Familiarity breeds contempt - especially musically
You hear a band. You like their music. You buy the album. You play it on repeat. You almost kill it because you love it so damn much.
Then the second album comes. Third, fourth, fifth. And suddenly you don’t like them anymore.
Sounds familiar? Yes, of course it does. It’s usually because their subsequent albums are ‘not as good as the first one’.
We all expect some form of familiarity with the bands we love. We anticipate the recognisable traits, recurring themes and consistency in not just quality but sound. And more often than not, it results in contempt when the band doesn’t deliver the predictable.
As much as we love the familiar sounds which make us love an artist in the first place, we cannot expect them to stagnate and sound the same on every album. If so, what’s the point of making successive albums? They should release one and then just stop.
An artist should evolve and be given the space by fans to evolve – and fans should expect advancement rather than stagnation.
If a band makes an album that sounds like their first album ten years earlier, I would get totally bored and irritated that they haven’t grown up. Why sing about being a punk kid when you’re over the hill?
Prime example here is Green Day. Dookie was awesome genius back in 1994. Following the success, they just began to sound the same. 21st Century Breakdown is Dookie with better funding behind it. Billie Joe Armstrong is now 40 and still dresses like he’s 17. Come on, dude. Grow the hell up.
And don't get me started on Nickelback.
As mentioned previously, Radiohead on the other hand have aged gracefully. Granted, Thom Yorke has just got weirder as the years progressed, but their music has progressed from being extremely marketable alternative rock back in the early ‘90s to niche, experimental stuff that leaves true fans wanting more.
Pablo Honey and The Bends were very much sellable albums with easy-listening and youth-engaging rock. They changed their sound with Amnesiac and Kid A, which fans hated and true fans loved. With In Rainbows and The King of Limbs, the band went off the charts with weirdness and awesomeness, which showed their evolution from angry kids to masters of musical brilliance.
Regardless of taste, there are many examples of this all across different genres. Granted there are some bands where the sameness is awesome, but those are just so few and far between - like Metallica and Guns N' Roses (until Axl went cuckoo).
Now, with the upcoming release of Muse’s new album, The 2nd Law, people are very skeptical of the direction the band is going. Many people hated the last album because it was so drastically different from where the band started. There was minimal guitar work of epic proportions like there was in Absolution and far less angsty lyrics as heard in Showbiz. There was more electro, synth and pop. And the lyrics were almost a call to war rather than the messed up personal journeys of lead singer Matt Bellamy. I liked it for the most part, because I don’t expect sameness. For me, Exogenesis Symphony was Bellamy’s magnum opus.
Now, anyone who knows me would know I am obsessed with Muse and have very high expectations from them. But what I don’t is expect the pièce de résistance which was Origin of Symmetry. I know that with each album comes a different side to the band which reflects different themes, ideas, musical influences and life experiences. I do like a bit of familiarity, but that comes with the essential parts to the band which are always there, like the members’ styles and that amazing epicness, which will always be there.
I respect that, because artists should grow. They should always be experimenting, and doing what they want. Because frankly, as much as sales make their career, an artist might as well quit and get a desk job if they’re not making the music they want to make, and not developing all the time. Stagnant music is boring music.
And as a fan, you don’t have to like it, but at least be open to it.