“Grower” albums in the age of instant gratification…and when opinions change

Back in 2016 when Avenged Sevenfold released The Stage, M. Shadows described it in a Facebook post as a “grower album”. In other words, it is an album that grows on you the more you listen to it and subsequently becomes better in your eyes…or ears, in this case.

At that time I was a bit surprised about the post, given that I was not a big fan of the album…at that time. However, after listening to some interviews about the creation of the album, I decided to give it another shot. And then another, and then another, to the point where I realised it’s insanely good, once I got passed my peeves about the lyrics and singing choices the band and Matt took. I mean I still find some of the lyrics from The Stage song and Sunny Disposition annoying, but the songs as wholes are really really good.

Grower album are a trick. I remember back when Rise Against released Endgame in 2011, the album didn’t tick at first. And while I don’t know if the band’s intention was to make it a grower album experience. But to me it was. I didn’t like the album at the first listen. But I gave it another shot. And then another, and then another until I realised that the songs, while different than previous albums such as Sufferer are actually very good and some of them helped me through some tough times in college, so there is that.

We live in an age of instant gratification. It is not as bad as people make it seem to be, but not really good either, as people don’t tend to have as much patience with certain things anymore, things that end up being very good in the end.

Grower albums are just an example, because the same can be said about people dismissing various gadgets as useless because they can’t spare 5 mintues to understand how they work. I almost returned a perfectly good GPS device because of this. But I really needed it and after spending, guess what, 5 minutes to figure out its quirks, I realized how great it actually is.

In the end it’s all down to each individual, but what I’m trying to say is that mastering something takes time. It could as little as 5 minutes to figure out a solution to a small problem or years of practice in order to gain a new skill. Grower albums function in the same way. It takes some time to get the beauty of them, but once you do, you realize the beauty of them. In the words of Axl Rose, “all we need is just a little patience”.

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Music fan elitism

Let’s pick a not random song, say “Lived a Lie” by You Me At Six. I would never have heard of this song had it not been for, you might have guessed it, FIFA 14. Try reading the comments section of this song on Youtube and you’ll be reading a lot of comments from pretentious people saying things like “Am I the only one who’s here because of the fact that I like YMA6?” or “My good taste brought me here, not FIFA” or “true music fans know this song not because of FIFA, but because they’re fans” and so on.

Listen up, pretentious ones. Aren’t you the same people who are always going ON AND ON about how the music YOU like should be more popular? Well, what do you think putting a song on the soundtrack of one of the most popular franchises in history does? You guessed it, it makes it MORE POPULAR!!! Seriously, I don’t get this and at this point all I can do is laugh…well, more likely snort, but you get the idea.

My two favorite bands are Rise Against and Avenged Sevenfold and I would never have heard of them had it not been for Need For Speed Underground 2 and Need For Speed Most Wanted (the good one from 2005…we don’t talk about the other one). Or, I would have heard of them, but much much later down the road.

Knowing of a band not because of a video game but because of some other scenario where someone mentioned it or showed it to you does not make you a truer music fan, if that is even a valid expression. Nor are you a truer music fan by blindly supporting a band even though their latest album sucks. And yeah, opinions change, my opinion of Avenged Sevenfold’s The Stage album (not single, that one I still don’t like) has changed drastically in the last few weeks, but we’ll talk about it in another post.

It is perfectly fine for people to learn about a band from a video game and I’m pretty confident that bands love it when their songs are chosen for games because it helps them reach more fans who would otherwise not know they exist. And this serves your exact damn purpose of having “good music” become more popular, if that is actually what you want because at this point, I don’t even know anymore.

Just enjoy your damn music and let people be happy because they learned about it from FIFA, Need For Speed, Burnout or whatever…it’s really not that hard and it does help in you at least appearing as the mature music fan you desperately want to make people believe you are.

Good music was not more popular in the old days

I am not one of those people who go along and say “music is my life”, but I do love music a LOT, and I also love looking into the lyrics of the songs I listen to, mostly to see if I can identify with them or not.

