Don’t give them what they want

What is it with artists’ self-re-evaluation of previous work when interview-promoting their latest offering? Or the lack of defence in the face of a critic taking the opportunity to get his/her opinion out there ( Errr… ), seeing theirself as a conduit for public opinion, and/or deeming their preference of import sufficiently weighty to sway the flavour of the artist’s future output?

I rarely shell out for music magazines these days, but yesterday I treated myself to the latest issue of Classic Rock (because I happen to like rock music) as a large proportion of it is devoted to now and then articles on Van Halen, including a review of the new album – the first for fourteen years, and the first (save for a couple of tracks included on a 1996 Best of… compilation) with original frontman (I hesitate to use ‘singer’) David Lee Roth, since 1984’s 1984.

It seems to be herd-think to roundly dismiss that last album – Van Halen III (so named, because it featured the third line-up, with Extreme’s Gary Cherone on vocals) – as a turkey. So, let’s go out on a limb here – Van Halen III is one of Van Halen’s finest. Yet, it tanked, being, so I’ve read, the band’s worst seller. But I love it. Because it took chances. I’m always interested in how my favourite bands evolve; whereas it seems many fans don’t want them to, preferring a kind of young-earth stasis; yearning for nostalgic return to prototype. With Van Halen, they want (or so critics tell them) the first album (which is great, but not their best; for me, that moniker goes to Fair Warning ) all over again. It could be argued that with the return of Roth, and the resort to some early demos, that is what they’ve now done – although it is still rather good.

At the time of release and promotion, an artist readily (contractedly) talks up the new product; then years later they often retrospectively dis it, or concede a critic’s complaint. I once read Robert Plant in effect apologise for his 80s solo output. Why? It’s quality! At least he was trying to move on in a decade when much of rock descended into a sorry MTV-friendly, MoR yawn-fest. If I ever get to sit next to him on a plane, I will ask him if he intended that comment facetiously. I also want to ask him why ‘Ten Years Gone’ was dropped from the set-list for Led Zeppelin’s second Knebworth gig in 1979 (because I was there, and it is one of my favourite LZ songs). And why, why hasn’t the 2007 reunion concert recording still not been released (because I was there…)?

And when Jonathan Ross interviewed David Bowie (around the time of the excellent Heathen, I think), he briefly straightened his knees with a retrogressive complaint about Tin Machine. Ross didn’t approve of this band project that re-invigorated a stale artist on the tailcoats of a lazy, uninspired 80s output, and somehow wanted Bowie to explain himself. It is at moments like this that I would relish seeing the artist responding with two-fingered terseness. Having recently recovered my turntable and vinyl from storage, I gave Tin Machine a spin the other day. And I still, as I have always done, rate it highly. (Although its follow-up was, I grant you, disappointing. Think I will give it a play also, to see if that opinion still holds.)

I recently saw a film obout Ozzy Osbourne, in which he opined on Black Sabbath’s 1978 offering, Never Say Die, his last studio album with the band before he was offloaded. Something along the lines of it being the worst thing they ever did; shit; hates it! Well, it isn’t that bad. Certainly not the greatest among their canon, but neither is the overrated Paranoid. ( Sabotage gets my vote.) Perhaps it might have turned out better if he’d have cut the vocal on its final and best track, ‘Swinging the Chain.’ I do recall, for what it’s worth, seeing Black Sabbath on that tour, with first album-fresh Van Halen in support, and it remains one of the greatest nights of my concert-going life. As does Pink Floyd’s The Wall at Earl’s Court in 1980, which album gets a thorough slating in a review of its new ‘Immersion’ incarnation by David Quantick in said issue of CR. I don’t recollect whether it was he who wrote the review I read in 1979 at time of original release, which labelled it then as the worst Pink Floyd album ever. I didn’t agree then, and I certainly don’t now; although we do align at The Final Cut. Nevertheless, it is good to see a critic bucking the consensus.

Some light Friday blogging self-indulgence. I enjoyed that. Better than some of the mawk-fests that crop up on Desert Island Discs, eh?

Eh?

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