Out with the New, In with the Old
What happens when an old music group or artist releases new music?
Photo via Wikipedia
You didn’t want to be on the subreddit r/RedHotChiliPeppers or on Twitter when the band released their new song “Black Summer” on February 4th. The lead single of “Unlimited Love”, their latest album dropping April 1st, riled up fans who had been waiting on an album for 6 years, which is the longest gap between Red Hot Chili Peppers albums. Granted, any content-starved community was bound to react strongly upon their urge being filled, but to them, the wait wasn’t satisfactory. Fans rushed to social media to express how weird Anthony Kiedis’ singing was. It even somehow overshadowed the awaited return of RHCP’s legendary guitarist John Frusciante.
Truth is, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are just one in a series of older music groups and artists who received bad reviews on their newest releases, only on grounds that it doesn’t fit their usual style. When producing new records, artists are always faced with the same dilemma concerning their creative direction; Should musical artists be able to reinvent themselves, and follow their own path when making music? Or should they give the fans what they want?
I was talking with a good friend of mine, Marius Bertrand, a guitarist of over a decade and a 4th semester Arts and Culture student at Dawson. He thinks fans are an unwavering variable when a band releases new music: “Artists must unfortunately be ready to accept that their personal preference may not align with the desire of their target audience […]. It's a gamble to take that more often than not results in outrage from the fanbase […] who makes the artist powerful in the first place”.
What the fans usually want to hear from their favorite artists is the material that got them into the artist in the first place. “Everyone has an attachment to a certain album that happened when they were a teenager”, says Vince Lentini, a Music teacher at Dawson and an artist himself. That attachment creates a fear that whatever new music the artist creates won’t live up to their early work. For example, “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi is so iconic, how could they do better?
Some artists thrive on sticking to a formula. It seems to be a recurring trend in hard rock and heavy metal bands. Iron Maiden released Senjutsu last year, and it was widely well-received. Glide Magazine praises the album in one of dozens of positive reviews: “Senjutsu is a towering work of heavy metal intensity that's as good as anything the band has ever done before”.
Speaking of intensity, the legendary rock band KISS is in its final tour “The End of the Road”, which Vince Lentini attended. While he often describes the show as excessively good, it still feels reheated to him: “Kiss is one of those bands that took the formula that made them successful in 1975 and they still play the same concert today. Same thing, same pyrotechnics, and they sell out everywhere. Do they have an interest in being more creative? I don’t know, they don’t look like it. But that’s an exceptional band”.
To Vince Lentini, there are two sides to a musician: “You are an artist, a songwriter, but then you’re an entertainer and people are paying to see you. […] The ones paying might not like them changing styles because they like the way they sounded.”
Even if Lentini agrees with Marius that musicians should—to some extent—stay true to their best material, he also expects change from the musicians. As heavy metal or hard rock band members get older, he would like to see something more “mature” out of them. “As a songwriter, as an artist you want to grow. When they form, it’s raw. As they become better they become more open to other types of music and that’s when they start growing”, he also notes.
Therefore, it is not necessarily always bad for a band to change. It’s an evolution of their style that’s ultimately critical to the evolution of music itself. Marius Bertrand picks the example of the Beatles: “They took the risk of evolving from classic boy band to psychedelic rock to everything in between. Although it was a risky gamble, it earned them the status of arguably the most popular band of all time. It's a testament to their genius that they were able to pull off such a trick”.
When a band releases new music, they must find balance between evolving while remaining faithful. Because of bands and artists that dared to do something different and against the norm, we can easily count over 1000 genres and subgenres of music. The bottom line is, as Lentini says, “‘If you’re a band and you’re still around, put out new music’”.