More Often is Better

I mentioned this a few posts ago, but I think we’re living in in-between times. Most people don’t stop everything to watch TV at 8 PM anymore. Most people don’t make a special trip to the book store to buy the newest hardcover. Most people won’t patiently wait five years for their favorite artist to make a new album.

I remember being blown away by Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 classic The Downward Spiral. I thought every song on it was a spark of musical/lyrical/self-destructive genius. I went out and bought Pretty Hate Machine and Broken and the various EPs like Sin and Fixed. But I had to wait five years to listen to anything more progressive than The Downward Spiral; I had to wait five years until The Fragile. Don’t get me wrong, it was worth the wait and I think The Fragile is probably in my top ten all-time favorite albums (it’s one of the few that I can listen to all the way through without skipping tracks), but should a fan who spends every penny of his allowance on your product be forced to wait five years for you to make more product? Weezer understands this.

After releasing Hurley just a few months ago, the band has re-released Pinkerton with 25 previously unreleased tracks and Death to False Metal. This makes five albums in just two years.

Some of the people I’ve talked to say that they’d rather an album be really good than to have some half-assed attempts every few months. I disagree.

These are the listenable songs from Weezer’s five ablums of the last two years:

  1. Toublemaker
  2. The Greatest Man That Ever Lived
  3. Pork and Beans
  4. Heart Songs
  5. Dreamin
  6. Miss Sweeny
  7. King
  8. I Want You To
  9. I’m Your Daddy
  10. Put Me Back Together
  11. Trippin Down the Freeway
  12. I Don’t Want to Let You Go
  13. Run Over by a Truck
  14. Memories
  15. Trainwrecks
  16. Unspoken
  17. Where’s My Sex?
  18. Hang On
  19. Tyime Flies
  20. All My Friends are Insects
  21. Viva La Vida
  22. Represent
  23. Devotion
  24. I Just Threw Out the Love of My Life
  25. I Swear It’s True
  26. You Won’t Get With Me Tonight
  27. Butterfly (Alternate Take)
  28. Long Time Sunshine
  29. Tired Of Sex (Tracking Rough)
  30. I Don’t Want Your Loving
  31. I’m a Robot
  32. Odd Couple
  33. Losing My Mind
  34. Unbreak My Heart

If you can find another band in the last decade that’s released this many good songs in two years’ time, send them my way. I’ll take a listen.

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4 Responses

  1. I’m certainly in that rather-wait-for-a-good-album crowd. I guess matter of what you consider the relevant unit of music for listening.

    You often describe an album as being exceptionally good because you can listen to the whole thing without skipping any songs; for me, that’s a bare minimum requirement for the album to be worth my time at all. An album that I can’t listen to is not a good album.

    But, more to the point, even an album full of listenable songs is not necessarily interesting to me as an album. The Beatles’ blue greatest hits album is full of nothing but great songs in chronological order, for instance, but–no, let me use a different example, because that’s actually a pretty good album.

    The Beatles’ greatest hits album “#1” (or “1” or whatever) is full of nothing but great songs in chronological order, for instance, but there’s no continuity from beginning to end that rewards a straight listen. The chronology means that you’re generally building toward better and more complex music as the album progresses, but it’s not as though that organization carries an inherent aesthetic appeal. You’d enjoy the album about as much on random play, or in reverse order, or in whatever order you like.

    A legitimate Beatles album, on the other hand, feels like a unified experience, with deliberate song ordering and transitions. I’m not suggesting that the balance is ever so delicate that removing a song would cause the structure to collapse. But, when I hear a song off of a great album, whether on the radio or wherever, I generally feel the void when the next song on the album doesn’t follow. On a good album, song follows song, in the same way that in a good song chorus follows verse.

    Producing a nice collection of individually listenable songs is a very different accomplishment from a creating a solid album that plays as a single work of music, and the solid album is a much more powerful work of art for me. I don’t like waiting five years for new albums, but I don’t like albums full of garbage from artists capable of greatness either.

    (As I say that, I cast a dirty look at Beck.)

  2. Sufjan Stevens may be able to beat 34 listenable tracks in two years, though I suppose your mileage may vary on that. Two years gives you Come on Feel the Illinoise (2005), on which every track is listenable, and The Avalanche (2006), on which, well, there are a lot more songs, some of which you might like.

