Ten Artists Who Should Be Very Glad They’re Not Axl Rose

AP060831049212.jpgThe attention the media gives to Guns N’ Roses and My Bloody Valentine may give young bands the idea that it’d actually be good for their legacy to record regularly for six years, then hold off for at least another 15 so that fan excitement can build and their myth can blossom. (Hey, if Sting and Joe Strummer had waited that long to record follow-ups to Synchronicity and Combat Rock, maybe people would have cared more about Brand New Day and Rock Art And The X-Ray Style!) So I looked at what would have happened to some of rock’s most legendary figures if they, too, had waited 15 years to release new albums once their first six years of putting out records were done–and found that extended absences rarely make later projects look much better.

1. The Beastie Boys
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Unwilling to repeat themselves after the left-field success of Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys wander through abortive sessions with Mix Master Mike, Lee Perry, Q-Tip, Miho Hatori, and others while promoting Tibetan Freedom Festivals, running Grand Royal, and raising families; Adam Horowitz’s glitchy BS-2000 and the peculiar Country Mike’s Greatest Hits make fans both curious and excited for what the group might eventually return with. Finally, after over a decade of waiting, Capitol Records and a nation of expectant stoners are blessed with… The Mix-Up.

2. Aerosmith
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Following the departure of Joe Perry during the recording of A Night In The Ruts, Steven Tyler descends further into chemical dependency, unable to complete sessions with new guitarists for several years. After his recovery from addiction in the mid-’80s, he is hesitant to return to life in the fast lane, preferring to raise his family and promote anti-drug campaigns. Finally, the original lineup returns with 1997′s Nine Lives, where a new generation, unprimed by Wayne’s World and Alicia Silverstone videos, is introduced to a group of decrepit transvestites screaming “Falling In Love (Is So Hard On The Knees).”

3. Grateful Dead
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Despite the success of Wake Of The Flood, things aren’t the same for the Dead after the death of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and the band decides to abstain from the touring circuit. Attempts to hone a new sound are hindered by a series of exploding keyboardists, but the group finally returns to the limelight with 1989′s Built To Last. Then another keyboardist dies, and the band says “fuck it.” Meanwhile, Trey Anastasio is happily playing in a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band in Vermont, just happy that he doesn’t have to hold down a day job.

4. David Bowie
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After releasing Pin-Ups (itself The Spaghetti Incident?! of its day), Bowie grows tired of his hard-rock Ziggy Stardust shtick and fires the Spiders Of Mars. Rumors leak that the rock star is obsessed with “soul” and attempting to maintain cultural currency by working with Brian Eno (the Moby of his day), but year after year and release date after release date pass. Finally, cleaned up and ready to play ball, Bowie, joined by Peter Frampton and Charlie Sexton, returns for a massive world tour to promote his new album… Never Let Me Down.

5. Prince
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Even after his Hollywood dreams fizzled, Prince finds it impossible to follow up the monumental Purple Rain, retiring to his Minnesota home; he’s rarely seen after the failed non-musical version of Graffiti Bridge. Some say that the recluse won’t even answer to his name! Always up for a challenge, Clive Davis signs the artist to a one-album contract, teaming him with a variety of pop stars that had followed in his wake. He then presents the world with… Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. The world is not impressed.

6. Bruce Springsteen
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Darkness On The Edge Of Town, while a critical hit, isn’t really the sequel to Born To Run that Columbia was looking for. So for years Bruce struggles with synthesizers and drum machines, hoping to craft a surefire hit. Off the road and not meeting supermodels and back-up vocalists, Bruce lives a long, lonely life before finally releasing The Ghost Of Tom Joad, after which Columbia decides this man is no longer the future of rock and roll.

7. U2
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Torn between their desire for fame and their belief in Christian humility, the members of U2 are more than happy to finely hone their follow-up to The Unforgettable Fire with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. But after a decade-plus of work, it becomes clear that they’ve lost the script. So instead, the band looks both to the past (their original producer Steve Lillywhite) and the future (Nelle Hooper and Jackknife Lee), creating How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, which the group promotes on an ’80s Flashback Tour co-headlined by Simple Minds.

8. R.E.M.
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The Green tour takes a lot out of R.E.M., with the band first attempting to create a grand follow-up with mandolins and string sections before scrapping the sessions to try and regain their rock energy. Finally, with both producer Scott Litt and Bill Berry no longer involved, the remaining trio makes an album everyone is comfortable with. An album named Around The Sun.

9. Rolling Stones
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Let It Bleed is a surprise triumph after the loss of Brian Jones, but drugs overcome the band and it isn’t long before replacement Mick Taylor is gone. It won’t be until after the failure of Mick Jagger’s first solo album, She’s The Boss, that he’ll get the old band together for a new album titled Dirty Work. While they knew Mick Jagger was capable of anything, it shocked fans of the enigmatic Keith Richards, long rumored dead, to see him dancing with cartoon cats in the video for “Harlem Shuffle.”

