Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Suck-Point

A few years back, a friend and I were discussing music, and came to realize that there were a lot of artists who were formerly great and had come to suck. The specific group that this discussion centered on was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We wondered when a group that performed joyous R and B inflected songs started performing song after song in which Anthony Keidis bemoaned his poor sex and drug-filled rock star's life. In the course of this discussion, we came up with the idea of the "suck-point"-- the point in which a formerly great artist started to suddenly suck.

Around the same time, I began to hear the phrase "jumping the shark." It referred specifically to an episode of the old "Happy Days" show in which Fonzie ski-jumped over a shark. It marked the point where the show was struggling for plots, and was rapidly becoming unwatchable. I realized that it was pretty much describing the same phenomenon-- something that was formerly great, now suddenly sucking.

For some artists the suck-point is clear. For Stevie Wonder, it was his horrendous Grammy-winning single "I Just Called to Say I Love You." The amazingly talent guy who'd written and performed so many of my favorite songs-- "My Cherie Amor," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Living For the City"-- was now turning out such tripe. It was heartbreaking.

I was highly amused when I went out to see the movie "High Fidelity," and there was the exact same discussion about the exact same artist.

For other artists, the suck-point is less clear. For the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the suck-point was camouflaged. It was in the middle of one of my all-time favorite albums, bloodsugarsexmagik-- the song "Under the Bridge." If it had been a lone, retrospective song, it would have been great. Unfortunately it was the beginning of a growing string of piss and moan songs like "Scar Tissue," "Soul to Squeeze" and "Otherside."

There are others, like REM and U2 that haven't actually gotten bad-- they've just ceased to be interesting to me. I wish they'd quit just because every time I hear them, I remember how unbelievably great they were when they were turning out albums like "Reckoning" and "The Joshua Tree."

And then there are others who, every time you think they are about to suck, turn out an amazing album, like Bob Dylan, with "Love and Theft."

Do you have a favorite band or artist who reached their suck-point? Who were they and what album or song?


lulu said...

I think U2 actively sucks now. They have become the Bono show, which is a far far cry from what they wwere in 1983. I find ego very unappealing.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Sometimes I feel like my life has been merely a series of bands loved, and bands abandoned, due to the suck factor.

When I was a pre-teen I fell in love in with Elton John (it was the 70s, okay?). It broke my heart when he started to suck. The suck point for him was Captain Fantastic.

Loved the Doobie Bros. Suck point: MacDonald. The Eagles: Hotel California. Pink Floyd: The Wall Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood R.E.M.: Document

You younger kids may marvel that many of the artists I mention were ever good. It's been so long.

I hate to say this, but Bruce has a suck point, and it's that double album travesty Lucky Town & Human Touch. He's only been sporadically good since then.

Danny Tagalog said...

Yes, but the Chili's are enormous here in Japan now. I've never been entirely convinced by them though I haven't listened to any LPs

Flannery Alden said...

I beg to differ about REM sucking, but then again, I discovered them somewhere in the middle, at about the time Document came out, so they are still very fresh to me.

Clay Aiken has reached his suck-point. His second album is unoriginal and bloody awful. It is filled with covers of songs you never wanted to hear a second time, such as Right Here Waiting, Without You, and Broken Wings. It's a waste of his amazing voice.

::whispering:: I kind of like the Chili Pepper's song Zephyr. It has a Beach Boys feel to it, which is strange, as I loath the Beach Boys.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I agree that RHCP have jumped the shark, but for me the point came later - perhaps it's just that it takes me longer to catch on to something. I was fine with them up until Stadium Arcadium, but that one turned me right off.

kim said...

Sean Cassidy
"Under Wraps"

Palette said...

sometimes there is a suck factor, like Miles Davis and Bitches Brew, and then the suckness stops.
Usually to be without suck point, death is usually complicit.
Eventually everything stops being good once it amasses enough people

Erik Donald France said...

Jefferson Airplane --> Jefferson Starship.

Shocking Blue --> ca. 1973?

Rod Stewart. . . anybody's guess

James Brown and Tina Turner -- sometime in the 1980s

I lost interest in U2 by the mid-80s; REM by the late 80s.

More will be revealed. . . . .

Anonymous said...

What's more amazing than someone reaching the suck point is someone who just gets better. I think it's more rare and to be applauded. I've been more and more appreciating Tom Petty... thoughtful lyrics and thoughtful, gentle compositions. Remember how the Beatles (and the Kinks, and Van Morrison) went from poppiness to brilliance? Petty has gone from pop to some really great stuff.

Toccata said...

I think Bob Dylan is amazing and I love his CD Modern Times. I also think another one that has aged like a fine wine is Neil Young. I really liked his Prairie Wind CD.

Jumped the shark? Rod Stewart! He jumped it so long ago it's hard to remember he's the guy that did Maggie May and Mandolin Wind.

Mob said...

I don't know if it was specifically anything starting to suck, but just a 'more of the same' vibe that became apparent with the album Come In And Burn by the Rollins Band.

I still love the older albums, but can't get into his new stuff anymore.

I do still love the spoken word stuff.

And thanks for the 'jump the shark' info, I've long meant to Google the phrase for its origins.

Johnny Yen said...

I completely agree with that. Did you ever hear the joke where Stevie Ray Vaughn dies and is met at the pearly gates by his idol, Jimi Hendrix? Jimi walks him around, introducing him to other dead rock stars. They come upon Bono sitting before a vanity, preening. Stevie is at first upset that Bono has also died, but Jimi assures him-- that's not Bono-- it's God. He just thinks he's Bono...

You're dead on with all of those. I so wanted to like those two Springsteen albums, but they just can't hold a candle to albums like "Born to Run" and "Nebraska."

I've heard Spinal Tap is big there too!

There was a time Clay Aiken didn't suck? ; )

Anthony Keidis' persistant whining have made me not even give any albums since bloodsugar a chance.

Our daughter's love of Jesse McCartney is karmic payback for you listening to Sean Cassidy as a youth.
Miles ended up being a cranky, racist son-of-a-bitch, didn't he? In later years, he just seemed like someone portraying a Miles Davis cartoon.

I actually loved the Starship's first big single, "Miracles." "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" was voted a couple of years ago as the worst rock single ever. Can't say I disagree.

Yeah, Petty still rules. Great live show, too.

Oh my god, yes! I loved all his stuff with the Faces and his earlier stuff, but that "Young Turks" song just sucked. And now he's doing those awful versions of old torch songs. Can't somebody do something about this?

Hearing the Rollins Band just makes me want to hear some Black Flag. I mentioned on another blog the other day that I met Henry Rollins one evening when he came into the Barnes and Noble I worked in while I was student teaching. Super nice guy.