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Published:February 23rd, 2009 15:19 EST
Seinfeld

Alt-Rock Is Dying and Only Old Legends Can Nurse It Back to Health

By Christopher HIllenbrand

First, they became the highest rated network on television. Second, they dovetailed Seinfeld sweetheart Julia Louis-Dreyfus with a hit sitcom. So it was fitting that the Nielsen genie granted CBS their third wish in airing the highest rated Grammy`s show in 5 years.

 Seinfeld

 

And what a spectacle it was: crammed full of theatrics and the sonic products the airwaves were infested with last year. But can anyone remember when the last show of its ilk didn`t have the chain of Record Corporate America firmly wrapped around its throat was aired? Not the liberal with standards writing this diatribe, that`s for sure.

 

I can recollect when the Grammy`s recognized the finest in music and not just the most popular (well not in my lifetime, but on retrospective clip shows anyway). Way back when, when music luminaries like Paul Simon, Prince, and Public Enemy stole the spotlight they rightfully deserved, is how the awards should always be bestowed.

 

Now for those that are quite bitter at how the Music Industry continues rolling out hackneyed, mediocre albums by artists that also fit that pair of descriptions, this passage may seem redundant. For us, dissatisfied with the Billboard`s baloney, it isn`t just some outmoded belief of ours that prevents us from seeing the latent beauty of pop. We can back our sensibilities with cold hard facts: record sales, including on-line sales and downloads, for contemporary pop music has been down for the last umpteen years.

 

Even David Byrne, ex-front man of Talking Heads and underappreciated fringe experimental rock solo artist, had a comment when a music journalist asked what his opinions were on the state of the biz and the downward slope in its profit margins. I knew I hadn`t merely been a fan of Talking Heads growing up just because they were innovative, quirky, and made brilliant fucking music. (For those of you who haven`t heard the album Remain In Light by Talking Heads and are fond of funk and New Wave rock, check out the zenith of Byrne`s creativity yourself.) David Byrne, like me, is a highly intelligent person with simple and true explanations: such as in this case why pop music is slipping down the shitter.

 

To paraphrase the man of my own mind, music is processed and packaged as products instead of art. The industry`s primary target is to get their Artists and Repertoire guys to scout out the hungriest, if not the least bit talented or smart, artists " out there with the look. Catchy sounds can always be generated by a crack-production team: how else could Britney Spears sound so talented on a studio recording and not in concert? Corporate song-mongers can always recycle worn clichés and lift music from catalogs their company owns, to create new songs; hell, hip-hop artists do it all the time, but they call it sampling ". Then they sell a lavish airbrushed super group in front of studio audiences and preteen shows and their staged renditions of the best of the rubbish:  all with the basic directive of earning a buck. Concerning the artists themselves and not the drivel they disgorge: younger is always better, image is key but pretty people can unlock the door to success on their own.

 

This is called the Law of Diversion. It most commonly refers to teen pop, alternative rock, country, and hip-hop: 4 styles stenciled in to attract the most easily manipulated demographics. Once a group`s image is in place, then the group is free to sound as naturally amateurish as they can. That`s why pictures and press releases of the Jonas Brothers, Danger Mouse, Taylor Swift, and Lil` Wayne are propagated before single and album releases. The kids really should know how hip and cute their new favorites are. Not to mention, gang-banger wanna-bes need their artists to have street-cred for them to filter their murderous rants through their sub-woofers.

 

And the Grammy`s had their fill of the aforementioned artists and many more from the same moribund molds. One such group cut from the corporate cloth is a band often mistaken for a great band. I`ll give you a hint: the band they mimic (mimic`s more P.C. than rip off ") is Radiohead. If you can`t infer the answer, then you`ve never had the pleasure to listen to Radiohead, because the band in question plagiarizing Thom Yorke and company is Coldplay. Even their name is torn from the ambiance and timbre of Radiohead`s idiosyncratic sound (though the name Radiohead comes from a Talking Heads` song of the same name from their album True Stories).

 

I first recall hearing their song Clocks " back in senior year of high school, long before I became a fan of, or even heard of, Radiohead, and I knew they were untalented. With my time well-spent in music theory, I now know their hit Clocks " was a simple descending trill on the piano, though I always knew Kit Martin blabbed some ridiculous absurdist gibberish over the noise. Speed of Sound " wasn`t much of an improvement, except a little more cohesive in its production values and a smidge better in song craftsmanship.

