Six shark jumpers

One of the main problems I have with any successful creative artist, in any field of the arts, is that they often go on for far too long.

Almost any creative endeavour is subject to the laws of diminishing returns, which means that with each successive recording, film, book, TV series or whatever, originality, and the ‘spark’ that first drew me to them, eventually disappears and even artists I admire can end up boring and disappointing me.

However, occasionally an artist will come up with a surprise long after their glory days are over.

Here’s a few choice musical gems that have sparkled for me amongst their career-twilight dross…

Steely Dan – ‘The Things I Miss the Most’: I’m a huge Dan fan and picked up on the band from day one. Becker and Fagen masterminded some stunning music back in the 1970s and 80s and although I realise that their brand of smooth jazzy rock wasn’t to everyone’s taste, there was an edge to it that cut like a knife thanks to Fagen’s world-weary voice. The band reformed in the 1990s and still performs to this day although their two (three if you count a live release) albums since then are mere shadows of what they produced in their heyday. However, this track from their most recent album is a blinder. The lyrics and Fagen’s voice reveal such depths of poignant regret that it stands with their best material, although, it has to be said, Becker should stick to bass and allow a better guitarist to play lead.

The Dictators – ‘Who Can Save Rock ‘n’ Roll?’: One of my favourite US punk acts – I prefer them to the Ramones and Black Flag – Handsome Dick Manitoba’s outfit really have very little new left to say today. However, this track from the recent album ‘Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators’ is a great piece of kickass rock with a serious message, best illustrated by this line from the song – ‘I wish Sergeant Pepper never taught the band to play’. Great guitar work and a macho vocal from Handsome Dick really nail this track as a great example of anthemic no-nonsense rock. It’s one of those songs that make me want to crack out an electric guitar and play it very loudly.

Blue Oyster Cult – ‘Damaged’: I’m not a huge metal fan but I’ve always loved the tongue in cheek attitude of BOC, as well as Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser’s melodic guitar style. ‘Damaged’ is off the ‘Heaven Forbid’ album which was released well after their CBS label years and during a period which saw them gigging a lot, but with no recording success – the days of ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ were long gone. ‘Damaged’ is a fine piece of classic Cult with some fine vocals from Roeser as well as some great guitar. The lyrics – ‘I’m damaged…damaged…it made me what I am’ – remind me of the Who’s ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ in their meaning, although the whole song is much, much heavier with a great galloping rhythm. Great to hear they can still come up with the goods!

Rolling Stones – ‘Undercover of the Night’: OK, this is quite an old track, but then we are talking about a band which isn’t far off its 50th anniversary. The last good Stones album was ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ – much underrated in my opinion – and this track came a good while after it. It finds the Stones in fine fettle with Jagger singing some really very dark lyrics about the CIA and black ops in the world’s trouble spots, whilst Keef riffs away and has some great moments where studio delay effects give his guitar a strange ‘boinging’ sound. Above all, it captures the band being downright nasty which suits the subject matter to a ‘t’. Since this track, the band’s done very little that’s listenable and even the live stuff disappoints.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads – ‘Jack Shit George’ Kilburn and the High Roads produced some great music but, with the Blockheads, Dury really blossomed and the band made some truly great recordings. When Chas Jankel jumped ship, it was downhill all the way and a few albums without the Blockheads saw Dury in the creative wilderness. However, getting together with Jankel and the rest of the remaining Blockheads many years later, Dury’s artistic life went out on a high with ‘Mr Love Pants’ – indeed, this was Dury’s last album before he died. The opening track, ‘Jack Shit George’, has all the hallmarks that made the original band great – funky ensemble playing, cutting lyrics – ‘What did you learn at school today? FUCK ALL!’ (featuring Dury and the band on call and response respectively) – and a classic Dury vocal. It’s as good a track as the original band ever produced and the whole album stands amongst their very best work.

Take That – ‘Shine’: Not that I ever rated the original band very much, but this song from their comeback album is stunningly good and indicates that for at least some of the time, this is one ‘boy band’ which ought to be taken seriously. Fabulous arrangement, melody, chord sequence and harmony vocals all combine to produce one of those tracks that is just perfect pop music. Listen to it on a background music level and you could easily pass it by, but take the time to really hear it properly and it reveals some quite complex depths. The album it comes from isn’t bad at all either, and although much of it isn’t really my cup of tea, it’s well-crafted and a million miles away from some of the cynically simplistic crap that is often passed off as ‘pop’ today. The Jonas Brothers can just kiss my fucking arse…

So, there they are – half a dozen tracks which show that for these artists at least, they could still put out a track that was as good as anything they’d ever done.

You can’t really blame an artist for just carrying on – it’s what they do, all they know and it pays the mortgage, keeps them in drugs, feeds the ego, what have you – but you don’t have to like what they do as they attempt to put old wine into new bottles, or even old bottles as in the case of many of our established ‘superstars’ such as Rod Stewart, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton.

You can tell when such acts are desperate for sales when they put out an album with a boring image (usually of themselves staring moodily into the near distance), often titled with just their surname and having a track listing consisting of covers of their ‘favourite songs’. Such hack jobs really are the last knockings of the creative impulse.

As the Fonz showed us, jumping the shark isn’t always a good idea – even though not jumping may soon remove you from the public eye. However, such is the nature of fame that the public will turn away from you anyway if it’s so inclined.

However, the six recordings listed above wouldn’t have been made had the acts responsible not decided to give it one more try so perhaps they were right to jump after all.

No matter what, though, they sure are six great pieces of music…

One Response

  1. Some great choices there Steve, especially ‘Jack Shit George’ which we scheduled to perform at a UKMGPU but never got round to, due to Le Biff Baff in Telford. A missed opprtunity to perform a seriously funky tune.

    Ian’s last album though was ‘Ten More Turnips From The Tip’. I’m sure I gave you a copy a few years back. A little uneven in places but contains some superb tracks such as ‘Books And Water’ Check it out mate.

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