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Recently Gene Simmons of Kiss stated that he didn’t feel the need to record new music. His opinion was that it took a lot of time and a lot of money to create a new album and that rather than buying it, people would “acquire” it some other way and the band would not see a return on their investment whilst bemoaning the fact that it “didn’t sound like the old stuff”. He felt that it made more sense from an earnings perspective to forego new material and go on tour playing the songs the fans were familiar with. I didn’t think about it too much because Gene Simmons makes no apologies for being a shrewd, and very successful, businessman. Hell, Dimebag Darrell was buried in a Kiss Kasket! And I have to admit, when I saw Kiss a couple of months ago I wanted to hear the hits and didn’t really care for the newer songs. Then, more recently, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac said the same thing! Rather than spend a fortune in money and time creating a new album they could instead make a fortune playing the hits to their fans. Business-wise this makes perfect sense for bands that have a large enough body of work to present a show of their hits. But is it the right thing to do? For my part, I don’t believe it is.
While it is true that the era of making a lot of money from recording and selling an album seems to be over what happens to the creative process if artists don’t continue to create new material? Now musical greatness, or commercial viability or consumer awareness seems to go away after a few albums, a topic I will explore in a future article. The muse can be fleeting, top of the pops one day and back in the clubs the next. Some groups start strong and fade, some take some time to reach their peak but I am hard pressed to think about a group or artist with more than a handful of consistently great albums. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to hear what they have to say on their latest release. Kiss may not be able to produce a new album that matches Destroyer and Fleetwood Mac may never achieve the zeitgeist that was Rumours but that doesn’t mean they don’t have it in them to create good songs that can reach the listener on an emotional level. One issue is the mindset that it has to cost a fortune and take forever to create a new album (I’m looking at you Axl Rose).
It has been claimed that the first Black Sabbath album was completed in 8 hours and it is considered a masterpiece of Heavy Metal music, including Paranoid, which was a last minute creation to fill out the album. It seems like Neil Young can ask some friends over to his barn and bash out an album in a weekend. I’m not saying it isn’t good to spend time in the best studios working on getting the sound just right but as the Ramones discovered when Phil Ramone took eight hours to get the opening chord of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School just right it may not justify the investment. When I become emotionally invested in an artist or group I want to discover what they have most recently dreamt up. It could be great, it could be horrid but it is now, not just another take of something I “discovered” 30 years ago.
While it is true that the old fans of a band may be happy hearing the songs they grew up with, where does that put new fans? I would certainly hope artists got into the music game to create and not just for a paycheck. There are easier ways to make money than trying to appeal to today’s music fans. Confucius once said “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without” and like many other forms of pleasure, it needs to be constantly created to continue to stimulate. There is no reason veteran artists can’t compete with young artists with new music, but it would take a willingness to put pen to paper and tracks to wax for the conversation to even take place. Without new material being created, an artist or group truly is a fossil, dead and to be observed rather than experienced. It may be a fantastic sounding fossil that takes me back to some good times in my life, but a fossil nonetheless.
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