 

The 2009 Grammy`s saluted these haughty charlatans mightily with Record of the Year and Album of the Year with their ephemeral success Viva La Vida. Furthermore, they performed the song of the same title, which won Best Record of the Year, at the start of the festivities. If the viewing audience noticed how Chris Martin and his band mates looked like U2 circa 1991, I`ll be the first to call the incident no coincidence. Coldplay has been one of their own biggest promoters, and what better way to convey their majesty than to dress like they just came off stage during the Zoo TV tour. Though I don`t condone U2 assuming the title of Greatest Band in the World " or their hypocritical self-righteousness, I`d rather swallow that bull than Coldplay calling themselves the greatest. And both Radiohead and U2 have at one time or another been called the greatest band in the world by the critical community.

 

From their upbringing strangely mirroring Radiohead`s in Oxford, England, to their unoriginal sound, Coldplay has fabricated it out to be the heir apparent to the title and this most recent failed attempt in Viva La Vida only bolsters the case against them. The album shares the same title as the august Frida Kahlo painting that adorns its cover: a ploy which is just as transparent as it seems. Why is it not surprising that the ostentatious intellectualism that is supposedly behind the album`s subject matter is proclaimed by the very same DJs who are just trying to get Coldplay`s songs airplay? Their inflated, shallow attempt at expressing the complexity of time through apple off his head " in Clocks " is as erudite as they`re capable. The album itself was produced by electronica-pioneer and producer wizard Brian Eno, who polished U2`s finest moments on CD in the 80`s and early 90`s. Coldplay could only think of the blockbusters The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby, and could only think of the magic he`d bring to their musical meandering. I`ll never disparage Eno, but what was he thinking when he signed onto that album that will in time be realized for what it really is: a joke.

 

For those disgusted with my opinion and ready to stop reading altogether, please bear with me because I have credence beneath my words of disdain. But bands can`t trademark certain sounds, so Radiohead will never see a dime from these scam artists; and bands can`t sue for the horrendous fashion sense they pioneered, so U2 will be forced to make do with the piles of green they already have. Surely, there must be some cosmic justice for such a disgrace, and who could`ve seen it happening at a more appropriate time. Though a word of it wasn`t mentioned in the Grammy`s, Coldplay is being sued by Joe Satriani, long-time guitar virtuoso and king of rock instrumentals, for plagiarism.

 

 According to Satriani, the melody to Coldplay`s song Viva La Vida  used several bars of his own tune from his guitar instrumental If I Could Fly  the guitarist released in 2004. Satriani filed the suit in Los Angeles, where Coldplay is subject to copyright infringement laws should they be found guilty. On further examination, both songs have a substantial portion of their respective riffs in common. There have been several sites that have synchronized the songs at the portions where they`re similar. Unless some miracle intervenes in Coldplay`s favor, Satriani should expect a hefty payout to boost his waning musical career. To further illustrate the band`s integrity, Coldplay dodged attempts to receive summons to court to defend the charges served by legal representatives of Satriani`s. A fortiori, wouldn`t it make complete sense for the British popinjays to declare the whole affair poppycock " just for public opinion`s sake, instead of just trying to evade their date of reckoning for robbery?

 

Since Coldplay is inarguably one of the most popular alternative rock bands in the world right now, it`s clear the style is in jeopardy. Critics and un-fans alike anticipate Coldplay disbanding at year`s end as Chris Martin had announced last year. But seeing as I`ve harangued enough of the bad examples from the music, I feel I need to stress that all is not lost for true rock music connoisseurs.

 

A couple highlights of the awards` show were the presentations of the Album of the Year and the Best Alternative Music Album of the Year. The Album of the Year Grammy went to Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The album is a spirited slice of Americana: an often overlooked music style rooted in country traditions, with samplings from musics in the American idiom like rock n` roll, blues, and folk. The album itself resurrected Plant to his former glory while reinventing his musical persona from hedonistic hard rock front man of Led Zeppelin and as a solo artist to a reserved folk duet singer. Of course, the album wouldn`t have been nearly the success it materialized into, without the studio mastery of T Bone Burnett as its producer. This has been his 2nd Album of the Year in 7 years with his 1st attributed to O Brother Where Art Thou. (His career as a producer has received much more publicity and critical attention than his pursuits as a singer/songwriter performer. Tooth of Crime, his 8th solo album released last year is how adult alternative pop/rock off the beaten path should sound. If you`re a fan of roots rock as well as Tom Waits, then you`ll be pleasantly surprised by Burnett as a profoundly sardonic musician.) Radiohead received some flack for the group`s marketing stunt of selling the MP3 version of their album: In Rainbows on a pay-what-you-want  basis earlier last year, but were ultimately praised for the album`s ebullience with the Best Alternative Music Album of the Year Grammy.

