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 Post subject: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:00 am 
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Some talk of Pearl Jam's self-titled album in the "bottom 10 songs" thread in PJ Chat got me thinking about its specific breed of "return to form" album, and what others are out there like it. These would be albums where you can see a band very deliberately and self-consciously "correcting course" after a (usually poorly or indifferently received) period of experimentation or deviation, usually by trying to recapture the sound and general spirit of their most successful work. I don't think this is the same as an artist just managing to hit his or her stride again after a period in the wilderness, i.e. Dylan with Time Out of Mind, which was certainly a strong, significant record after a long stretch of inconsistent output, but wasn't really a revisiting of an old sound. Here's what jumps to mind right away:

Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam
U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
REM - Accelerate

I'm sure there are more of these out there but I'm struggling to come up with them. What have you got, RM?


Last edited by Kevin Davis on Tue February 09, 2021 5:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:02 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:03 am 
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I count a whopping FOUR for EC:

Blood & Chocolate
Brutal Youth
When I Was Cruel (definitely marketed this way, though it contains some unusual sounds for him)
Momofuku

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:11 am 
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Jorge wrote:
I count a whopping FOUR for EC:

Blood & Chocolate
Brutal Youth
When I Was Cruel
Momofuku


Blood and Chocolate is a good example. I feel like once he got deeper into his career, the fact that he circled back to those kinds of records every 6-8 years or so just kind of became part of his creative cycle, not so much the kind of reactive "retreat" from critical and commercial failure that something like S/T was. It's tough with solo artists who have long careers because their outputs tend to just sort of naturally move this way.

I definitely remember When I Was Cruel being marketed that way, though, after the Bacharach and Anne Sofie Von Otter collaborations. But I think in the context of his career it doesn't feel to me like a change of course, especially since he released North barely a year later.


Last edited by Kevin Davis on Tue February 09, 2021 2:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:12 am 
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The Ramones had Too Tough to Die in 84 following a string of poppier, more polished releases that started with the Phil Spector-produced End of the Century in 79. They even brought back Ed Stasium and Tommy Ramone to produce. It was explicitly intended as a back-to-basics album, and it was for the most part, but funnily enough it also included "Howling at the Moon" which is basically a synth-pop song.

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Last edited by Jorge on Tue February 09, 2021 2:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:13 am 
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Cat Power - Wanderer

DJ Shadow - The Less You Know The Better

Neil Young - Freedom


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:14 am 
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The next Sleater-Kinney album, hopefully


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:15 am 
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Weezer's Everything Will Be Alright in the End seems to have been designed to be this. They made it explicit in the lead single:

Quote:
Sorry guys I didn't realize that I needed you so much
I thought I'd get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks
I ended up with nobody and I started feeling dumb
Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums

Take me back, back to the shack
Back to the strat with the lightning strap
Kick in the door, more hardcore
Rockin out like it's '94
Let's turn up the radio
Turn off those stupid singing shows
I know where we need to go
Back to the shack


It felt a little desperate

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:18 am 
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Also, wasn't Wilco's The Whole Love kind of this? I didn't get into it too much but I vaguely remember track 1 "Art of Almost" feeling kind of like the band going "don't worry guys -- we can still get weird!"

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:22 am 
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Jorge wrote:
Also, wasn't Wilco's The Whole Love kind of this? I didn't get into it too much but I vaguely remember track 1 "Art of Almost" feeling kind of like the band going "don't worry guys -- we can still get weird!"

Hard disagree. I don't know that they've ever made a return to form album, because each album is its own animal. Only Wilco (The Album) feels like an attempt at crowd pleasing, but it fell in their discography more as a collection of everything they'd done before rather than an attempt to gain back lost fans.

Pretty sure strat is the only Wilco fan who's been disappointed since Nels joines.


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:28 am 
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I'm torn on RHCP's Californication. It came after the heavy rock - psychedelia of One Hot Minute (made w/Dave Navarro on guitar), but it still pushed some new boundaries while welcoming John Frusciante back into the fold


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 2:45 am 
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tragabigzanda wrote:
Jorge wrote:
Also, wasn't Wilco's The Whole Love kind of this? I didn't get into it too much but I vaguely remember track 1 "Art of Almost" feeling kind of like the band going "don't worry guys -- we can still get weird!"

Hard disagree. I don't know that they've ever made a return to form album, because each album is its own animal. Only Wilco (The Album) feels like an attempt at crowd pleasing, but it fell in their discography more as a collection of everything they'd done before rather than an attempt to gain back lost fans.

Pretty sure strat is the only Wilco fan who's been disappointed since Nels joines.


Interestingly, the album I remember having a "back to basics"-type push from Wilco was Sky Blue Sky, but the actual music didn't end up really feeling that way. Same thing with Hail to the Thief -- the marketing was all about how Radiohead was playing guitars again, but it still had a lot of novel elements and didn't at all feel like a throwback to glory days. These records also generally followed albums that were very successful, where the albums in the OP felt like a very specific type of reaction to shortfalls in critical opinion, fan response, sales, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 3:08 am 
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Thinking about whether The Cure's Bloodflowers counts here. After the loony pop experimentation of Wild Mood Swings flopped hard commercially and with fans, Robert Smith set out to create a sprawling mood piece similar to Disintegration, their most acclaimed album. But the "form" they were "returning" to wasn't their early New Wave poppiness -- they would return to that form with their following album, complete with an amped-up marketing push -- but a moody, ornate, Baroque pop sort of sound they'd evolved into. Either way it didn't really work

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 3:23 am 
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Volta is probably this for Bjork, or as close as Bjork gets to this. It was meant as a return to the whimsical feel and (slightly more) conventional song structures of Post and Homogenic after the dour artsiness of the Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack and the weird acapella and Inuit throat singing experiments of Medulla. It's tricky when you talk about an artist like Bjork but that album did feel like a bit of a course correction and return to Pixie Energy after getting a bit too serious and "out there".

