So, I’ve been reading the posts on the forum about the upcoming studio album and the comments about the tracks we’ve heard thus far.
I’ve read the positive and the negative comments and I’ve been very much reminded of the discussions that occurred during the release of both Stand Up and Big Whiskey.
I promise that it’s not my intention to create a re-hash of topics already discussed ad nauseam in previous posts. I’m also very much trying to avoid a discussion of “this is awesome” or “this sucks”. I’d instead like to talk about the experiences of a die-hard DMB fan and what has contributed to where I am today, as I imagine others might be too.
I’ve followed the band since ’96, when I was a very young and impressionable 15 year old. I very much dove in during the “Crash” era. I’ve gone on to see 30 shows; and the two upcoming shows at Alpine Valley will add to this total; which I’m very excited to do as I’ve not attended this venue before.
But I digress….and will apologize up front that this is likely going to be a long, sometimes tangent-filled post. But I find it difficult to adequately describe how I feel now without understanding how I got there.
I, like so many, was blown away by unique sound created with Crash and was immediately hooked. I think we can all remember that time; all of us much younger than we are now, regardless of how old we were at the time. I loved the “live life to the fullest” sentimentality and the phenomenal musicianship. It just felt so much more rich and immersive to me than anything else I was listening to at the time. I really connected to it and it’s absolutely the album I think of when I think of music from my high school days.
Then came Before These Crowded Streets. Although I absolutely love this album and consider it to be amongst the top 5 albums I’ve ever heard, I will, somewhat embarrassingly, admit that I HATED it when it first came out. The sound was just so much more complex and I couldn’t really get into it. It was also so HEAVY lyrically. I thought it was a real downer, to be honest. Over a period of about six months, I forced myself to listen to it and it grew on me more and more with each play. As we all know, BTCS has gone on to become the most universally accepted as THE defining album of the band; and rightfully so IMHO.
I’m going to have to spend a little time talking about Everyday. Ironically, there’s lots to say about an album….that had precious little to say! Truth be told, it’s not a completely terrible album; and if it had been released by any other band, I’m sure I’d have a pretty neutral opinion of it. There are four things that make me hate it though, as unreasonable as they might be:
1. It is the follow-up to what many consider to be the band’s greatest album…..and it happens to be their weakest
2. They scrapped what I feel would have been a stunning companion piece to BTCS in tLWS in order to record ED instead
3. Dave relegated the “Band” part of DMB to “studio player” status, which I think is pretty insulting to all involved
4. Up until it’s release, I felt as though the band could “do no wrong”. It felt like such a sell-out at the time and it’s hard to look back at it in any other light. I was 20 when it came out and the concept of a “hero” meant a lot more at that age. Dave kind of lost his “hero” status for me when this all played out.
Looking back on it at 31 years of age now, it all seems so melodramatic, quite frankly. But my reaction to Everyday changed views on the band- and this has influenced my subsequent perceptions about them since.
I’m not going to spend much time on Busted Stuff. It was a good album. I, like many, feel as though a properly released LWS would have been better. It certainly sounded like DMB, which was great. It still feels a little hollow, because the tracks are a reminder of “what could have been”. I will say that I popped the album in a few months ago for the first time in a long time (I listen to live shows far more often than the studio albums) and enjoyed it a lot more than I remember at the time it came out. This is probably because I was more able to appreciate it based on its own merits as an album and not based on the baggage I was carrying at the time.
For the purposes of this post, the next two albums are probably the most relevant.
When Stand Up came out, I remember that the band made the album listenable on their website about a week before its release. I gave it a listen, and to be honest, didn’t know what to think at first. I logged onto Nancies.org and started to read the comments. Although it’s hard to imagine now, I’m sure that many of you remember that they were OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE!! People were praising the album and specifically, Mark Baston for helping the band to evolve their sound. Seriously, people were eating it up! I wish the old Nancies message board posts were still available. I’d love to go back and read the posts. I wanted to believe too and for a time, was able to convince myself that it was a really good album.
At the time Stand Up was released, I was living in Calgary, AB. The band really never played anywhere near Calgary and so I had very little opportunity to see them live. As a result, my “obsession” with the band (and staying current with what was going on) was probably at its lowest between ‘05-’07 (when I moved back to Toronto). As a result, I had no idea at the time that the shine of SU had come off for pretty much everyone. The cracks (ie weaknesses) really shone through after multiple listenings- and (with the opposite effect of BTCS) got worse with each listen.
