Runnin’ on empty

What the heck is going on with some classic rock bands these days?

Yes, I am yet again going to age myself by talking about “old stuff” but seriously, one of my great true loves is music.  I play it all day while I work.  I play it while I cook.  I play it whenever no one else is around.  And when I’m in the car?  Yeah, I’m that idiot that’s pounding out the beat on the steering wheel, air-drumming to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and singing really badly to damn near any song that comes on.  Yeah, that’s me.

And I’m still very loyal to a lot of bands that are still pushing out some flat-out amazing music three and four decades on.  Cheap Trick, I’m looking at you here.  Those guys still smoke like no one’s business and it kills me that I’ve never gotten to see them live.

Bands that I never thought I’d hear about coming back and putting out some good stuff, like Blondie, the Cars, Journey, Yes (those last two with brand-new vocalists).  I’m dying to hear Rush’s new album, because the song “Caravan” smokes.  You might even say Kansas is still kicking, as they put out stuff under the name Proto-Kaw.  Meat Loaf isn’t waiting around for Jim Steinman to write him a bunch of songs with long-winded titles for the next Bat album, he keeps chugging out the tunes.

Even Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony walked away from the Van Halen trainwreck and put out two wicked Chickenfoot albums.  Who else?  Thomas Dolby (remember “She Blinded Me With Science”?  Yeah, even him!).  Those from the bad, bad Eighties are even back.  Kim Wilde (“Kids in America”) and the Waterboys (“The Whole of the Moon”) put out some decent stuff recently.  Even America put out a new album.  Yes, it was all covers, but at least it was not their own stuff redone.

So that’s lovely.  Decent music coming from some artists that may be past their prime but still can deliver the goods.

My question is, what’s going on with the rest of them?  By that, I mean, why are they suddenly feeling the need to dig back into their old (but still vital) catalogue, and redo the same damn songs they’ve already done before?  Isn’t that a little…I don’t know…masturbatory?

“I could write some new stuff like Cheap Trick, Yes and Journey…or I could just go back to my first two or three albums…you know, the really popular stuff…and redo them.  They won’t be as good as the originals, I know that, because I’m thirty years older now and I’ve played them a million times a year in concerts.  And it won’t be the same musicians, so they won’t have that same respect and love of the originals back when they were written (in fact, maybe some of the musicians weren’t even born when the songs first came out)…so it sounds like a really bad idea.  LET’S DO IT!”

Who’s done that?

Alannah Myles, she of the “Black Velvet” song, decided a couple of years back to put out an album called Black Velvet.  Go figure.  So the first song you get is a trippy, dance-club craptastic version of what used to be a great tune that simmered with Memphis heat and actually made you think Elvis was sexy.  This is Alannah in her fat Elvis mode.

I love Suzanne Vega.  I loved her before Luka and I loved her long after everyone else gave up on her.  And for the last couple of years, she’s been intent on rerecording a ton of her back catalogue as mostly acoustic.  Yes, it’s warm, up close and more personal (in fact, the albums are titled Close-up), but why not do that with new stuff?

Peter Gabriel.  Ah Peter, how I used to idolize you.  You were inventive in the Eighties when almost everyone else was boring.  You tamed somewhat later on, but you were never ever boring.  Then came your last two albums.  Scratch My Back, a bunch of the most droning boring-ass covers I’ve ever heard, then you follow it up with New Blood, which is, funny enough, all your old tunes, without the quirkiness.  Shame on you.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Everclear.  I don’t know if it’s because I can identify with the main singer/songwriter Art Alexakis because we’re the same age, or if it’s my undying respect for the amazing cover he did of Van Morrison’s “Brown-eyed Girl” a song I’ve never appreciated until Everclear did it.  The owned that song.  Anyway, now they come in with Return to Santa Monica where they stroll through their old songs.  You can’t quite hear the yawning, but I’m sure it’s in there.

But most of my ire is reserved for these last three.

First up is Atlanta Rhythm Section.  One of the best of the southern bands and creators of “Imaginary Lover” and “So Into You” amongst a host of lesser-known gems.  They come out, not necessarily swinging, but more missing with the ineptly titled With All Due Respect in which they proceed to butcher not only some of their own afore-mentioned gems, but also extending the bloodshed out to Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Loving You” and Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” among others.  No respect is shown here at all.