    If you’ll extend the period to two years and three months, you can also drag in Seven Swans (2004).

    If you go back to the 90s, Beck had four albums in 1994 that would take him well over 34, and, if you’ll make an allowance of a few months again, you’ll also have Odelay in 1996. (Or, you could go back to Golden Feelings in 1993, but that’s not going to net you many listenable songs, at least for the non-fan.) I know, who cares, we’re not talking about that 90s, we’re talking about the last ten years.

    Wesley Willis released something like six albums in 2001, all of which is probably listenable, though each song is largely identical.

    The Eels released three albums between 2009 and 2010. If the Eels are your thing, I’d guess it’s all listenable, since most of their songs sound about the same.

    I’m sure someone that actually listens to modern, relevant music would be able to give a better list, but that seems to be neither of us. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly exceptional to release five new albums in a space of two years. Weezer’s obviously prolific. If half or so of their songs are listenable, that leaves you with two, two and a half albums worth of material, and that’s still good output for a two-year period. Although, if a lot of that just previously unreleased material–well, this two-year period starts to look kind of arbitrary, because it’s not like Weezer actually produces music at this rate. They just had a lot of rejected recordings bottled up, and dumped them into the market in a short period of time. Comparing that period of “productivity” to other artists’ production is like using the Beatles Anthology as a measure of creative output. “Three double albums go #1 within a period of less than a year? Over one hundred and fifty tracks released?” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    Wikipedia lists eight albums of original, non-compilation material released by Weezer since 1994. Isn’t that a fairer statement of Weezer’s productivity?

  3. I think our views of what is “listenable” vary quite a bit.
    There are only a few albums in existence where I can go through every track (“And Justice for All”, “Title of Record”, “The Colour and the Shape”, and “Everything to Everyone” are a few). Although I’m not a Beatles fan, I bought the “#1” album because of the sheer number of tracks; the only song I can listen to after repeated playings is “Get Back”. Same thing goes for Beck. I like “Loser” and “Black Tambourine” and “Summer Girl”, but there isn’t really a lot that impresses me about Beck other than his originality.

    As for measuring productivity: I’m not. I don’t care who makes what when. If it’s newly released, then it’s new. It’s like saying (to keep with your Beatles analogies), “I don’t like Ob-La-Di because it’s on The White Album, and pretty much anything off that record was written long before they hit the studio.” A good song is a good song (one of the few Beatles songs I dig).

    The point of the article is to say that I don’t want to wait five years for your next bout of creative genius to strike (for instance, Reznor waited until something horrible happened in his life – the woman who raised him died – before he started to make “The Fragile“). If you’re creative, create.

    I’ll have to check out Sufjan Stevens and Wesley Willis; never heard em.

  4. Do not pay for anything by Wesley Willis. If you read about him on Wikipedia, and listen to two or three of his songs, you’ll get the idea.

    Sufjan is good.

    I’m sure our views of what is listenable vary quite a bit, but more in terms of taste than in height of standards. (And Justice for All, for instance, I rank as the worst album I’ve ever listened to in its entirety.) That is to say, I don’t think I have a lower threshold for listenability, but our tastes obviously don’t align.

    There are probably more albums I’d listen to in their entirety, but fewer individual songs, I’m guessing.

    I got what you meant about Weezer, but what I’m saying is that it didn’t seem a fair means of comparison to wait until they had dropped a bunch of unreleased material and then ask what other band had put out so much music in so short a period. I understand that you don’t care when they made the stuff as long as they’re releasing it, but I’m saying that this seems like an atypical period of productivity for Weezer, given the number of albums they’ve released throughout their existence. I could be wrong, as I didn’t read that whole article about them; maybe they’ve always been putting out crazy live/demo/outtake albums. But, at the moment, they seem like a band of fairly ordinary productivity that happened to release some unusual collections in between new albums.

    In other words, while its clear that Weezer doesn’t wait five years between albums, I don’t buy your point that their five-albums-in-two-years level of productivity implies that they understand your philosophy of musical industriousness.

    [“[S]hould a fan who spends every penny of his allowance on your product be forced to wait five years for you to make more product? Weezer understands this.”]

    In fact, it seems there was a five-year gap between Pinkerton and the Green Album. Maybe there’s an interesting reason for that, but, Jesus, who cares by now.

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