Have you ever been a superfan? Have you ever been hopelessly devoted to a band or a show or a book series, so much so that you debate its merits in every from you can? Have you ever been so obsessed that you read every bit of news about the thing-in-question (TIQ) the instant it comes out? Do you rush to defend every mistake the TIQ makes, rush to show off every triumph as proof of its greatness? It becomes all too personal – at some point your support of the TIQ becomes so ingrained into your personality that any slight someone makes of it you take as a direct insult. And you wait on baited breath for the next instance of this TIQ to present itself to the world.
This is what it’s like to be hopelessly devoted to a band, as I have been many a time in my life with a few bands. And when, after sometimes years of waiting, the band releases its next album, I would rush to the store to buy the CD (I might not be all that young) and excitedly pop it into my Discman (really not helping that youth point) and play it over and over again.
But sometimes, I would go through all the waiting and consternation and impatience and finally get an album that was as if the band laid a turd in the jewel case (I’m a child of the 90’s, we get it). It felt like a betrayal, like the band personally came over to my house and spit in my face and punched my mom in the tits. This feeling is wildly irrational, obviously – the band is making music they want to make (presumably) and as much as I think it might be, their music is not for me. But that’s the core issue of being a superfan – you can’t rationalize that idea, that their art isn’t for you, it’s for them.
I came into my fandom of Barenaked Ladies in the oddest of places: in a communal, barrack-style showers in a Jewish sleepaway camp in Western Maryland. (That may be one of the weirdest sentences I’ve ever written.) At this camp, Camp Airy, we all took showers at the same time, and it was 20 or 30 pre-pubescent kids in a long row of shower heads and a floor with a few drains, all while a 16 year old counselor sat in a lawn chair and watched to make sure of…something, I guess? That we didn’t fall? I don’t know. Anyway, I remember very vividly once a counselor was listening to Rock Spectacle – specifically, he was listening to “If I Had $1,000,000″ and all the hilarious hidden stuff after that track. I asked for only one thing that Hanukah – a copy of Rock Spectacle. I got Stunt, and I’ve been grateful for it ever since. It’s a wonderful album for a fresh-aged teenager: It’s delightfully sad, with a great sense of timing and wordplay. Maroon, however, seems like a pop afterthought. It seems like an album that was contractually obligated and therefore hamfisted by the record label producers. I hate the term “sell-out” because I don’t think that fame equates to a lack of artistic integrity, but it might apply in this album. It sounds like a shameless attempt to pander to a wider audience, and that’s just a shame.
Showroom of Compassion by Cake (previous album: Pressure Chief)
I literally cannot get enough Cake – I constantly crave for more from this band. Perhaps this is because they have an album problem; namely, they cannot, in my opinion, put together a good album with a cohesive sound that’s engaging top to bottom. That being said, I think Pressure Chief came as close as possible to doing that as they are capable of. It’s tight, it’s poppy without being glib, and it’s heavy in moments only. Showroom of Compassion utterly fails at this. The album is wildly uneven, and is a tough sell from the jump: “Federal Funding” is a monotone, droning, mid-tempo’d disaster of a lead-off track. The album does have its moments, sure, like every Cake album, but they are few and far between. What’s worse is that from what I can glean, the band is moving closer and closer to breaking up, which means this is possibly their last album. That’s a pretty shitty way to leave out, Cake.
In Through The Out Door by Led Zeppelin (previous album: Physical Graffiti)
Ok, so this might be cheating a bit, as this album came out before my parents had even the chance of meeting, let alone getting pregnant with the gloriousness that is me. But my fandom of Led Zeppelin took a very linear route. As a teenager, I was all about the numbered Zeppelin albums, perhaps due to the fact that I thought that’s all the music they ever made. When someone finally smacked across the head and played me Houses of the Holy, I nearly shat my pants in reverence. This was the band at their pinnacle, taking everything they had learned from IV and applying it perfectly. Their next album, Physical Graffiti was legendary. It had one of their most famous songs on it, “Kashmir,” as well as being the model for all rock double albums to come. Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin’s White Album; it’s taking their pop roots to their logical artistic extremes. In Through the Out Door, however, is a soupy deuce. With songs as bad as “South Bound Saurez” and “Carouselambra” (perhaps the worst song they’ve ever written), it’s hard to justify the existence of this album. And fucking “Hot Dog?” When did Zeppelin become a goddamn honky tonk band?