 

Overall, the Grammy`s were a poor depiction of artists capable of composing enjoyable and great rock music. Besides Jack White and his Raconteurs, and a few solo artists with modest hits last year, only the pitiful bands engineered by the corporate juggernauts were represented fluently.

 

What ever happened to alternative rockers with conviction and character that strove to release the next great alt-rock album like a Doolittle, a Nevermind, or a Ten? Probably because two out of the three bands that created each of those albums isn`t recording any more.

 

What spurs young musicians to greatness more than true greatness? Though there are classic rock dinosaurs like The Eagles touring, I`m talking about artists who are great and who are off-kilter from pop norms since 1977. Since there are so many groups with deceased members, the list is limited yet still includes the best from their own individual sub-styles. From the text preceding this and everything that will follow, all this is meant as is an argumentative call for great alternative rock groups (still young enough to leap across the stage, yet old enough where their years of wisdom are beyond dispute) to push their petty squabbles, egos, and differences of opinion to the wayside and reconcile for the sake of the fans who made them who they are. And inarguably as a whole, the artists listed below made their richest music together rather than in disjointed parts. In this regard, the axiom stating the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its individual components " is definitely true. Three groups in particular who were innovative and timeless in their relatively short existences were the Pixies, The Smiths, and the Talking Heads.   

 

Doolittle was the crowning achievement by the seminal American alternative rock band of the late 80`s: Pixies. Founded by Charles Thompson (a.k.a. Frank Black in his solo career), a University of Massachusetts drop-out in 1986, the Pixies originally consisted of Thompson and his college roommate, Joey Santiago on lead guitar. After Thompson posted a want-ad for a bassist who liked Husker Du and Peter, Paul, and Mary , Kim Deal heeded the call. On Deal`s recommendation, the other two of the budding musical alliance took on David Lovering as the group`s drummer  were darlings of the indie college rock scene in and around Boston when they released their hailed 8-track EP: Come On Pilgrim in 1987. Though college rock (what alternative rock was dubbed at the time simply because mostly college radio stations aired the style) or the group never received the credit or attention from the mainstream it deserved, the Pixies trekked forward as Black Francis (as Thompson called himself then), and his uncanny knack for songwriting, coalesced his affinities for New Wave, surf rock, and stadium rock with post-pubescent rage into an entirely fresh nuanced sound. During the Pixies` 7-year existence, Charles Thompson finely tuned his innate gift for infectious melodies and indecipherably catchy lyrics. Even from the start though, Thompson tussled for songwriting control with the group`s bassist/female vocalist Kim Deal who had influenced the Pixies` unique fusion of styles tremendously.

 

Surfer Rosa (1988) demonstrated a time when the Deal-Thompson musical relationship teetered on completely dismantling the group. In retrospect, the implosive clash of the two proved to fuel Thompson`s genius at melding angst-ridden tales of incest, innocence, and aberrant affection into concise, punchy, songs packaged into 35-minute albums. Thompson`s wailing meshing with Deal as an eerie chanteuse constructed the vocal palette over Santiago`s grinding axe and Lovering`s start-stop percussive dynamics. This two-part harmony reached its creative peak in Gigantic : Deal and Thompson`s sole songwriting collaboration. Where Is My Mind?  from the album later became the anthem to the movie Fight Club as it played in the film`s explosive closing scenes. After Surfer Rosa became an underground success on college rock stations stateside; it gained notice of British music critics and major label execs on both sides of the Atlantic. Early in 1989, the Pixies jumped the indie-label ship and hopped aboard Elektra, a major record label.

 

Doolittle (1989), their leap into the mainstream, was a neater endeavor than their previous 2, featuring Thompson`s ambitions branching out into folk and country influences as well as developing on the abrasive screeching vocal-guitar barrage from Surfer Rosa. Black Francis (Thompson) also elaborated on the demons in his own psyche to include paeans devoted to mutilation, lust, and puzzling phrases that aren`t intelligible even 20 years after its release. Two singles spawned from the album: Monkey Gone to Heaven  and Here Comes Your Man  rose to the Billboard`s Modern Rock Top 10 list: 5th and 3rd respectively, which consequently catapulted the album to peak at number 98 in the U.S Billboard charts. The album peaked at 5 on U.K. pop charts: only an indication at how popular they would become on the other side of the pond. Like its predecessor, Doolittle underscored another Deal-Thompson penned collaboration: Silver ". This would be the final Deal composition for the Pixies` repertoire which would only add further tension between her and Thompson in the future.

