Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Celebrity Inertia

Since everyone else is talking about U2's latest CD, I thought I'd chime in on a tangential subject.

U2 is a popular band. That's a sort of understatement. They've gone beyond mere "celebrity" and moved into a category for which I cannot find an appropriate word. Call it "Supercelebrity" or something. By which I mean, they continue to be popular because they're popular. A sort of perpetual-motion machine. Their celebrity produces enough energy to sustain their celebrity in perpetuity.

The release of a new U2 album is an event, and I sympathize with any reviewer forced to review one. From my point of view, any work should be critiqued on its own merits rather than feeding off the goodwill of earlier efforts. But do we allow this with Supercelebrities? If U2 had released only 2 previous albums, how would a new release be viewed? What if those albums had been "Achtung Baby" and "The Joshua Tree"? What if those albums had been "Zooropa" and "Pop"?

Is "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" selling well because it's a good record, or . . . because it's U2? At this point it's hard to say. If it's still selling well in a few months, we can probably call it a legitimate hit. But If U2 records started decreasing in quality, how long would their Supercelebrity status sustain them? Often, even if a new work is quite inferior to an artist's previous works, the artist will still get a pass. This is mainly because it's ceased being about the work and has become more about the artist. But this seems to ignore the fact that it was the quality of previous works that was responsible for the artist's status in the first place.

When an artist has built up enough well-received product, the body of work by an artist feeds that artist's celebrity status to the point where new product really isn't necessary. Simon and Garfunkel's concert in Central Park wasn't the big event it was because they'd just spent the year on the pop charts.

As the name of this blog suggests, I am/used to be a big fan of Daniel Amos. I think they peaked at "Doppelganger" and "Vox Humana." Their next album, "Fearful Symmetry," was a bit of a letdown, but "Darn Floor, Big Bite" was great. The next one, "Kalhoun," not my cup o' tea, but I did end up really liking "Motorcycle" after awhile.

But since then? Each successive album just seems more and more . . . er, . . . dull. Their latest, "Mr. Buechner's Dream," just didn't work for me. But once upon a time they were to me what U2 is to a lot of people. Plus, there are all of Terry Taylor's side projects: his solo recordings, The Swirling Eddies and the Lost Dogs. The first three Eddies albums were good. But "Sacred Cows" is probably the worst recording I ever (used to) own. The first three Dogs albums were good, but the last two were pretty lame (which I chalk up to the death of Gene Eugene).

So when I read rave reviews of "Mr. Buechner's Dream" and "Nazarene Crying Towel," I have to ask: What am I missing? This isn't the band I used to follow so fervently. Is it me, or are these reviewers giving high marks to these albums by Terry Taylor & Co. based on his/their reputation alone?

If I might apply this to the world of politics, . . . there are people who continue to vote for a particular party simply out of inertia. They've always voted a certain way; they will continue to vote a certain way. It would take long deprogramming sessions before some Democrats would notice that their party is not the same party it was 40 years ago when they first registered to vote. And if George Bush really starts to mess up, it would require serious interventions to get some Bush supporters to admit it. (I recognize I might even be one of them.)

It seems important that we not give in to inertia with our support of anything, whether something trivial like pop music, or something serious like politics. This is part of what it means to be faithful to the truth. Not that we question everything, but that we allow for the discovery that what is true is not always what we expect to be true.


At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: U2

U2 is either too old or too comfortable in their celebrity status to be a vital musical entity anymore. The depth that their music contained in the early years is long gone, I am not sure why. I suppose the music industry/advertising/political interests have steered them as well. I think I first saw their latest "hit" video as an advertisement, before I saw it as a music video. Too many chefs in the kitchen, maybe?

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Drew said...

Perhaps, . . . except when you achieve the status of U2, one would think you'd have much more control over your creative output. Because of the sales inertia, U2 album is going to make money for the record label regardless of how it sounds. I doubt the label will demand a "radio ready" hit. (I could be wrong. Just a hunch, though.)

Perhaps I ought to review the U2 album here, because I've never been a fan, and if anyone could review it without being influenced by past successes, I'm sure I could.

So what, in your view, makes someone a vital music entity? The influence they have on other musicians? The refusal to rest on one's prior accomplishments?

I took some flak last year because I didn't think much of the latest "Jars of Clay" album, while others praised it because it was so different in sound from their previous albums.

I appreciate innovation, but innovation doesn't always make it better.

If it seems like I'm saying that resting on one's previous accomplishments isn't such a bad thing . . . well, I guess I am. Maybe some artists shouldn't try to be innovative, and should just do what they do best.

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Drewski:

Me again...

It could be good for U2 to rest on their accomplishments. They have put out some brilliant music over the years, the first few were great, the Martin Luther King Jr. inspired "Unforgettable Fire" was a beautiful album (go ask your neighbor across the street if you haven't heard that one), I probably saw "Rattle and Hum" about seven times in the theater when it came out.

But that was the eighties, and things are very different now. Take Rolling Stone magazine for example. It used to be that RS pushed a very honest, music-oriented agenda. Now the magazine is clearly driven by advertising interests and left-wing gobbledygook. Genuine music is becoming harder and harder to find in the commercial realm, and all that these yuppie-driven entertainment outlets seem to care about pushing is BOOTY!

I am sure that one can still find some genuine qualities in U2's music these days, but the big record labels do indeed have their hands in the band's pockets when it comes to it's marketing, and probably creatively as well (even though as you say, the band is probably big enough to dictate for themselves). What U2 should do is go indie, get back to it's musical roots, and start inspiring people again.



Post a Comment

<< Home