And whenever I go on Youtube to watch a video of a band I enjoy (Avenged Sevenfold, Rise Against, Queen etc.) there is always that person who goes on and on about how music in the old days was better or more popular than it is today. And that radios or TV channels played better music then than they do now.

Here’s the sad/funny part of it…radio and music channels have ALWAYS played the same type of music as they do today. A while back I was on a bit of a childhood/teenage years music trip and I listened to a bunch of late 90s and early 2000s music and while there was the odd rock track in there, the most popular songs were always repetitive pop songs, such as Music by Madonna, Crazy in Love by Beyonce, Shakira with her 2005 album which was EVERYWHERE, Gwen Stefani with her 2004 album Love Angel Music Baby which again was EVERYWHERE!

You want to go evern further back because the 90s and the 2000s are too recent and that’s when music started its downward spiral? In the 70s and 80s, aside from maybe a few Queen songs and some Led Zeppelin, which were niche songs, the most popular songs were from Boney M and the whole host of disco artists who were extremely popular back then. And as I saw in another video on Youtube, in 1987, when good old Guns’N’Roses released Appetite for Destruction, the number one hit songs of that year was Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley. So yeah, everyone was getting Rick Rolled, even back then.

And if you want to argue that the songs actually sounded better before than they do now, be it pop songs or whatever, simply because everything was better before…that I can actually agree with to some degree. Sure, the themes of cheating on your significant other, having sex with lots of women or men or whatever are still the same and the lyrics of pop songs have not and probably will not evolve beyond this, but some of the songs from the 90s and 2000s sound better. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s because there were actual instruments involved and not a lot of computer generated music, but yeah, some of the songs from those years are much better than some of the ones that are put out today.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that radio and music TV channels have always played pop music way more than other niche genres. It’s the very definition of pop music (well, one of them anyway): pop stands for POPular…meaning a lot of people like it and want to listen to it.

Just enjoy the type of music you like, there is really no need for it to become more popular. You want to know why? Because then, people will be like: “ugh, why didn’t you guys listen to this band before they were popular, like I did”. Ring any bells, this one?

Rise Against – Wolves review

Once upon a 13-years ago, EA released Need For Speed Underground 2. And for me, the most memorable song from the soundtrack of the game was Rise Against – Give It All. It was the song that got me into the band and each and every time they release a new album, I get hyped. And aside from The Black Market and Appeal To Reason (a little bit), I was not dissapointed. Enter Wolves and the trend is back on the right track.

I’m not going to do a track by track review, as each person’s taste is different. Also, reviews like that tend to get long and I really wouldn’t know what to say about some of the tracks as they seem to be very specific with regards to their subject. Anyhow, let’s get this thing going.

Upon the first listen, I was very impressed by two things: the energy and emotion in Tim’s voice and the fact that they’ve changed their style a bit. And it all works out in the end. It’s like they finally remembered how to sing properly. The themes are mostly common to the band, with love, politics, environment and focusing on what each individual can do all being present in various shapes and forms.

Another interesting aspect is that for once there is no acoustic song or ballad on it. One could argue that the same could be said about Endgame, though Wait For Me was a bit slower than the rest. Speaking of Endgame, Wolves has some elements from Endgame on it, most notably in The Violence, while also combining screaming with singing in a matter similar to Sufferer and Appeal To Reason.

Musically, they add in some new and interesting elements, with what sounds like a piano or very processed guitar during the bridge of Far From Perfect and some interesting techniques used by Tim when singing. He tends to syncopate some lyrics and it gives the songs a rough and very…I don’t know how to put it, so I’ll say garage-like feel. The songs don’t feel overly processed or over-produced, which is such a good thing given their somewhat stale work from the previous album.

Lyrically, they’re still up there, even though some songs tend to get a little bit corny, such as Far From Perfect or Bullshit. Funnily enough though, it doesn’t feel cringey, which I was fearing given the direction some artists have went with their latest releases (you know who I mean…and if you don’t, it’s Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold).

All in all a solid album and a solid return to form from them in my book. If I were to pick my favorites from the album, I dare say they would be The Violence, Far From Perfect, Bullshit and Politics of Love, with songs like House on Fire, Welcome to the Breakdown and Mourning in Amerika having the potential to grow on me, the latter mostly because of the very mid 2000s Green Day feel I get from it (I am not from the USA, so the message of it is beneath me).