 

Even with their emergent success in the states, the Pixies never attained the level of recognition they received in Europe and Great Britain. Their subsequent Sex and Death tour was a smash success in Europe, boasting the best attendance figures for any of their shows while its leg in America garnered less than favorable numbers. By the end of their second U.S. tour in late 1989, they had grown weary of the road and went on a brief moratorium. In the meantime, Black Francis toured as a solo artist while Kim Deal reconvened with musician friends recently departed from the groups, Throwing Muses and Perfect Disaster, to form The Breeders. Just before their debut album, Pod was released in June 1990, Deal and the other 3 members of the Pixies began recording their 4th studio release Bossanova. Despite its widely varied reviews, Bossanova elevated the band`s stature within the U.S. as Velouria  was propelled to #4 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and Dig for Fire  went to 11 on the MRT chart. The album built on Doolittle`s success and emulated it by reaching number 70 on Billboard`s 200. Critics soon realized this was the start of Thompson`s unbridled control of the Pixies` sound and songwriting. The surf-rock inflected album featured none of Deal`s work. Tours in the U.S. and Britain following the album`s release exceeded all expectations but Deal stood alone on stage at their final British show and said that this was our last show. 

 

Their volatile relationship would exist throughout the band career and would ultimately tear them apart before the band could cash in during the coming alternative rock movement of the 90`s. After the Pixies cancelled their next American tour due to exhaustion , they reassembled to record Trompe le Monde: a warped odyssey through science and space via Black Francis` mind. Both Letter to Memphis  and Head On  peaked at number 6 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. While it was applauded by critics as a welcome regression to their finer albums Surfer Rosa and Doolittle: it relied more upon production values and special effects than any of their efforts before. Following a set of international tours that culminated in a second billing behind U2 during the latter`s Zoo TV tour in 1992, the Pixies went on an indefinite break.

 

As Francis was interviewed on BBC Radio 5, he mentioned the solo album he was currently working on as well as the grim fact that the Pixies were disbanding. The later information shocked Lovering, Santiago, and Deal as they received a fax from Francis telling them they were over.

 

The year was 1993, and the biggest Alt-Rock outfit at the time was Nirvana. Kurt Cobain reverently declared that much of Nirvana`s crunchy grunge sound was indebted to The Pixies` volatile sound textures. But the mentor watched their apprentice go on to phenomenal success and praise, before Alternative Rock was turned on its ear when Cobain swallowed both barrels. By then, the tides in pop music transitioned into schmaltzy guitar rock rip-offs, like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Hootie & the Blowfish disallowing the Pixies to claim their rightful place as one of the best and most successful groups in the world.

 

In 1993, Kim Deal`s The Breeders released their second LP: Last Splash which generated the modern rock hit Cannonball . Her next group: The Amps only recorded one unsuccessful album before Deal abandoned her musical ambitions. Lovering and Santiago reunited in 1995 under the banner of The Martinis: whose songs were included in motion picture soundtrack to the film Empire Records.

  

Following the group`s falling out, Black Francis reversed his stage name into Frank Black and released his self-titled album which received mixed reviews. His second musical offering Teenager of the Year became the milestone in Frank Black`s solo career. Even though the album displayed Black`s strongest and most cohesive songwriting since Doolittle, it never gained the attention from fans who became alienated from him after he disgraced his band mates and Pixies fans. His subsequent release The Cult of Ray was panned by critics, though he has obtained substantial acclaim for his work since.

 

While Black went into the studio to work on his 5th album, Honeycomb in 2003, he announced that he and the other Pixies members had been jamming together and were toying with the idea of performing a reunion tour. Since disbanding in 1993, the Pixies` impressive catalog has been celebrated by legions of new fans longing for Alternative Golden Years and arguably the greatest American band of the epoch.

 

What had been considered an impossible dream became a reality when the Pixies planned a worldwide tour in 2004 with spring and fall dates in the U.S. and summer gigs in Europe. After the tours concluded, the band members went their separate ways.

