Actors have it easy. If your cheekbones are at the right angle, you possess a decent smile and have a certain X factor that sets you apart there is the distinct possibility that you might earn a healthy living for many decades.
The added bonus for actors is that most don’t need to create anything other than a ‘performance’, the requisite skills apparently being spouting lines written by someone else towards another actor, furrowing the brow periodically and sounding like you aren’t reading the words. And really that’s only for the first few years until you get a rep as an actor of merit. Denzel Washington hasn’t acted as anyone other than himself for years. Ditto Robert De Niro, Michael Caine, George Clooney and Samuel L Jackson.
Do you think Christian Bale will be stressing his ‘art’ and screaming about the lighting guy crossing his path in a few years? Nu-uh, he’ll be droning his lines parrot fashion in a lazy sequel cast alongside the latest Adam Sandler of the day. Most likely Adam Sandler.
(Speaking of Sandler, is it a coincidence that the two guys who actually try to act like someone else, Sandler and Will Ferrell, are perhaps two of the worst actors working today? And two of the highest paid!)
Actors have it easy. At least the top 50 or so do. Musicians on the other hand have to create their own works – real ones do I mean, I’m not talking about the Mariah Carey’s today.
Real musicians also have to play their own instruments or create their own beats, then tour and perform incessantly to be heard. They also don’t get paid 25 mill regardless of whether their album sucks or not like actors do with films.
And furthermore once they’re old and decrepit – say 35 or so – they are not relevant, hip, funky or now enough for the mainstream and relegated to rejigging their previous works again and again, either in acoustic ‘reimaginings’ or endless best-of style gigging to the beer-gutted and balding masses who helped make them millionaires over a decade earlier.
You might point to the Rolling Stones, Prince and Madonna, but aside from Springsteen (who reinvented himself as a folk-rocker nearly twenty years ago), have any of them released anything on par with their best work in living memory?
My theory is this; a musician has but 12 years to carve out a career and produce their best work. I am not talking 12 years from the day they pick up a guitar or a microphone, I mean 12 years from when they release their first album which clearly shows that they have promise and are worthy of watching.
For most musicians the first album consists of the single that got them noticed, accompanied by a bunch of old songs that they bashed out over the previous decade in a garage somewhere and some hastily cobbled together filler to pad out proceedings.
But if they are any chop, usually by album two or three their skills will either win out, or else they will be forever consigned to bargain bins and op shops trays and have to go out and find real jobs. That or become American Idol hosts…
A couple of years ago I had a major cull of CDs and gave/threw away over 200 albums, anything that remained was deemed ‘necessary’, meaning I could listen to the album in its entirety without fast forwarding more than once. This left me with about 300 CDs, all necessary – at least to me.
To test my theory I went through my own album collection and segregated the artists into distinct categories. Anyone with two albums or less were excused from proceedings immediately, you need more than two good albums to be classed as Great. Best of albums, live discs and compilations need not apply, these need to be honest to goodness albums of original material.
And to lay claim to having a peak period, at least two of the albums must be adjudged as being Very Good (say 8 out of 10) or better.
With a couple of cuts and a lenient inclusion or two I came up with 50 artists, a nice round case size with which to work.
So let’s work.
These acts enjoyed only a short stay in the spotlight, 3 to 5 years or so before they gave up or simply lost the spark, but they made good use of the brief time to create at least a couple notable works.
It’s fair to say that while these guys aren’t necessarily ‘stayers’, they have contributed a fair chunk of what I consider to be some of the best music of all time in their peak years.
And the Beasties and You Am I in particular are inarguably music legends.
|Artist||Career Albums||1st in peak||Last in peak||Years in peak||Albums in peak|
|Beastie Boys||7||1989 – Paul’s Boutique||1994 – Ill Communication||5||3|
|The Black Crowes||8||1990 – Shake your Moneymaker||1994 – Amorica||4||3|
|Busta Rhymes||8||1998 – Extinction Level Event||2002 – It Ain’t Safe no More||4||4|
|Coldplay||5||2000 – Parachutes||2002 – A Rush of Blood to the Head||2||2|
|Fishbone||7||1991 – The Reality of my Surroundings||1993 – Give a Monkey a Brain…||2||2|
|Method Man||4||1994 – Tical||1998 – Tical 2000: Judgement Day||4||2|
|Papa Roach||6||2000 – Infest||2004 – Getting away with Murder||4||3|
|Pollyanna||4||1994 – Longplayer||1999 – Delta City Skies||3||2|
|Portishead||3||1994 – Dummy||1997 – Portishead||3||2|
|Roots Manuva||5||1999 – Brand New Second Hand||2001 – Run Come Save Me||2||2|
|Smashing Pumpkins||9||1993 – Siamese Dream||1995 – Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness||2||2|
|Stabbing Westward||4||1998 – Darkest Days||2001 – Stabbing Westward||3||2|
|A Tribe Called Quest||5||1990 – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm||1993 – Midnight Marauders||3||3|
|Unkle||4||2003 – Never, Never, Land||207 – War Stories||4||2|
|You Am I||8||1993 – Sound as Ever||1996 – Hourly, Daily||3||3|
Beastie Boys – While ‘Paul’s Boutique’ reinvented a genre, ‘Check Your Head’ introduced more instrumentation and punk elements and ‘Ill Communication’ was a damn fine hip-hop album, the truth is that the Beasties soared high but briefly, living on good will for their last few albums. R.I.P. Adam Yauch.
OGR Review of the Beastie Discography HERE.
The Black Crowes – ‘She talks to angels’ made them known and ‘Remedy’ is a stomping tune, for mine ‘Amorica’ is their best album. Since then it’s been decent with a few solid singles to remind you of what once was, but no classics.
Busta Rhymes – ‘Reow-Reow, like a dungeon dragon!’ With a distinctive voice and an appearance and demeanour better suited to a puppet, Busta was and is a unique talent, with a scattergun cadence and lyrics peppered liberally with humour, bravado and profanity. There will never be another Busta, unfortunately since he released the brilliant ‘Genesis’ and the very good ‘It Ain’t Safe no More’ in quick succession it seems that all of his inspiration and creativity dried up.
Coldplay – ‘Yellow’ was everywhere, you couldn’t avoid it, but thankfully it is one of those unique megahits that is actually good. The rest of ‘Parachutes’ was fine too. ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’ was unexpected though, wall to wall brilliance and several highlights including the immortal ‘The Scientist’. Unfortunately everything since sounds like a Coldplay tribute act with a couple decent enough originals…
Fishbone – Along with Living Colour Fishbone helped defined my youth. I was 17 when ‘Reality…’ was released and although the album has a couple misfires ‘Everyday Sunshine’ and ‘Fight the Youth’ will forever resonate. ‘Give a Monkey a Brain…’ is half of the best album EVER, let down by a sloppy second half. Cull the best tracks from both and you do have one of the all time albums, it’s just a shame that everything since has sorta-kinda sucked balls.
Ben Harper – The double live album Live from Mars pains a good picture of Ben Harper’s early years. Track after track of heartfelt tuneful ballads with the occasional semi-rocker to get things moving a bit. It seemed for a while that old Bennie could do no wrong (aside that is from knocking up Laura Dern, the actress who made the dinos in Jurassic Park pretty), but after his electro dalliance with ‘Burn to Shine’ someone let the air out of his hippie tyres. Method Man – When the Wu-Tang burst forth and took over rap it was Meth that stood head and shoulders above the rest, with his playful rhymes and effortless flow he could do no wrong. ‘Tical’ was excellent, the prolific and sprawling ‘Tical 2000’ even better. It was easy to envision Meth emerging as a more charismatic, insanely more talented Jay-Z. But no, Meth either got lazy or got lost. Ghostface is now the go-to Wu-Tang rapper, and Meth hasn’t been relevant in a decade.
Papa Roach – One of my guiltiest pleasures. I discovered Papa Roach when I heard ‘Time & Time Again’ on a video game soundtrack. A second hand album purchase followed, with the end result being I now own every Papa Roach album since their debut up to ‘Paramore Sessions’ a few years ago. Sure they’re too pretty to be punk and their lyrics are occasionally so sincere that they sound cheesy, but ‘Getting Away with Murder’ is a classic from beginning to end, and if you want a decent rock chorus look no further.
Pollyanna – Consistency is no help if you aren’t selling albums, even if your albums are consistently excellent and well reviewed. Thus the fate of Pollyanna was sealed early, their singles were often in the Triple J hottest 100, their albums got industry props and their small hard core following snapped up their every release. But in Australia if you aren’t in the Top 10 and/or gigging endlessly you won’t make it. Pollyanna might have one of the best back catalogues that most Australians haven’t heard.
Portishead – ‘Dummy’ is an all time classic. Half of ‘Portishead’ is brilliant. But the fact is Portishead are like RatM, they invented a genre in which they were the lone participant, then fell victim to the fact that their niche was so very fine that all their songs sounded much the same. Their newish album ‘Third’ was different – which was kinda why I didn’t like it much. If the stuff you love is the same stuff you tire of it becomes a vicious circle. No wonder Beth Gibbons doesn’t want to talk about her work!
Roots Manuva – For me ‘Brand New Second Hand’ is a masterwork, an insanely fresh, well produced debut with the inimitable deep voice and kooky rhymes of Roots Manuva capping things off. I could listen to it all day – and have done in the past. ‘Run Come Save Me’ is blessed with a brace of great songs (‘Witness!’ but sounds just a mite too clean by comparison. Every album since is 5% off from the last one. There is still only one Roots Manuva, he just isn’t the one from ten years ago.
OGR Review of the Roots Manuva Discography HERE.
Smashing Pumpkins – Billy Corgan was the most arrogant prima donna in rock, but then again he could back it up with albums like Siamese Dream and the ambitious, pretentious ‘Mellon Collie’, his double album opus. Unfortunately his bandmates got sick of him and ultimately after a couple mediocre efforts so did we.
Stabbing Westward – Another guilty pleasure. A little too rock to be electro and a little too electro infused to be rock. ‘Darkest Days’ was brilliant gloomy woe is me industrial/metal/techno fusion. ‘Save Yourself’ was awesome and momentarily everywhere. Unfortunately this lack of adherence to a genre meant no-one could categorise them, meaning they were a hard sell. To remedy this Stabbing Westward stripped everything out and their self titled album was plain pop-rock – and good pop-rock too – but it was too late. With no genre to identify with Stabbing Westward ‘tweened’ themselves out of the industry.
A Tribe called Quest – Anyone who has seen the Tribe doco knows why they ceased to be. Lead rappers Phife and Q-Tip had perennial pissing contests over who was top dawg (it was clearly Q-Tip by the way), leading to a rap group that hated each other, lived thousands of miles apart and made creating albums a ‘business transaction’. Everybody ultimately lost, as the short few years when they liked each other shows thanks to three of the best hip-hop albums on record.
OGR Review of the Tribe Discography HERE.
Unkle – Originally a side project, the debut ‘Psyence Fiction’ is spotty but extremely promising. ‘Never, Never, Land’ on the other hand was consistent in both tone and quality. A very good thing. War Stories relied on less electronics and more on live instrumentation but didn’t suffer for it, with a couple of highlights among a very strong album despite the change of direction. ‘Where did the Night fall?’ couldn’t quite replicate the success but still shows signs that there is life left in Unkle yet. Also, Unkle were the most unexpectedly awesome live act I have seen in years.
You Am I – Like the Beastie Boys I hate saying this. But You Am I burst out of the blocks with great tunes and amazing instrumentation, lead by the vocals and lyrics of the polarising frontman Tim Rogers. ‘Sound as Ever’ was raw but powerful, ‘Hi Fi Way’ inspired from start to finish with an incredible series of excellent tight pop-infused tunes, and ‘Hourly, Daily’ is simply one of the best albums ever. Since then the high points are fewer and farther between, and only serve to remind me of the mid 90s, when You Am I could release a single with three B Sides that other groups would kill to have written.
OGR Review of the You Am I Discography HERE.
In Summary – The uniting theme
Sometimes the more combustible the personalities in the group, the better the musical output. Unfortunately with big egos come big tempers and big arguments.
You don’t have to scroll too far down this list to see groups that soared for a brief time then imploded, or the lead member lost his/her shit and ‘took a break’, only to return clean, sober, and a shadow of what they were previously.
Still, better to blaze brightly for a short period than never be noticed at all.
Over the coming month I will continue with Categories 2 through 4, which identifies some of the incendiary talents that manage to prove the rare exceptions to my rules.
Catch you then.