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Anders wrote:
Human interaction is important. To love, to laugh, to feel joy, for some even friendship. These are important to life, and a vital part of RM.


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 3:28 am 
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Jorge wrote:
Volta is probably this for Bjork, or as close as Bjork gets to this. It was meant as a return to the whimsical feel and (slightly more) conventional song structures of Post and Homogenic after the dour artsiness of the Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack and the weird acapella and Inuit throat singing experiments of Medulla. It's tricky when you talk about an artist like Bjork but that album did feel like a bit of a course correction and return to Pixie Energy after getting a bit too serious and "out there".

Yeah I like where your head’s at here. It felt like a very safe bjork album.


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 3:45 am 
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Kevin Davis wrote:
Some talk of Pearl Jam's self-titled album in the "bottom 10 songs" thread in PJ Chat got me thinking about its specific breed of "return to form" album, and what others are out there like it. These would be albums where you can see a band very deliberately and self-consciously "correcting course" after a (usually poorly or indifferently received) period of experimentation or deviation, usually by trying to recapture the sound and general spirit of their most successful work. I don't think this is the same as an artist just managing his or her stride again after a period in the wilderness, i.e. Dylan with Time Out of Mind, which was certainly a strong, significant record after a long stretch of inconsistent output, but wasn't really a revisiting of old an old sound. Here's what jumps to mind right away:

Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam
U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
REM - Accelerate

I'm sure there are more of these out there but I'm struggling to come up with them. What have you got, RM?


I do know what you mean by this type of record, and I think one reason they can sometimes be a little tricky to pick out is because they're almost just as much about how they're presented by the band or artist in the context of their career, irrespective of what the music actually sounds like. You mentioned Hail to the Thief before, which was a good example of the critical shorthand of "Radiohead rocks again!" falling short when hearing the actual album.

But oddly, I do feel like these records sometimes don't sound like how they're, for lack of a better term, 'positioned' to sound by the bands themselves. Accelerate is definitely one of those albums you're describing, even though it doesn't really sound much like R.E.M.'s 80s or early 90s work. But it's seen that way because it followed a string of ho-hum records, and Michael Stipe, et al made sure every interview made it clear that they were Back.

Pearl Jam's S/T is the same way; for years, PJ was illustrated as making these impenetrable art records (which is just an odd way to describe things like Binaural and Riot Act). For years, critics kept asking whether they'd ever sound like Vs. Avocado was the first time where they basically said "yeah, we sound like Vs. here" (again, that wasn't really the case, but that was the marketing hook they were pushing).

So, two other examples that strike me as being positioned as returning a band or artist to where they're "supposed" to be, irregardless of how they actually sounded, is Bruce Springsteen's The Rising and Neil Young's Harvest Moon (although the latter is hitting you over the head so hard with the title that I almost wonder if it qualifies).


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 3:48 am 
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Kevin Davis wrote:
tragabigzanda wrote:
Jorge wrote:
Also, wasn't Wilco's The Whole Love kind of this? I didn't get into it too much but I vaguely remember track 1 "Art of Almost" feeling kind of like the band going "don't worry guys -- we can still get weird!"

Hard disagree. I don't know that they've ever made a return to form album, because each album is its own animal. Only Wilco (The Album) feels like an attempt at crowd pleasing, but it fell in their discography more as a collection of everything they'd done before rather than an attempt to gain back lost fans.

Pretty sure strat is the only Wilco fan who's been disappointed since Nels joines.


Interestingly, the album I remember having a "back to basics"-type push from Wilco was Sky Blue Sky, but the actual music didn't end up really feeling that way. Same thing with Hail to the Thief -- the marketing was all about how Radiohead was playing guitars again, but it still had a lot of novel elements and didn't at all feel like a throwback to glory days. These records also generally followed albums that were very successful, where the albums in the OP felt like a very specific type of reaction to shortfalls in critical opinion, fan response, sales, etc.


Sky Blue Sky was such an interesting album, and in a way I now kind of see it as the most extreme example of Tweedy's contrarian streak. There's only so much a band of a certain size and type like Wilco can rebel against, and the easiest thing is the desire of hardcore fans; I was probably at my height as a fan of theirs in that 04-05 range, as they released and toured A Ghost Is Born, and after hearing what the band was doing live with Nels Cline as a new member, I remember everyone thinking the next album was going to be the Sonic Youth/Radiohead mashup they wanted that band to be. That was not what they got in the least.


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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 3:56 am 
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I would say Green Day's American Idiot maybe?

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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 4:21 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Self-conscious "return to form" albums
PostPosted: Tue February 09, 2021 4:28 am 
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