10. Stevie Wonder
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With Motown refusing to let him run his own albums, Wonder boycotts his label following the release of For Once In My Life. When Berry Gordy finally relents in the early ’70s, his concerns are proven tragically valid as Wonder toils unsuccessfully to capture his “inner visions,” desperately trying to create songs “in the key of life.” The singer could have been forgotten–but Gene Wilder gets in touch with him in hopes that he’ll create a soundtrack for The Woman In Red. America is shocked as Little Stevie Wonder returns to the limelight with “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” with Rolling Stone declaring it the Least Welcome Comeback of 1984.

There is one alternate history Axl could take heart in. If Paul Simon had waited fifteen years to put out an album after Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Graceland would have been even more of an impressive wtf than it was at the time. But will Axl Rose’s adventures in the diaspora (“Madagascar!”) have the same zeitgeist as Simon’s?

Hell no.

  • Anthony Miccio

    @Al Shipley: They sound like shit.

  • Chris Molanphy

    1. What Al said. Not to suck all the fun out this exercise — the last two pairings made me laugh out loud.

    2. Boy to Pop would’ve been a much funnier U2 comparison. At the risk of sounding sacreligious, I think Atomic Bomb is an all-around more consistent album than Unforgettable Fire: the latter’s four best songs are stunners, but the rest is pure filler.

    (In the asterisked footnote of this well-trod post, I even called Unforgettable Fire “flaccid.”)

  • Anthony Miccio

    though I’m sure this music would have made a lot more sense had we seen his artistic progression through a series of albums over the years. Had this assbasket dropped in 1995, people would have been even more horrified.

  • Chris Molanphy

    1. What Al said. Not to suck all the fun out of this exercise — the last two pairings made me laugh out loud.

    2. Boy to Pop would’ve been a much better U2 pairing. At the risk of sounding sacreligious, I think Atomic Bomb is an all-around more consistent album than Unforgettable Fire: the latter’s four best tracks are stunners, but the rest is pure filler.

    (I even called Unforgettable “flaccid” in the asterisked footnote of this well-trod post.)

  • Chris Molanphy

    1. What Al said — not to suck all the fun out of this exercise. The last two pairings made me laugh out loud.

    2. Boy to Pop would’ve been a much better U2 pairing. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I think Atomic Bomb is an all-around more consistent album than Unforgettable Fire: the latter’s four best tracks are stunners, but the rest is pure filler.

    (I even called Unforgettable “flaccid” in the asterisked footnote of this well-trod post.)

  • Anonymous

    What the fuck is up with his face?

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call Moby the “Brian Eno of his day?” Or perhaps the “Daniel Lanois”? And does this make Girl Talk the “Moby of his day?” Now I’m even more confused than when I began reading this post in the first place.

  • Chris Molanphy

    Ugh. Please excuse the goddamn triple post. The commenting black hole of ’08 finally sucked me in!

  • Rock You Like An Iracane

    @Chris Molanphy: I’m a U2 fan who isn’t intimately familiar with every bit of the catalog, but I’d put “City of Blinding Lights,” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own,” and “All Because of You” on a two-CD greatest hits album. Especially “City” and “Sometimes.”

  • Chris Molanphy

    @Rock You Like An Iracane: I’d agree with your choices, but that doesn’t negate my point: Atomic has standout singles, yes, but what I liked about it was it was the first U2 album since Zooropa that sounded coherent as an album.

    (I found All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which now makes greatest-album lists for some reason, wildly overrated, because once you got past the first four [excellent] songs, it falls off a cliff.)

    Mind you, I wouldn’t place Atomic in the U2 pantheon next to War or Achtung Baby or anything, but – unless you are the sort of modern-day Bono-hater who finds anything he does nowadays douche-chill-inducing – it’s a really strong second-tier U2 album, better than Rattle and Hum and about as good as the equally underrated Zooropa.

  • Chris N.

    Is “douche chill” a common gynecological problem?

  • alec_baldwin

    “Let it Bleed” is one of the best rock and roll albums of all time. The Stones truly had to be on drugs–all of them–to come up with “Monkey Man.” “Midnight Rambler” rocks, too.

  • GhostOfDuane

    Congrats to Idolator on their first Pigpen reference. is that two GD refs in one day? did Relix buy you guys when I wasn’t looking? will this post appear more or less than 3 times?

  • Chris Molanphy

    @Chris N.: Sheez, isn’t this what Google is for?

  • alec_baldwin

    @Chris Molanphy: You

    @Chris N.: and you

    are just nasty. Just nasty. What you need to be doing is preparing for the free Bon Jovi concert.

  • bcapirigi

    i like the mix up…

  • KikoJones

    @Chris Molanphy:
    All That You Can’t Leave Behind was released at the height of the boy band/nu metal airwave-ruling fiasco, which may account for it being overrated. Regardless, it felt like a bucket of ice water in the middle of the desert, compared to the crap foisted on us at the time.

  • Chris N.

    @Chris M.: I just blue myself.

  • DavidWatts

    My favorite thing about this post was being reminded of BS 2000. That was back when I was duping CDs from my college radio station and trying to copy the CD art with a Sharpe. My BS 2000 was one of my better works.

  • http://fleshlight.squarespace.com/ Joseph Martinek

    I had seen past articles that they have been caught doing the same thing before and of course they promised it would never happen again…. and they lie over and over. It is all propaganda

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