Next up, Styx.  I’ve been justifiably proud to be able to say that Larry Gowan (remember “A Criminal Mind” and “Strange Animal”?) from Canada (yeah, yeah, Scotland born, but mostly Canadian) replaced the nasty Dennis DeYoung and actually has the same keyboard chops and, at least as far as I’m concerned, a similar but much more pleasant voice.  Less reedy and whiny.  Anyway, taking a page from Everclear, Larry and what’s left of the Styx crew dug back into their catalogue as well for Regeneration Vol I & II.  Again, I ask, why?  You can’t improve on the perfect cheesiness of “Come Sail Away” or “Lorelei”…and yet, here they are, giving it a shot.  Thinking about changing that band name to Stynx, boys?

Finally, there’s Foreigner, likely my favourite band of the bunch.  Yes, their lyrics could be misogynistic as hell at times, but still, riff for riff, there wasn’t a lot of bands that could touch Mick Jones.  And Lou Gramm was one of the best vocalists of his age.  Couldn’t write lyrics worth a shit (see the earlier misogyny) but man, that dude could sing.  Surprisingly, they’ve managed to find another vocalist in Kelly Hansen who’s, if not Gramm’s equal, he’s very, very close.  So why not put that guy to use, right?  Get some new songs hoppin’!  He can’t be any worse at the lyrics game, right?

Or, instead, they could plunk out Feels Like The First Time, that covers the same old ground.

You know, Stephen King started out around the same time as some of these guys.  How would you take it if he came out with a book called, say, White Death and you found out it was Carrie all over again?  Or one called Overlook that was actually just The Shining with a different name?  Yeah, you’d be ticked off, right?  You’d be thinking it’s time for him to hang up the word processing software and go fishing, right?

Granted, Dan Brown can put out The Da Vinci Code, after he’s already written it and called it Angels & Demons.  But still…

It just kinda sucks, is all.

Then there’s the guy who beats them all.  The one guy with the World’s Biggest Cojones.  Who is this undefatigueable maverick, you ask?  Who is this mad genius?

Why, none other than William Shatner.  He’s just released Seeking Major Tom and it is the most awful…painful…hilarious…absolute guilty pleasure you’ll ever hear.  It’s actually so incredibly bad, it’s good.

Don’t believe me?  Watch the video for “Bohemian Rhapsody”.


8 thoughts on “Runnin’ on empty

  1. Tobin, you certainly know your music! I was living in Europe during the 80’s so I missed a lot of this musical era, but who I did follow was The Police, Tom Petty, Eurythmics, The Cars, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Clapton, Tom Waits…to name a few. Sort of an eclectic group! I know exactly what you mean about doing remakes of songs. Leave them alone!

    • I’m all over the place musically too. From the country-rock of Poco and the Eagles through the brain-sludging wail of Godsmack and Alice In Chains and on to Frank Sinatra and Billie Holliday. About the only things I stay away from are full-on country, dance and rap. It kills me that my kids know all these great classic songs only because some punk (or even worse, Glee) has come along and redone them. Badly. Usually with some sort of a rap break in the middle that contains the words “text”, “facebook”, “cellphone”, “fine” and “I’ma” and every word that should end in “er” instead ends in “ah”, so over becomes “ovah” and lover becomes “lovah” and so on.

    • …who are one of my top three bands (along with the Beatles and Steely Dan) who, with some of the most incredible musicians on the planet and two phenomenal vocalists in Henley and Frey (as well as two of the best songwriters of the Seventies…Henley continues to be to this day) they somehow managed to put out one of the most forgettable “comeback” albums ever. The Eagles had the odd stinker song, but they were never…EVER…forgettable.

  2. Hey Tobin, even Sting is into re-hashing old tunes … grrr. Boycotting his latest. Is it laziness? Do they have to keep re-producing music to keep money in the bank? Or where they’ve fiddled with great stuff, are the just old and fuddy duddy enough to kid themselves into thinking its ‘nuvo’? Great post!

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