Absolute Zero by Little Green Cars (debut album)
This might be a little tough to justify my (initial) disappointment for this album. I’ve talked about my love for their song “The John Wayne” in my end of the year post, but I feel I glossed over exactly what made this album so disappointing to me on first listen. I had been listening to “The John Wayne” practically on repeat for months at that point, and Spotify graciously let me know they now had their album. I got this notification, however, while I was drunk, so I decided to listen to it the next day at work, which proved ruinous. I didn’t get enough sleep and was totally hungover, and the lead track of the album, “Harper Lee,” begins softly, with an acoustic guitar and lilting harmonies. It was not what I wanted! I wanted the driving electric guitars of “The John Wayne,” along with the oppressive heat from the oven, to beat the hangover out of me. That is not what I got, at all, and while giving the album a few more songs, eventually turned it off for something more abrasive. Had I just taken the time and been in the right mood, I might’ve come to the conclusion I reached recently, that the album is (mostly) wonderful. But for months I pointed to this band as a great example of a single that overshadowed their album.
Everyday by Dave Matthews Band (previous album: Before These Crowded Streets)
This album inspired this post. I may not have been a superfan of any band like I once was of Dave Matthews Band. Shameful, I know, but being a white suburban 90’s child, it was almost unavoidable. I was utterly convinced of their infallible greatness, and that faith was grounded on the artistic achievement that was Before These Crowded Streets. Despite my current opinion of the band, I still think that album is a perfect “next move” album for the band; that is to say, it’s a solid move in an albeit similar but relatively new musical direction, and is a showcase of a band at its absolute peak of songwriting and lyricism. I waited for what seemed like an eternity (four years is a long time when it’s, by that point, 1/4 of your life) for more of this artistic perfection.
Then the news started coming out that they were having problems in the studio. The material they were recording was dark and not at all radio friendly. They then fired their long time producer, which is sort of like a football team firing their coach in the middle of the season: It’s a fucking emergency. But it looked up, at least to me – they hired Glen Ballard, the producer who co-wrote and produced one of the best albums of the 90’s, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. This was a good sign, I thought, the guy who did “You Oughta Know” should be able to handle a deep, dark album.
What came out, however, was a pop mess. Matthews mostly switched to electric guitar (despite that he still was a difficult asshole about it and played a baritone guitar), and the switch negated half of what the appeal was of his guitar playing. His odd runs and bizarre chord shapes sounded fresh and vibrant on acoustic, but on electric they sounded both muddled and generic. And the lyrics were hopeless banal, with none of the depth that was present in nearly every song of Before These Crowded Streets.
The worst part of this is that I really tried hard to like the album. I told myself it was actually ok, the electric guitar did work sort-of alright, the lyrics were never the strong part of the band anyway, the move of focus away from the rest of the band and soley onto Matthews wasn’t egotism but was actually supported by the rest of the band…That’s how I thought, as a superfan, that I somehow knew the specifics of the dynamics of the band interpersonal relationship. But even all that rationalization couldn’t help the knot in the pit of my stomach that told me my favorite band had just released a really bad album.
The worst part of all of this is that not long after Everyday was released, someone leaked the apparently entire album the band had recorded with their now ex-producer, Steve Lillywhite. And it was nothing like Everyday. It was the natural extension of Before These Crowded Streets, meaning it was dark and brilliant. It confirmed, finally, everything I wasn’t willing to let myself believe about Everyday: It was a musical mistake, and my musical gods were fallible. It shook my fandom to its core, and it never recovered. Everyday isn’t the only reason why I don’t listen to Dave Matthews Band anymore, but it’s perhaps the biggest.