 

In the past 22 years, Morrissey has banked on his reputation as an ascetic iconoclast. But before Morrissey began his highly successful solo career, he front lined the most trendsetting British indie alternative rock group of the 80`s: The Smiths. The creative force and songwriting team of Morrissey (vocals, lyrics) and Johnny Marr (guitar, music) led to The Smiths to commercial and critical success in their shortened 4-year existence. Marr`s love for British Invasion pop and rockabilly, and Morrissey`s in girls groups and New York Punk jelled to form The Smiths` musical inspirations. Morrissey engaged his deep love of Oscar Wilde`s melancholic poetry with the loneliness in his heart; starting during his period with The Smiths, Morrissey created a literate, droll, sultry and heart-wrenching lyrical style all his own. Influenced by British guitar rock foremost, Marr developed a layered guitar texture on stage and in the studio that as since been imitated by groups like Radiohead and (ahem) Coldplay. Needless to say, their views differed dramatically, which ultimately led to the band dissolving prematurely.

 

The Smiths originally came to be by a mutual friend of Morrissey`s and Johnny Marr`s who introduced them in the spring of 1982. Morrissey (born Steven Patrick Morrissey) only had marginal experience as a singer. He sung with The Nosebleeds for a few weeks and tried out for the job with Slaughter & the Dogs to no avail. As a teenager, he wrote editorials for The Melody Maker often: many of which were published. Prior to turning his attention to singing full-time and penning lyrics, Morrissey concerned himself more with his passions in music history and film. A die-hard New York Dolls and James Dean fan growing up, he wrote books on both subjects that were also published. Marr (Johnny Maher) played guitar for several groups in and around Manchester, and had nearly secured a record contract in a band competition for Stiff Records, when he met Morrissey. Morrissey fulfilled Marr`s search for a lyricist and the duo began to collaborate on songs with Marr writing the music. With a few demos turned down by record companies, the pair decided to recruit members for a permanent lineup. By fall 1982, Marr enlisted an old school chum Andy Rourke to play bass, and Mike Joyce to sit behind the kit.

 

The band by then dubbed The Smiths played live for the first time later in the fall of that year. Within months of playing around Manchester, their hometown, they nurtured a small devoted fan base. Later in 1983, the group turned down a record offer from Mancunian Factory Records and chose instead Rough Trade for a one single deal and recorded Hand in Glove . Unbeknownst to the college rock stations where it flourished, the single conveyed an underlying theme of homosexuality which was still a taboo topic at the time. The single garnered positive reviews from U.K. music critics that paved ingresses into the mainstream college rock. Morrissey`s antics on stage became a sensation in the musical community. He adorned a hearing aid and gladioli sprigs in his pockets while performing; Morrissey`s off-the-cuff remarks about his peers in pop music only added to his image as a nonconformist in the public eye. This Charming Man , their second single, fared better than their first, and peaked at number 25 on the British pop charts in December. What Difference Does It Make , released in February 1984, scaled the charts to number 12 and made The Smiths one of the biggest bands in Britain.

 

Soon before they released their self-titled debut, the opening track of the album, Reel Around the Fountain  received a backlash of criticism for allegedly condoning child abuse. Even after The Smiths was released, the controversy behind Morrissey`s subject matter still hadn`t dissipated as Suffer Little Children " articulated the recent Moors Murders in beautiful poignancy. Though it took so long to be released, The Smiths was extolled by critics and adored by the group`s growing audience in the U.K. and climbed to number 2 on the charts. In an interview following the album`s release, Morrissey condemned the recent music relief tour Band Aid  for being a quick fix for the problems in Africa just for the bands to get publicity. Though their lead singer was a lightning rod for controversy, The Smiths were the biggest new rock band in Britain.

 

America, on the other hand, represented untested waters for their fame to charter. Beyond college rock radio, The Smiths hadn`t yet penetrated the U.S.`s new wave dominated charts mainly because they hadn`t toured in the States. In late 1984, William, It Was Really Nothing  became their first Top 20 hit. Shortly afterwards, they released Hatful of Hollow: an assortment of B-sides, BBC sessions, and singles that rose to the Top 10 Pop Album charts. The album generated the single How Soon Is Now?  which peaked at 24.

Because of recent fortunes, Meat Is Murder, their second proper album, went to number 1 although it was regarded a lesser album than their debut. When he was asked what their 2nd album meant, Morrissey confessed his vegetarianism (hence the title), and in the same breath, censured Margaret Thatcher and right-wing politics. He even went to the length of avowing The Smiths were all vegetarians even though the other 3 in the band weren`t. Shakespeare`s Sister , their following single in the spring, unveiled their new harder-edged guitar rock sound, and quickly jumped at number 26 on the charts.

