We’ve all done it. We’ve gotten hooked on a band or a singer in their prime and stuck with them long after they’ve been relegated to playing county fairs and supermarket grand openings. But why? Why do we stick with such bands? They’re not playing the same stuff they played when they became popular.
I suppose the worst case of this for me was the post-progressive rock band Asia. If you were a teenager like I was in the Age of Reagan, you probably have fond memories of their debut album, which had hits like “Heat of the Moment” (hilariously invoked by Cartman in an episode of South Park) and “Only Time Will Tell.” There were other songs that caught people’s ear on that album. “Wildest Dreams” became wildly popular in Europe at the time, and most Americans will cite “Time Again” as the album’s best song. And then they followed up with Alpha, which sounded like Asia, but with only John Wetton on harmonized vocals and waaaaaay too much reverb. Basically, studio trickery robbed that album of the balls that made the first one a hit. But I stuck with them. I was getting into prog at the time, and the idea that guys from Yes, ELP, and King Crimson could cross into the arena rock realm drew me in. But then Wetton got replaced by Greg Lake, who got replaced by John Wetton. (That was not a typo.) Yes guitar great Steve Howe quit. Still I stuck with them for Astra, which sounded like keyboardist/producer Geoff Downes masturbating into his sequencer with the reverb turned up full.
I should have given up on them with Alpha and said “Thanks for the memories. See in you the 2000′s when you’re all old and doing nostalgia tours.”
Usually, I have a good instinct about sticking with a band. I absolutely hated everything Deep Purple released in the 1980′s and 1990′s after Perfect Strangers. But Deep Purple is nothing if not ever-changing. My ire was mostly directed at Ritchie Blackmore, who seemed to view his original band as the latest line-up of Rainbow. Don’t kid yourself, Ritchie. Rainbow was good, but it wasn’t that good. Especially after Dio and Cozy Powell left. But then in 1994, he joined. He was Steve Morse, formerly of Kansas and the Dixie Dregs. Morse could play as well as Blackmore and hold his own with his temporary predecessor, Joe Satriani. (Now there was a missed opportunity to make Purple fans say “Ritchie who?”) Morse not only could play brilliantly, but Purpendicular was like the album that should have followed up Perfect Strangers.
A more questionable one is Marillion. Oh, I like Marillion, but they sound nothing like the band that produced “Kayleigh” and “Lavendre” in 1984. That band, led by vocalist Fish, was a throwback to the classic Genesis, which Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and Steve Hackett had all abandoned a decade earlier. Fish, however, was burned out from excessive touring and touring excesses. So he left. Marillion hired new wave singer Steve Hogarth (better known as “h”) to take over. H could handle Fish’s material and even write his own. (Which is why I think it was a mistake for them to hire a lyricist back in 1989, but I sense record company interference.) But by the time the H-led Marillion found its groove, they had more in common with Radiohead than Genesis. So why did I stick with them?
Simple. I never got to see them when Fish was their singer. Too bad. An old girlfriend said she could walk right into Sudsy Malone’s and talk to Fish while he did laundry and caught whatever band was playing there. So my only two Marillion shows featured H. But that worked out, at least in snagging me as a fan, even if they’re a completely different band now (despite having 4/5 their 1984 line-up). When they went independent (and accidentally kicked off the crowd-sourcing movement), H’s lyrics and the band’s music started paralleling some events in my life, right up to the divorce-influenced Happiness Is the Road.
But sometimes, we stick with a band that, instead of creating something new that’s more ours than the crowd’s, we end up following them for because of one or two songs or even a decent album that sticks in our memories. Unfortunately, instead of producing a Purpendicular or a Happiness Is the Road, we get Astra.
And then we see them on Palladia at a nostalgia festival where they only induce us to go looking for a Duck Dynasty marathon.