I finally had the chance to listen to this episode over the weekend, and as a musician and Agilist I thought this was a pretty interesting episode. The examples I heard made me think of some other works by artists that I thought were were mentioning. I put them in three categories - experimental albums that worked, didn’t work, and those that had mixed results.
Albums that did well:
Rush - “2112”, 1976. The band’s expectations for their third album, “Caress of Steel” didn’t exactly happen as expected following the success of their second album, “Fly by Night”. In fact, the band wasn’t even on the budget sheet for Mercury Records that year, meaning they didn’t expect them to make the label any money. Regardless, those three young lads from Toronto decided to give the one album side song a try with an ambitious story of a future without music. The result? Well, most of you probably know that it was not only profitable but it started moving Rush into the rock and roll spotlight for many years to come. Imagine if they decided to follow the standard “rock formula”. I doubt we’d be talking about them 40 years after the fact.
Gary Moore - “Still Got the Blues”, 1990. One of the greatest musicians from Ireland, Gary had conquered the genres of hard rock, jazz/fusion, and even had a short stint with Greg Lake of ELP for a few years by the time 1989 rolled around. During the “After the War” tour, he thought about going in a different direction, and was a little nervous about it. I found a great article that documents what happened here for those that aren’t familiar with this album, but long story short fans and critics largely supported his shift to blues and had several successful followup albums in the same vein.
I give Gary a lot of credit for doing this, not just for making the decision to change musically, but also getting the right musicians (or “team”) to support him and make this change successful. Another Agile principle in the music biz!
Albums that didn’t do so well:
Garth Brooks - “Garth Brooks in…The Life of Chris Gaines”, 1999. If there’s ever an example of how even one of the most successful persons in an industry can fail miserably, this is it. We all know how successful Garth is, but some people forget this “alter ego” album where he tried to hide from people that it was actually him performing. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read more details on Wikipedia. If he had released this as a regular pop/top 40 album it may have worked, but due to the way the release and promotion was handled, it largely bewildered his fans and eventually faded into obscurity in favor of his regular country albums that came after it.
Venom - “At War with Satan”, 1984. For their third album, lead singer/bassist Cronos decided that since he liked what Rush did with 2112 that maybe his band could write a one album side song themselves. The result? Well, aside from the lyrical content, which that alone should drive anyone away from this group in general, the critical reception was not very favorable. The part I find the funniest (or saddest) is that they couldn’t even write an ending for the song! They just repeated the first minute or so of the song and faded it out. There’s a reason Henry Rollins stated after their infamous gig with them in 1985 that he was waiting for them to play something from Spinal Tap at any minute during their show, but that’s another story in itself.
Celtic Frost - “Cold Lake”, 1989. Tom G. Warrior’s experimentation with hair/glam metal. Let’s just say most people didn’t like it. Not surprisingly, when the band’s back catalog was rereleased 10-15 years ago, this album wasn’t included, so it’s hard to even find a copy of it these days.
Albums with mixed results:
GTR - “GTR”, 1986. GTR started with the getting together of Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) and Steve Hackett (Genesis) to form one of several “supergroups” of the 1980s. An idea that Hackett said was “interesting for about five minutes”, many thought they’d hear songs along the line of their former bands. That didn’t happen. While there were some bits of dual guitar leads and a solid rhythm section, the songs were more along the lines of Howe’s last band Asia, highlighted by their top 15 hit “When the Heart Rules the Mind”. For what it is, it’s not bad, but for those expecting something else then this didn’t make the mark. Hackett left after the tour and Howe eventually reunited with several former Yes bandmates in the late 80s.
Weezer - “Pinkerton”, 1996. I have yet to actually hear anything from this album, but from what I understand, Weezer’s second release was so different than the first that it resulted in Rivers Cuomo doubting his musical abilities and shutting down the band for five years due to the critical and fan reception of the album. Around the time of the release of the “Green Album” in 2001, fans began rediscovering the album and viewed it more favorably. You can read more details on Wikipedia. This is something that happens from time to time in music where an album doesn’t make a big splash initially but later develops a “cult following” and becomes more popular in later years. Again, another topic for another time I suppose.
Anyway, I thought this was a good discussion. I don’t know if you’ll actually have another episode about this, but I’d be more than happy to help with it if it does happen. I’m sure I can think of other examples of varied results when artists decided to go down a different path. Thanks again!