 

By 1985, The Smiths` success influenced other acts to imitate their guitar-oriented alternative rock, like the group James, who actually opened for them during their spring tour. But The Smiths would endure their 1st setback as the controversial That Joke Isn`t Funny Anymore  was taken off Meat Is Murder.

 

The group would shortly turn their fortunes around when The Boy with the Thorn in His Side  from their new album broke into the Top 40. Their new album, The Queen Is Dead (1986) was hailed as a masterpiece upon its release and hasn`t lost any of its luster over the years. Debuting at number 2 in U.K., The Queen Is Dead finally broke ground in the American underground music scene and catapulted into the Billboard`s Top 100 Albums chart. Pop cornerstones of the album: There Is a Light That Never Goes Out , Bigmouth Strikes Again , and Some Girls Are Bigger than Others  were the some of the catchiest songs The Smiths ever recorded. Coupled with Morrissey`s intimate, morose poetry, it featured his finest songs en masse until he recorded Your Arsenal 6 years later. Based on the strengths of its singles, it became an international smash which led to a worldwide tour. Before going on tour though, they hired ex-Aztec Cameras` guitarist Craig Gannon who then played rhythm guitar on the road. Due to internal problems mostly caused by Gannon, they had to scrap the American leg of the tour. The only song Gannon was a part of was the non-LP track Panic , which topped out at number 11 in August that year. Fitting with precedent, Panic  was criticized as being racist especially with the repeated refrain: hang the DJ .  Unfortunately, following the tour, Johnny Marr was critically injured in an automobile accident. In the meantime while Marr convalesced in the hospital, Morrissey fired Gannon from the band. At the same time, news of Andy Rourke`s heroin addiction then caused him to be kicked out, but he was later readmitted into the band.

 

Going into 1987, The Smiths had then been deemed one of the best and most popular rock bands in the world. Shoplifters of the World  (Billboard #11) and Sheila Take A Bow  (Billboard #10) further illustrated their popularity. Their next singles and B-sides collection The World Won`t Listen (distributed in the U.S. as Louder Than Bombs) opened at number 2 featuring the underground hit You Just Haven`t Earned It Yet, Baby . While at the pinnacle of the band`s fame, Johnny Marr began to feel alienated from his band mates, Morrissey in particular, and the music industry in general. Marr`s and Morrissey`s musical interests had very little in common anymore and Morrissey`s frustrations at how Marr toured with other artists only exasperated matters. Before the critically acclaimed Strangeways, Here We Come was released, Marr quit the band. Without a songwriting partner, Morrissey disbanded The Smiths shortly afterwards and began his lauded solo career on the Parlophone label in the UK and Reprise stateside.

 

In 1988, Morrissey released his eponymous debut: Viva Hate (titled after his acrimonious feelings towards Marr). That same year, Rank, a live album assembled from shows during The Smiths` Queen Is Dead tour, charted at number 2.

 

After touring with assorted acts, Marr finally co-founded the group Electronics with New Order`s lead singer Bernard Sumner. Rourke left music entirely while Joyce joined The Buzzcocks in 1991.

 

One of the few, Morrissey has surprised critics time and time again with a successful solo career over the last 22 years. His 2nd solo effort Bona Drag (1990) reasserted his lyrical form with a new writing partner. The Last of The International Playboys  and Interesting Drug  returned Morrissey to the Top 40 charts on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1994, Morrissey gained a new MTV audience as his hit The More You Ignore Me, The Close I Get " and its music video was aired frequently on the station. The mid to late 90`s found Morrissey at a low point in his career with the bombs Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted.

 

In the next millennium, Morrissey released his 1st studio album in 7 years: You Are the Quarry in 2004 which revived his career with the hits Irish Blood, English Heart " and I Like You ". 2 years later, he released Ringleader of the Tormentors, featuring In The Future When All`s Well " and You Have Killed Me ".

 

Years of Refusal, which went into stores this month, was Morrissey`s return to the hard alternative rock of Your Arsenal and hailed as his best album since 1994`s Vauxhall and I.

 

After years of greatest hit compilations and lawsuits over royalties, The Smiths haven`t yet reconciled over the petty problems that have long since been forgotten. Recently, they were offered millions to perform a single show in London but declined.

