This week’s most notable release has been Fragrant World, the curiously titled new album from Yeasayer, which came across our desk a couple of weeks back and has been on occasional rotation at Flavorpill central since. Our impressions of the record are that it sounds basically like its predecessor, 2010’s Odd Blood, and thus nothing like the band’s debut, 2007’s All Hour Cymbals. Given the acclaim that their debut received, it’s curious and rather disappointing that Yeasayer have moved away from its wide-eyed eclecticism toward a more conventional sound. Still, they’re hardly the first band to change the sound that brought them to the public’s attention — we’ve put together a selection for your reading delectation after the jump.
Before: Strange world music-influenced eclecticism
After: Identikit Brooklyn “hey, look, we have synths!” stuff
So, yeah, Yeasayer: what happened? Their debut album, 2007’s All-Hour Cymbals, wasn’t for everyone, but it was a pretty fascinating beast: full of strange African rhythms, choirs, and god knows what else. There was a certain ingenuousness to it, like a bunch of kids discovering a heap of music in a hitherto unexplored corner of a record store and deciding to make everything they heard into an album. Since then, though, they’ve settled into making the sort of mildly psychedelic synthpop that it seems compulsory to make if you live in Brooklyn. Sigh.
Before: Slap-happy, mildly camp synthpop
After: Portentous stadium rock
Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon, Depeche Mode were already well-established as ’80s dancefloor staples (“Just Can’t Get Enough,” etc. etc.) by the time Dave Gahan decided at the end of the ’80s that he wanted to be a rock star. The result was two of the finest albums of the band’s career — Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion — and Gahan’s near-death from a heroin/cocaine overdose.
Before: Winsome psychedelic noodlings
After: Portentous stadium rock
We guess that if you somehow went back in time and played ’70s Floyd to a ’60s Floyd fan, they’d have refused to believe it was the same band (if they could actually string a coherent sentence together, that is). The band’s great stylistic shift coincided with the departure of Syd Barrett for la-la land, and the consequent rise of Roger Waters to songwriting prominence. By the mid-’70s, Waters was in complete control and the band was making weighty concept records that sold gazillions of copies and sounded absolutely nothing like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. We rather prefer Waters-era Floyd, but it’s ultimately a matter of taste.
Before: Misfits cover band
After: Shoegaze devotees
The big shock with The Horrors’ 2009 album Primary Colours wasn’t that it was so different from its predecessor — it’s that it was so good. After all, the band’s first album, 2007’s Strange House, was largely clichéd sub-Misfits horror pop, and while it did well enough, charting in the band’s native UK and getting the NME all hot under the collar, it hinted at nothing remotely interesting in the band’s future. Happily, that all changed with Primary Colours, which was a fine piece of neo-shoegaze that deserved all the acclaim it got.
Before: Best guitar band of the ’90s
After: Warp devotees
And, of course, speaking of bands who transcended relatively uninspiring records, there’s Radiohead, who’ve undergone at least two great stylistic shifts. The OK Computer to Kid A transition was the more relevant one in this context, since the band were already global megastars at the time they decided that actually they’d rather make experimental electronica than experimental guitar music. The decision made for a legion of bewildered fans, but a decade on, Kid A and Amnesiac stand up rather well indeed.
Before: Freeform pysch extravaganzas and ambient excursions
After: Pitchfork pop
M83, by contrast, hadn’t exactly achieved global renown in the early part of their career, but they were doing fine — purveyors of well-respected ambient dream-y goodness, they were signed to Mute and getting a bunch of good press. That all changed with 2008’s decidedly pop-tastic Saturdays = Youth and its chart-destroying successor Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which catapulted Anthony Gonzalez to bona fide stardom while being substantially less interesting than his back catalog. So it goes.
Before: Angry left-wing punks
After: Angry left-wing musical visionaries
The Clash and Give ‘Em Enough Rope established the Clash firmly in the top tier of first-wave UK punk bands, but their next two records — London Calling and Sandinista! — proved that they were far more interesting than that. The latter was perhaps too sprawling and ambitious for its own good, but the former remains an enduring masterpiece, a gleeful romp through the history of rock ‘n’ roll that also serves as conclusive proof that a band can (and should) continue evolving.
Before: Most excellent psych weirdness
After: Sub-girl group Cali tedium
Come back, Pocahaunted! All is forgiven!
Before: Cheesy pop and child stardom
After: Hyper-cool electropop and angular haircuts
A curious fact about Robyn: for all the acclaim received by the various Body Talk releases and her 2005 self-titled record, her best-selling US album remains 1995’s Robyn Is Here, which was released in her native Sweden when she was 16 and contains two US top 10 hits (“Do You Know (What it Takes)” and “Show Me Love”). There are others who’ve reinvented themselves after child stardom — see also Björk, Alanis Morrissette, etc. — but Robyn is probably the one who enjoyed the greatest fame the first time around, which makes her reinvention all the more remarkable.
Before: The Devil incarnate
After: Suit-wearing piano balladeer
Even in his most hell-raising days, Nick Cave had a way with a love song, so perhaps the somber, restrained piano ballads of The Boatman’s Call shouldn’t have come as a great surprise. Still, his 1997 masterpiece was quite the stylistic shift from its predecessor — the gleefully malevolent Murder Ballads — and it was a resounding success. It also meant for a couple more albums of diminishing returns on the same idea, but happily, he’s regained his old fire of late, even if we’re not as big fans of Grinderman as everyone seems to think we should be.