Everywhere there are critics and people with opinions (yes I am one of those too). Critics have power, or at least think they do, which is a potential danger to us, the artist and fan, as we feel that we have to alter who and what we are for their approval.
The reality is that the critic’s power is one we give them. John Peel became more powerful the more we wanted to listen to the new band he presented; equally as more bands knocked on his door, tape in hand. If no one cared then John Peel would have been John who? Good news is that in the big picture John Peel probably did far more good with the bands he chose than those he didn’t.
Of course if John Peel didn’t choose your band then it was easy to feel that you had no value. Having no value meant that you needed to be something different from what you were. You only had to watch the kids as they came and went from nightclubs to know that when John changed his mind, the kids changed their clothes. John didn’t invent fashion but he became a powerful curator.
I’m sure there would be many instances of artists who took the bait of fashion and saw that catapult them into their greatest successes. Maybe ZZ Top are a great example as they definitely hit the lights with “Legs”, “Sleeping Bag” etc. Embracing the synth trend took the ZZs from being another Tex-Blues band to being bona fide stars with a string of hits and a lasting impression on Rock.
Before you leap on the current wagon train, consider that ZZ Top were very good. “Afterburner” may not get wonderful press today because to critics it sounds too 80’s (and how that offends them) but it is a very good record. It is fun from go to whoa, notes and mixes are where they belong and above all it has passion.
I don’t know why ZZ Top picked up synths, but when they did they created something unique. Sure you could say it was a bit like Keith Forsey’s Billy Idol but it also wasn’t. ZZ Top took a new color into their palette and made something so incredibly ZZ Top with it that they made something special. So special in fact that other acts wanted to follow – think AC/DC with “Who Made Who” & “Thunderstruck”.
It is harder to track acts who changed course after taking bad press to heart and failed miserably as a direct result of trying to give the critics what they wanted. Time wants to forget these artists for two reasons; 1) they weren’t part of the declared “cool” (any fans who did follow the new record and talked it up immediately became outcasts) and 2) because their art was no longer good art as it had nothing to say (past desperation to belong).
We do know that Rod Stewart lost self-confidence in his songwriting and probably therefore ability to sing great (new) songs as a result of critics.
Tom Waites v.s. Rod Stewart
Tom Waites was a favorites of critics, especially beginning in the 80’s as his records became harder and harder for the average music fan to listen to. Tom deliberately put himself in the position of being the eternal elitist by making ever more challenging records. I won’t say anything bad about Tom as he charted a very strong course and wrote some really great songs. I know this because Rod Stewart sang them.
At that same time in history Rod was a whipping boy for critics. They stabbed him for every song he recorded. “Young Turks” is a great song but officially it is over-produced 80’s trash. Just about every critic says that Rod’s cover of “Downtown Train” is “asinine”. Now that is a big word. I think maybe the critics are just offended that Rod took Tom’s exclusive “un-listenable” song and made it listenable – let the masses in on their secret. Rod also covered “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda) and that is equally a lovely song and singing of. When a song is well written and well sung , fashion or other agendas have nothing to do with it.
Make Love, Not War
Don’t listen to critics – Make art
Make YOUR art. The thing Life put you here to make.
Cliff Richard has pretty well managed to do that over his very long career. After wading through the interesting but angry-making “Tom Waites 1983-2006 Under Review An Independent Critical Analysis” DVD I popped on Cliff Richard “The Soulicious Tour – Live at the O2” concert. The opener, “From a Distance” had me unsure, but I know that artists often have to get through the first song or two to get in the zone. Cliff got in the zone and after that it was a performance that ranged from polished to fun whilst always staying true to the art and story of the songs.
Cliffy Bastard is one of the baddest cats in R&R because he knows who he is and is so damned good at being only that. He doesn’t shy away from delivering his 80’s hits just as they should sound. He gives his devoted fans exactly what they are there for. I got “Carrie”, “Some People” and “Wired For Sound” – including the “I like loud speakers” from the fade that I fully expected to get dumped.
Sir Cliff had guest artists. I saw that on the cover and it concerned me. Most times I see guest artists it is a bad sign as the guests are hacks and they are there to prop up the careers of all involved. The new songs are lame and these “names” are there to distract and spread the lure. Not the case here as every guest hits the stage with a quality performance. It was particularly nice to see Lamont Dozier and Percy Sledge give charming performances. The new songs are also great. Some could have been hits in 1964. That is not an insult but a compliment, especially to “I’m Your Puppet”.
Now I may seem off-track but I am showing you how an artist making the art they are born for, regardless of what the self-appointed critics say, still moves fans. Do that.
Do that and only that.