Creativity, inspiration and plagiarism in music

So I was on VH1 the other day and they played the song Photograph by Ed Sheeran. And I suddenly remembered he had a lawsuit against him from the writers of a song called Amazing performed by someone called Matt Cardle. Apparently Ed Sheeran made a deal with the writers and they are now credited as co-writers to his song Photograph.

But this got me thinking about the 3 things in the title of this post. It’s been a few agitated years for artists such as Led Zeppelin, Pharell and Ed Sheeran, with all these guys having lawsuits filed against them for Stairway to Heaven, Blurred Lines and Photograph respectively. And I am totally for this lawsuits…when there is ACTUALLY SOMETHING COPIED in the songs.

Before you call me tone deaf, yes, I’ve listened to the song Amazing and it would have been really hard for Ed Sheeran to get out of it without having to give some credit to the original writers. The case should have been worded differently though. I don’t know all the details, but it refers to the chorus of the songs and how they found somewhere in the vicinity of 40 identical notes, which is quite impossible from a lawyer-y point of view since the songs are NOT IN THE SAME KEY, even though the chord succession is identical during the chorus and it’s pretty obvious that the voice line follows the same melodic line in both songs.

What I actually have a problem with is people wanting to get rich by filing lawsuits left and right when they don’t have a case to stand on. Pharell’s Blurred Lines song is an obvious tribute to a Marvin Gaye song (Got to Give It Up to be exact), but it’s not a note for note copy of the original song, even though it has the same general feel. The same goes for Stairway to Heaven. I don’t know what happened with Pharell, but I was glad that the Led Zeppelin one didn’t go through and the band didn’t have to pay a dime. I mean, the original members of the band Spirit didn’t really care that much about the whole thing, this only went nuts after the rights to their songs were passed on or something like that. And while the feel of Stairway to Heaven and Taurus is the same, this is caused by the fact that the two songs use the same chords in the same order.

And while eyebrows can be raised towards Led Zeppelin (they were touring with Spirit prior to releasing Stairway if I remember correctly), I don’t believe Ed Sheeran did this on purpose. There is a large time span between the two songs and to be fair, I’ve never heard of the Matt Cardle single before this fiasco. It’s quite possible that Ed Sheeran unconsciously wrote the same line after hearing the song in the background and not realizing it is the same. Or he could have blatantly copied it just as well, I don’t know the guy. When Shape of You came out, there were times when I expected Sia’s Cheap Thrills to play, so…

What I want is for this whole trend to stop. If someone blatantly copies a song note for note then yes, file a lawsuit if you must. But getting mad because a song kind of sounds the same to another one…I don’t know how pop artists or their writers can live with themselves.

Rise Against – House on Fire review

I’m noticing a bit of a trend in some artists as of late, and that trend is to put out a lot of lyrical or audio videos for their upcoming songs. I though this was specific to pop music only, but some rock bands have adopted this idea, with Metallica taking it to the next step and releasing a video for every song off of their latest album.

With that being said, another band that has followed this trend is Rise Against, who released an audio only video for their song House on Fire from their upcoming album Wolves, which is due to be released on the 9th of June this year. Earlier this year they also released an audio video vor another song called The Violence, which I also reviewed.

I didn’t get instantly hooked to this song, as opposed to The Violence, but 2 or 3 more listens helped me in liking this very much. It’s not a political song, which for me is good. It’s more of a relationship song, some people nicely putting it as the follow-up to Methadone, or the prequel to it, depending on how you look. It’s a bit more tame than The Violence during the verses and chorus, which actually helps the song deliver the message pretty well. The bridge however is very intense and during this part you can hear Tim singing in a way I’d definitely like to hear more. You can feel the rasp and the desperation in it, with the person in the song being caught in a very hard relationship which he can’t seem to get out of because of his inability to let go. I personally see it as someone trying to help his or her significant other get out of the state he or she is currently in, a state of depression by the vibe of this song. