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.
Category 2 – It’s quality, not quantity Stupid.
Artists in this category were able to sustain their glory years for a little extra, in this case holding on to their peak period for up to 8 years.
This doesn’t necessarily make the ‘highs higher’, it just means that the guys n gals below were pumping out decent tuneage for longer…
|Artist||Career Albums||1st in peak||Last in peak||Years in peak||Albums in peak|
|Ash||7||1996 – 1977||2004 – Meltdown||8||4|
|Blackalicious||3||1999 – Nia||205 – The Craft||6||3|
|Died Pretty||8||1991 – Doughboy Hollow||1998 – Using my Gills as a Roadmap||7||4|
|Gang Starr||6||1991 – Step in the Arena||1998 – Moment of Truth||7||4|
|PJ Harvey||8||1994 – To Bring you my Love||2000 – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea||6||3|
|The Hives||5||1997 – Barely Legal||2004 –Tyrannosaurus Hives||7||3|
|Hunters & Collectors||9||1986 – Human Frailty||1992 – Cut||6||4|
|Jebediah||5||1997 – Slightly Odway||2004 – Braxton Hicks||7||4|
|Lamb||5||1996 – Lamb||2003 – Between Darkness & Wonder||7||4|
|Massive Attack||5||1991 – Blue Lines||1998 – Mezzanine||7||3|
|Outkast||6||1994 – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik||2000 – Stankonia||6||4|
|Rage Against the Machine||4||1992 – Rage Against the Machine||1999 – The Battle of Los Angeles||7||3|
|Reef||4||1993 – Glow||2000 – Getaway||7||3|
|Something for Kate||6||1997 – Elsewhere for 8 Minutes||2003 – The Official Fiction||6||4|
|Tricky||9||1995 – Maxinquaye||2001 – Blowback||6||6|
|Underground Lovers||8||1991 – Underground Lovers||1999 – Cold Feeling||8||6|
Ash – As pure a pop invention as is technically possible. Ash lyricist and frontman Tim Wheeler probably farts tunefully. For three minutes at a time. Even the ordinary by comparison ‘Free all Angels’ gave us the brilliant ‘Jesus Says’, and ‘Burn Baby, Burn’ will forever remain high in my rotation. Ash are still going strong with the recent audacious double album made up of periodically released singles. They might just yet have another classic in them, only time will tell.
Blackalicious – Too lyrically complex to be mainstream, not angry or profane enough to be gangsta, not pretty enough to grab a female vocalist and sell out, Blackalicious are the purest and perhaps best in non-commercial hip-hop. Chief Excel makes the beats and the rotund Gift of Gab makes with some of the cleverest intricate and complicated lyrics in rap. No Eminem ‘am/am/am’ crap here. Unfortunately no sales figures rivalling Slim Shady’s either…
Died Pretty – One of my all time faves. Another victim of a feeble Australian music industry that rewards only Australian Idol morons and the latest American trash that’s shoved down gullible throats by commercial radio. Off the soapbox: ‘Doughboy Hollow’ merits inclusion in every discerning listener’s CD collection, ‘Trace’ and ‘Sold’ are purest alternative pop and ‘Using my Gills as a Roadmap’ is a ridiculously titled but musically excellent swansong. No I don’t include the tinny sounding ‘Everydaydream’ among their work.
OGR Review of the Died Pretty Discography HERE.
Gang Starr – ‘Hard to Earn’ was my eye (ear?) opening intro to Gang Starr, a 70+ minute hammer to the Vanilla Ice and Young MCs of the day (disclaimer: I still like Young MC and Ice, Ice Baby was a good song). Guru had classy rhymes and a smooth voice – something he reminded the listener in almost every track. Premier brought the inspired beats and four albums of breathtaking consistency later it was practically over. I was lucky enough to see Gang Starr and Blackalicious live at the same gig a few years back. Both were awesome. RIP Guru.
PJ Harvey – PJ’s career has flipped and flopped for over two decades. Beginning as a punk scream queen, moving into earnest singer-songwriter and now switching to alterna-experimentation. I personally like the singer-songwriter stuff. ‘To bring you my Love’ my harsh, stark and great, ‘Stories’ simply brilliant from start to end. The warning signs were on the wall with ‘Uh-huh Her’s patchy mediocrity, and when the tinkly piano / inaudible whispers of ‘White Chalk’ arrived I gave up.
The Hives – For a group that are unfairly tagged with making the same two minute song over and over, The Hives have twenty or so tracks that are better than 90% of group’s single best song. Ironically it is since they stopped making ‘that one track’ and introduced experimentation into proceedings that I have lost some interest. ‘The Black and White Album’ has slowly grown on me, ‘Lex Hives’ has a couple of highlights but is nothing to write home about. In my mind neither album is a patch on their awesome first three.
OGR Review of The Hives Discography HERE.
Hunters & Collectors – An Australian pub band with a complete brass section and a marathon running gaunt looking frontman who had rooms of sweaty singleted men screaming ‘You don’t make me feel like I’m a woman anymore’. Perfect. A consistent second tier Aussie pub-rock act, always in the shadow of INXS and Midnight Oil but always there. Strangely enough thanks to a couple of their songs being embraced by the AFL it is the Hunnas that have had the last laugh, especially around final’s time. Also worth noting is that ex-frontman Mark Seymour has quietly grafted a solid solo career, and his ‘Undertow’ album was one of last year’s finest.
Jebediah – Hailing from the next suburb over from where I reside, Bull Creek’s own Jebediah are probably not as energetic and spunky as they once were, but they are still amazing live and imminently capable of pleasing your ears with a three minute pop nugget. ‘Slightly Odway’ was a spectacular debut, ‘Of Someday Shambles’ an even better follow up and ‘Braxton Hicks’ an under-rated third. By then it seemed the Jebs were doomed to vanish from public consciousness, especially given the generation that once bounced along with them were all in their 30s, but last year’s Kosziusko was a reminder that they still have it. Another Great album is not beyond them.
Lamb – Shortly after trip-hop arrived to much fanfare and commercial success the media moved onto the next ‘big thing’ (probably white rappers) and only the people who bought the albums before the fad gathered steam remained. It is unfortunate for Lamb that this is pretty much when they arrived, for they deserved to dominate the charts for a while there. Their singles are often spectacular, immaculately produced and worthy of repeat listens ‘Gorecki’, ‘Gabriel’, ‘Cotton Wool’, and their albums are crafted with similar care. They are also one of the only electro-infused groups that translate well live. The most recent release was a little flat, but hopefully more is still to come.
Massive Attack – Speaking of trip-hop, it wouldn’t exist without Massive. ‘Blue Lines’ is a masterpiece in any era, and it’s testament to their abilities that some will argue ‘Protection’ as its equal. I personally think that ‘Mezzanine’ is insanely under-rated also, and that it was the most adventurous and consistent album in their works. Everything since sounds like a brave attempt to recapture the magic, only the magician has already showed everyone how their tricks work – so it’s just not the same. Apparently they’re in the studio right now, hopefully the fruits of their labour prove me wrong.
Outkast –For mine Outkast pulled the pin way too soon. I don’t count the soundtrack album ‘Idlewild’ as anything more than a bloated contractual obligation, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below had moments but the Big Boi / Andre 3000 separation was the beginning of the end. But albums created as duo #1 through #4 contained no less than 3 or 4 absolute classic tracks each, with everything up until Stankonia an undisputed genre classic. It is quite possible that Outkast realised that Andre 3000 was more interested in acting, and Big Boi wanted to remain in less experimental territory, if that is the case then perhaps they were smart in calling it a day early. As a fan though I would selfishly rather they hung around and tried to make another classic. Herein lies the conundrum: hang around and make inferior stuff while I and others say ‘you used to be so much better’, or quit and listen to the talk that you left too soon.
Rage Against the Machine – RatM released the exact same album 3 times, the fourth was a bunch of covers made to sound like RatM anyway. So really 4 times. That said it was a great album. The unique metal influenced backdrop to Zack De La Rocha’s politically charged angry raps hadn’t been seen before or since. Definitely not with songs this good as the result. At least RatM took the sensible approach and only released an album every four years ago so it sounded fresh and new – until you played it next to the older ones – but even that grew old eventually.
Reef – Reef very nearly toured Perth a few months ago but pulled the plug at the last minute, leaving me with my pen poised mournfully over my ‘live act’ bucket list. Many labelled Reef as Oasis/Blur brit-pop wannabes, when the truth is they were more a throwback British Black Crowes. Still the carefree bluesy bass heavy rockin’ tracks were better than most in the era, and while they might resent the success of ‘Rides’ there can be no doubt that it was huge for a reason. And that reason wasn’t ‘Place your Hands’, it was the consistent excellence from beginning to end.
Something for Kate – SfK are too big for Australia and too morose and deliberately non-commercial for the rest of the world. Despite this there are few groups with a more passionate and devoted following. It’s always fun to hear grown men express their unrequited love for lead singer (and band leader) Paul Dempsey, almost as amusing to hear him embarrassingly acknowledge the admiration. They may never top ‘Beautiful Sharks’, but with another album set for late 2012 and a quality level that is far higher than any of their peers SfK no doubt have another classic in them which will instantly elevate them into the final category of this list – those that break through the 12 year barrier into musical immortality.
OGR Review of the Something for Kate Discography HERE.
Tricky – It warrants mention that across a surprising 9 albums Tricky has made 4 great ones, 3 absolute stinkers and 2 others so bland that I would not have heard of them were it not for ‘Maxinquaye’, ‘Juxtapose’ and ‘Blowback’. Funnily enough Tricky himself apparently hates all three in favour of the unlistenable dreck that he has unleashed upon us over his unbelievably uneven career. Which begs the question, if the guy who makes it disagrees with what his best work is, what chance do we have? (Given that he has released nothing but blandness for over a decade, not much.) Also notable is that Tricky’s famous lack of care and common sense also translates to his live shows. Can’t believe I’m a fan of this guy…
Underground Lovers – Another victim of the marginal Australian alternative scene, where ‘so hot right now’ changes to ‘who were they again’ if you can’t reinvent your sound every few years. The Undies were an entirely original and rich sound in a pub rock setting that didn’t really want these qualities, but the songs and earnestness won through. At least temporarily anyway. The good news is that the ‘everything old is new again’ phenomenon has teased the Undies from retirement and they are gigging on the Eastern coast and apparently putting together a new album. Fingers crossed…
In Summary – It’s not you, it’s the (lack of) Sales
So if we rule out The Hives who are still pumping along thanks very much, the uniting theme here is the mighty dollar. Pretty much all of the artists above found fame and renown for periods of time, however never quite broke through into the Elite Earner’s category.
This is not due to lack of ability or even the size of the fanbase, it’s just that the music industry seems to think that if you aren’t growing, you’re fading away.
Precious few artists can survive over the long term without finding new fans – though the next category will show us a few who can – meaning that unless you change your style of craft that elusive radio hit, the chance is always there that the record company would rather let you go to hunt down the next big thing.
You could rightfully point to Massive Attack as the exception here and you would be spot on. Then again Massive have always been a law unto themselves anyway.
We’re now half way through the list with only two categories to go.
Hang in there, the names only get better.
Catch you then.