It is inevitable that as bands progress they will improve, They will improve in musicianship, in understanding of the industry and in how to record a record. There is also a trend that as bands progress they become boring, nothing but blunted, unimaginative and slaves to the industry that groomed them.
Let us take a few examples. Oasis being the obvious, a debut album that was ferocious, exciting and raw, by the next album the only merits they had were a couple of good tunes. By Be Here Now they had reached a Weller like plateau of living off a past whilst producing bland, soulless pish. It is a fate that many a popular band has fallen victim to; the Manics, Elastica and the Stereophonics anyone?
When such events occur I always like to show my underground leanings and point out that this end will never meet any of ‘my’ bands. But sadly the evidence piles up against me. The muse for this rambling was on hearing the new Mogwai album and the Evening Session they did in conjunction. The session shows them at their best; fragile, melancholic, raw and very beautiful. But the songs recorded counterparts show a band that has earned a big recording budget and simply tried too hard in the studio because they could afford to. Rock Action is over-produced it is obvious to anyone who has heard the album and the same songs in a live situation.
Will Oldham is another fine example of the underground suffering a similar fate. His original Palace Brother’s recordings were fine scratchy affairs showing that musical passion is far more important than ability any in the studio or on the guitar.
To milk the point dry I call to example Pavement’s Terror Twilight. Stephen Malkmus was happy to blame the short-comings of the album directly on producer Nigel Godrich and it becomes clear when listening that Nigel tried to turn a Pavement album into a piece of excellent musicianship at the expense of the bands talent for lo-fi.
The shining exception to the rule, and needless to say many other rules, are of course Nirvana. Realising they were heading for radio-friendly MOR hell they decided to do the exact opposite and pull in the help of Steve Albini and all his expertise with discordance. Resulting in the harshest sounding album but also showing all the passion of the band and an insight into Kurt’s mindset that no over-polished production (ala Nevermind) could ever achieve.
So the moral of the story. If you join a band and suffer the unfortunate predicament of learning to play an instrument in the process, your only saviour is Steve Albini.