Few bands get better with age, especially past a certain point. And whilst they might touch upon the greatness of their youth, they largely live on reputation. Yet fans and critics alike are keen to declare any new release as a “return to form”, even thoug this is very rarely the case. This happened recently once again to Bob Dylan with the release of his new album, Tempest. Yet, if anything it is his weakest release since he returned to artistic credibility in 1997 with Time Out Of Mind.
Despite all of the praise he has received over the past 15 years, these albums are not a touch on the music which made him great and if these records were released by a relative unknown then they wouldn’t have received half the praise or attention. That is not to say they are not good, but they’re certainly not a patch on his creative high point, a point that was so high that it would be almost impossible to reach that height once, let alone twice.
Yet this critical position is the unavoidable dialectical need to both dwell in nostalgia and be ahead of the curve. What you often end up getting then over-hyped praise with a small-print disclaimer informing diligent readers that the subject of evaluation is being graded on a curve which focuses on their more recent, often inferior work.
But people are scared to call it as they see it, lest they devalue the overall intellectual and cultural influence of their favourite artists which could see them slip into obscurity and being replaced by one of the countless other shiny things fighting for your attention. To an extent this is fair enough, if we are honest about it. After all, some might argue that given the great contribution Bob Dylan has made over the decades that he should be given some attention no matter what he does and that is not necessarily a position I would argue with, even if he were releasing consistently terrible material.
But this is not really an article about Bob Dylan or about aging rock stars in general. It is about the weight of expectation.
Now, I am not a fan of Guns and Roses, but even I know that Chinese Democracy was never going to live up to people’s expectations. These things build over time and people get more and more excited and then it peaks and people get bored of waiting which leads to increased demands to justify their patience. Such records can never satisfy the most ardent of fans. Pretty much the only way an album can meet the expectations of such fans is if the record is released quickly, so that there isn’t time for the pressure to build. Often, a release 20 years after a band splits up is likely to be better received than a record for a continually touring band that hasn’t released anything for 10 years. It’s all about the pressure.
For hip-hop fans the Holy Grail is obviously the long-awaited Detox by Dr Dre, which could be the best hip-hop album of all time, but it still wouldn’t meet expectations, due to the length of time he has been working on it. But I am not going to write about Detox at this time, which still shows no signs of emerging.
What I am going to write about is the as-yet-unreleased third album by punk rock super-group the Transplants. Comprising of Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, former roadie Skinhead Rob and newest member Kevin Bivona, they have released two fantastic hard rocking, genre-melding, full-on in your face records full of aggression and melodies.
Whilst their self-titled debut was a more straight-forward hard rocker mix of punk and hip-hop, their sophomore effort Haunted Cities saw them experiment with a variety of genres and if anything surpassed the brilliance of the first.
But that was in 2005 (the debut was in 2002) and they have not released anything as a group since. True, all of them have been very prolific and a whole host of records have been released in the meantime, and there has been some very good music, but as time moves on I become less convinced the follow-up can meet expectations.
Now, not only has there been an seven year gap (so far) between albums, but apparently they have been working on this since early 2010, which means on and off for nearly three years. Earlier this year a single was released online and there are tweets every few months giving updates and potential release times, but so far the record is still not finished and we don’t seem to be getting any closer, with the recent tweet that they have gone from mixing the record to going back into the studio to record some more stuff.
Now, I might be over-analysing the situation and the record might be great, but given the prolonged absence and the quality of the first two albums I am not sure I even want to hear a third record, so high are my expectations, even though I’ve tried to keep them in check.
But either way I will review it upon release. Whenever that might be.