 

Though no one can deny Morrissey`s success and growth on his own, the alchemy he shared with his writing partner Johnny Marr in The Smiths was extraordinary. Undoubtedly, if they stayed together, we may be speaking about them in the same breath as The Beatles.  If The Smiths reunited, perhaps even Marr would be honored to play Morrissey`s work circa Your Arsenal given that their musical tastes aren`t all that different after all.

 

Of all the bands the C.B.G.B. scene in the mid-to-late 70`s produced, Talking Heads were by and large the most influential and critically acclaimed of the bunch, if not the most commercially successful. Yes, The Ramones may have been called America`s answer to The Clash for a while, and Blondie was the most bankable group of the lot for a time. But both groups were essentially through by the early 80`s, while Talking Heads were still broadening their own horizons to where pop music could go. The Talking Heads were arguably the best American New Wave band, but it`s beyond dispute that they were one of the best rock bands ever.

 

 David Byrne (vocalist/guitarist), Chris Frantz (drummer), and Tina Weymouth (bassist) were all art students at the Rhode Island School of Design when they met in 1972. But within a year, Byrne flunked out of college and turned his attention to music. While Frantz and Weymouth (who were dating then) were still attending RISD, they co-founded the group The Artistics (or The Autistics) with Byrne.  They graduated with degrees in Art by 1974, when Byrne persuaded them to move to New York City with him to focus on music and to form a new band. To acquire their own sound, they bought albums of some of their favorite artists: James Brown, Parliament, David Bowie, and Patti Smith. With some of the money left after paying for rent in their dive apartment in SoHo, they purchased some musical instruments. For the next year, they worked blue-collar jobs in the daytime and practiced the songs David Byrne composed, by night. Later in 1975, they began playing gigs around Greenwich Village and were gaining a cult following. In time, they became the opening act for The Ramones at the legendary New York rock club C.B.G.B. Like most groups that played at the club regularly, they were discovered by an A&R rep that consorted there. Though he didn`t sign the group to a record contract, Mark Specter did record a 3-song track that included Sugar On My Tongue ", I Want To Live " and the original Psycho Killer ". In 1976 and fresh out of a stint with the band The Modern Lovers, Jerry Harrison became the 4th member of the Talking Heads as the new lead guitarist.

 

In 1977, they signed to Sire records and recorded their deeply revered debut, Talking Heads `77. Infusing new wave with minimized guitar textures and detached and cerebral lyrics delivered by Byrne`s jittery, paranoid vocals, the album was praised by critics even though those not in the artistic crowd took to it. The sociopath themed Psycho Killer " peaked at number 92 on the Pop Singles chart in 1978. While a mainstream audience eluded them, Talking Heads were regarded as the best band in Bohemian New York. Though the album has become more popular over time, it did attract the attention of one of the biggest producers of its day and since, Brian Eno. Eno understood the group`s potential and soon became professional friends with Byrne.

 

Once 1978 arrived, the Talking Heads released More Songs About Buildings And Food with Brian Eno as the album`s producer. The album (wryly titled after the convention that most artists` second album consisted of leftovers from the 1st) developed on the minimalist New Wave/Punk of its predecessor but gave it a dance-inflected, more accessible edge, by way of disco-era synthesizers and funkier rhythms. Byrne added more bohemian subject matter into his growing songwriting abilities as well. Eno`s expertise and keen ear for perfection kneaded the band`s takes into songs neater and tighter than on their debut. Needless to say, critics quickly gobbled it up as an LP on the artistic level as "77 if not superior. The album was rewarded with a placing of 29th on Billboard`s Pop Albums Chart that year. And for the 2nd time, the Talking Heads emerged on the Billboard Pop Top 100 chart with their cover of the Al Green favorite Take Me To The River ".

 

 Fear of Music, released in 1979, featured a rhythm section augmented by West African polyrhythms that dominated the album. Also produced by Brian Eno, Fear of Music was their darkest and most ominous album, highlighted by songs about drug addiction and phobias. I Zimbra " made it to number 28 on the Club Play Singles chart, while Life During Wartime " reached 80 in Pop Singles.

