The CD comes courtesy of some guy met in a bar who claims to do something or another for this small label. On my drive to work the next morning, I give it a listen. As expected, it’s not awful, but it’s certainly not great. I recognize the semi-famous name of the producer brought in to record the lead track; I like the two other cuts better. The three songs are over in about ten minutes and there’s not really any reason for contemplation. I know I’m never going to listen to the promo disc again; this band is not The Next Big Thing. (So much so that I’m going to let them remain nameless.)
The promo CD gets replaced in my player by the new Von Bondies (“Lack of Communication,” Sympathy for the Record Industry), purchased last weekend at an impressive show here in Detroit. They are a somewhat typical rock band in these parts: loud, high energy, raucous, distorted riffing with plenty of power chords and a nod to our garage tradition (in this case, it’s more Amboy Dukes than MC5). After the show, I was pretty sure they’re the best band in town right now. I was even thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could be The Next Big Thing. But in the clear-headed light of day, their album is a bit of a disappointment. It’s hard for a band like this to capture the energy of their live show; the Von Bondies didn’t.
I start thinking… So what’s the difference between these two bands? Neither one has produced a recording that’s particularly impressive. While I’m still quite fond of the Von Bondies, it’s mostly because I just like garage rock. When I try and look at it objectively, it’s clear that if I was the type of person more inclined towards the classic alternative rock sounds of REM, maybe the unnamed band’s CD would be the one getting tucked away in my collection with hopes that one day I will hear more from them. The bottom line is that my gut says neither band is going to take the world by storm. But why?
When evaluating new music, how do you go about assessing what’s good and what’s bad, and more importantly, what’s crucial? How do you know if an artist is going to be The Next Big Thing?
I’ve thought about this a lot, and it’s obviously a complex issue. I can’t say that I’ve come up with much of an answer, but what I do know is this: If a band or artist is going to rock my world, cause me to go around telling everyone on earth that they’ve just got to buy this new album, that this is surely and truly The Next Big Thing, they have to produce a recording that is so good that in the process of listening to it I momentarily lose my fear. Fear of what, you ask? Fear of being an idiot—for liking the band in the first place.
Remember the Gin Blossoms? They were one of my favorite new bands back in college. Their first album was amazing, particularly for the depth of the songwriting. Then the other guys in the band kicked out their alcoholic guitarist (who just happened to also be the talented songwriter) and stopped paying him royalties. The guy was broke with a serious booze problem, and ended up killing himself. Grisly? Yep. But believe me, you can do plenty of less serious things to cause embarrassment to yourself and your fans. Need I mention the current state of U2, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Aerosmith, etc.?
So here’s my ultimatum to any musician out there who wants to grab the brass ring: Your music has got to make me absolutely sure you are never going to do the embarrassing things that we all know you will do at some point in your career. It’s on this illusion that all of rock and roll stardom rests.