People also got sick of hearing the new tracks live; which I’m afraid might happen with every single new studio release moving forward.
Which brings us on to Big Whiskey. Now, I’ll go on record right now and I say that I really do quite like this album. It came out at a time when the band was really at a cross-roads with the untimely death of LeRoi Moore. It was also a return to what I can best describe as the DMB “Summer Sound” and genuinely had me excited to see the tracks live (which I certainly couldn’t say about ED or SU). With that being said, people went BANANAS for it. Calling it part of a newly coined “Big Four”, the response was immense. However, after about a summer and a half of touring these songs, community sentiment towards the album changed dramatically. I’ll say that personally, elements that I really didn’t notice/mind at first also started to detract from my enjoyment. The vocal treatment is probably the biggest and seems only a couple of steps away from “auto tune” on some tracks. The album also seems very much Boyd-light.
Again though, it was so interesting to see the collective community seem to turn on the album over the past 3 years. Now, this phenomenon was certainly not as prominent as it was on SU, but it does make me wonder how effective we as a collective fan community are at objectively rating our favorite band’s music. And I also find myself saying about the album “it’s really good, but…….”.
This all leads me to the whole point of this post in the first place (thank you to those who stuck it out to the end with me).
I find it so incredibly difficult to honestly and objectively rate new DMB music anymore. I nearly ruined two really good albums of theirs for myself (BS and BW) because I was constantly comparing them to their old records, rather than allowing them to stand (or fall) on their own merit. Furthermore, and I don’t quite know how to say this, but because of the baggage that many of us carry as a result of Everyday, and some of their subsequent lackluster offerings, I think that many of us are still waiting for the band to “turn the page” and return to where they were 14 + years ago. I’m afraid that if we go into this album expecting this outcome- something that will “undo” the “mistakes” made over the past 11 years, that we’re all going to be bitterly disappointed. I don’t think that “turning the page” is what the band is really trying to do. These guys just aren’t in the same place today that they were in when UTTAD, Crash or BTCS were created. In fact, I’d challenge anyone who was around when those albums were released to objectively look at their own life evolution during that time. I would imagine the things that are important to you today are quite a bit different than what was important 15 years ago!
Which leads us to where we are today. I’ve been reading all of the comments on the boards- the overwhelming support for the album and the immediate leaps to attack anyone who says anything negative about what’s going on. It all rings remarkably similar to what I read when SU and BW were released. Which makes me a little afraid. I think when the full album drops, people are again going to go bananas. It will be the newly created “big four” all over again.
I’m really afraid that, after a year or two of touring these new songs, people are again going to realize that the introduction of the new material means you’re going to hear Tripping Billies and Jimi Thing less than you did before, which is automatically going to result in people again hating the new music.
Yes, Lillywhite is a GENIUS- and not just for the work he’s done with DMB. U2’s War is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard and I’ve recently had the chance to fall in love with it all over again through the magic of Vinyl. He’s also produced some turkeys (Jason Mraz’s Mr. A-Z, as an example).
What this tells me is that a producer is there to help the band to get the most out of their recording process, but ultimately it’s the band’s work that most significantly informs the final product.
I have no doubt that Steve Lillywhite is the man to help the band move forward and as a result of his collaborative efforts, this record will be the best it possibly can be, given the source material created by the boys.
What I’m not going to do is immediately compare it to their previous efforts, good or bad. I’m not going to say “it’s part of a new Big Four”, or “it’s the best album since BTCS”. I think that puts too much pressure on it and sets it up to fail long-term.
What I will say is that the two new studio tracks that I’ve heard thus far sound quite promising. I’m particularly impressed with Mercy. I think there’s a good chance that this is going to be a very good album.
Beyond that, I’m going to withhold any further speculation and will do everything I can to judge the final product based on its own merits; baggage free.
I really hope that this all doesn’t come off as too preachy- and I certainly want to be clear that these are my own experiences and that I’m not trying to thrust them on anyone or assume that everyone should feel the same way.
I’m genuinely interested to know what you think!