 

Though it yielded several timeless gems, the album couldn`t match the genius of its creative follow-up: Remain In Light (1980). As the swan song to Eno`s partnership with the band, the album marked the fruition of the group`s venturing into melding worldbeat with funk. With the addition of a horn section, the Talking Heads had a wider scope to channel the experiments they began on their 3rd LP. Eno`s mastery in the studio reached its apex as he wound worldbeat around slap bass, synthesizers, and sound effects. The result was an album rock masterpiece headlined by the group`s anthem Once In A Lifetime ", co-written by Eno, about mid-life crisis. David Byrne`s songwriting talents at crafting infectious pop songs came into its own by then, evidenced by Crosseyed and Painless " and Houses in Motion ". The album peaked at number 19 on the Pop Album chart. Once they were finished working on Remain in Light, Brian Eno and David Byrne recorded My Life in the Bush of Ghosts a year later: an early experiment of what we know today as electronica music.

 

Talking Heads toured extensively over the next several years. But by 1983, their creative partnership with Eno had dissolved when they went into the studio to record their 5th proper studio album. In the 3 years since they recorded Remain In Light, they enlisted Bernie Worrell from Parliament fame to be a multi-instrumentalist as well as other musicians and a chorus of female back-up singers for concerts. Structured on the same worldbeat and funk fusion as their previous affair, Speaking in Tongues nonetheless was designed as their breakthrough into mainstream pop. The album`s opener Burning Down the House " leapt into the Top 10 Mainstream Rock and Pop Singles charts respectively. The remainder of the album wasn`t scant in great formulaic dance-pop tunes either as Girlfriend Is Better " and This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) " became mainstays on pop radio.

 

In the meanwhile, Frantz and Weymouth formed another band: Tom Tom Club, and scored the dance hit Genius of Love " which has since been sampled in Mariah Carey. Their Speaking In Tongues tour was their last extensive tour with stops around the world. Unfortunately, it would be their last. But the magic of the tour, including Byrne`s quirky stage presence was captured to great effect in Jonathan Demme`s concert film Stop Making Sense released in 1984. Subsequently, the soundtrack to the film became their highest selling album in due time. By 1994, Stop Making Sense went double platinum.

 

On the heels of their 1st true commercial success, the Talking Heads recorded their 1st strictly pop-oriented album, devoid of any world music or funk influences. Little Creatures (1985) jumped to number 20 on The Billboard 200 chart, mainly because of the pop smash And She Was " and the cheerily grim Road to Nowhere ". Unlike their previous endeavors, the other members of the band contributed heavily to the songwriting process. During the same year, Byrne released his 2nd solo work: The Knee Plays, rooted in New Orleans marching band music for the theatrical tour de force CIVIL warS.

 

In 1986, David Byrne chose to write, direct, and star in True Stories, a film about a series of vignettes torn from various tabloid magazines set in Texas. Strangely enough, though the music in the film was performed by the movie`s stars, its soundtrack, written by Byrne as well, was performed by the Talking Heads. Wild Wild Life " went to number 4 on the Mainstream Rock chart. True Stories was projected to number 28 on The Billboard 200. 

 

In 1988, Talking Heads returned to their worldbeat-infused form with Naked that spawned the modest hits Blind " and (Nothing But) Flowers ". But on further inspection, one could see the album`s similarity to Byrne`s solo effort Rei Momo released the next year. He seemingly saved his better material for his own solo debut since the Talking Heads` album was mediocre overall.

 

Rei Momo delved into Byrne`s growing interests in samba, tango, and other South American musics. Everyone assumed he would balance both careers and Talking Heads` coming non-LP singles proved that.

 

The other members followed suit as well. Jerry Harrison went on to start a successful career as a music producer while Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth reformed the Tom Tom Club, which quickly disbanded after failing to produce another successful single.

 

After an extended period of inactivity, all 4 members of Talking Heads announced that they had broken up in 1991. The following year, they released their 1st retrospective greatest hits collection: Sand In The Vaseline: Popular Favorites. In 1996, the group reunited sans Byrne as The Heads to record the album No Talking Just Head. Since 1996, Warner Bros. has reissued their albums singularly and most recently in 2006 as a Dual Disc Brick which included all their albums newly re-mastered, including bonus tracks.

 

Recently Frantz and Weymouth became a part of the dance-pop groups Gorillaz, which has gone on to score the hits Clint Eastwood " and Feel Good Inc. ".

 

After leaving Talking Heads for good, David Byrne has gone on to critically successful solo career exploring his world music passions. Uh-Oh (1992) announced Byrne`s return to more traditional rock that was repeated in his self-titled album 2 years later.

 

During the last 14 years, Byrne has stayed prolific while scoring several more soundtracks to T.V. and film. While he has proven his worth solo, there is no doubt that his finest work came when he was doing the talking.