 2002. But it had been four years since Hurley was released. A lot can happen in four years, and upon its release it become quite clear that EWBAITE had earned its place among Weezer’s best album, almost 20 years after they were released.
I’d also like to mention that at age 65, Bruce Springsteen is still going strong. He’s released seven albums since The Rising in 2002, and all have received four stars or higher from Rolling Stone (again, not saying this is my scale for good and bad).
Of the list above, the Boss is only one of the many rock veterans we see here. Specifically Tom Petty, whose 13th studio album with his band The Heartbreakers has been nominated for best rock album. Beck’s 12th studio album Morning Phase has been nominated for best rock album as well as album of the year. It’s a long shot for him to beat out the likes of Pharrell, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and Sam Smith, but it’s still a win.
Counting Crows also proved they can still produce a successful single. I’ve actually heard both “Palisades Park” and “Scarecrow” on modern rock radio stations. Adam Duritz just turned 50 earlier this year, and he and his band very quietly released a great album, despite age.
So the point of all this is not that these bands are not necessarily making better albums. Somewhere Under Wonderland is no August & Everything After. High Hopes is no Born in the U.S.A. But that doesn’t make these albums bad.
The two biggest inspirations for writing music are age and the experiences that come with it, and what’s going on in the world around you. Springsteen is always writing about social issues, and he’s good at it, and that’s why he’s been so successful for so long. The Rising is another perfect album.
I’m going to go back to Weezer to further elaborate on this one. At the time Pinkerton was written and recorded, Rivers Cuomo was struggling with being a successful rock star, loneliness, sexual and social frustration, and recovering from a surgery. The result was ten of the most honest songs Cuomo ever wrote, that were extremely dark and appeared to have been a perfect bridge between thoughts and emotions.
Fast forward to 2005, and all these struggles have been overcome and dealt with. What’s left to write about besides old ideas? It’s probably hard to write about things that aren’t happening in your life. The result? The mid-to-late 2000s Weezer that basically turned into a pop act, with songs such as “Beverly Hills”. Nine years and three shitty albums later, more happened in Cuomo’s life, and there was more inspiration. That’s where Everything Will Be Alright In The End came from. The album featured three types of songs. One category was songs about his father, who he’d recently allow to reenter his life after being absent for over a decade. The next was about the audience that had been giving him shit about the type of music he’d been making recently, and the last were just girl songs that he has knack for writing. The whole concept behind the album came from a bus crash he was in a few years prior.
Obviously Weezer won’t make a better album than Pinkerton, because the themes, experiences, and inspirations from that album just simply don’t apply to the songwriter anymore. That’s what growing up is all about. Those are the same reasons I outlined when I explained why Dave Grohl will never write a better song than “Everlong”.
Why do you think blink-182 departed from their traditional pop-punk sound and themes in 2003’s eponymous album? Because the way they used to go about writing music didn’t apply to them anymore. In the two years since their last album, all three band members were married and became fathers. They just didn’t think the way they did before, and weren’t experiencing what they used to . Mark Hoppus wasn’t feeling the depression he felt when he wrote “Adam’s Song”, and Tom Delonge wasn’t feeling the intensity of a new love for his girlfriend that he felt when he wrote “All The Small Things”. They probably won’t ever make a better album than Enema of the State, (or Take Off You Pants And Jacket, whatever floats your boat), but that’s not to say they can’t make a really good album. I didn’t have any problems with Neighborhoods.
The last example I’ll use is probably the best. That would be Yellowcard. Ocean Avenue is undoubtedly their best album. All the band members were in their very early 20s, and there was a lot happening around them. They were able to write these summer anthems about the beach where they lived and anxiety about leaving Jacksonville. After that album, they weren’t able to write those songs for another eight years. In between it and Summer Air, songwriter Ryan Key wrote a lot of introspective songs about himself and his relationships. Again, this doesn’t make these albums bad, I myself am a fan of Lights and Sounds and Paper Walls. But because of this void, there seemed to be a lot of filler songs that didn’t seem to fit. It wasn’t until there were some more concrete, really serious conflicts in his life the Key really delivered. This came with this year’s album, Lift a Sail. It’s a heartbreaking story about defeat, hope, and human resilience. The entire album is based around his wife’s skiing accident that caused her to be paralyzed from the waist down and his experiences with the recovery and such, and the finished product was remarkable. So although the summer songs from 2003 may not apply to him anymore, that doesn’t mean anything after is automatically the worst thing ever.
And I’ll end it there. Congratulations if you made it this far. To sum it all up, wait until you actually watch the movie, read the book, or listen to the album before you jump to false conclusions regarding age. Because this year proved that’s one of the most backward philosophies you can have.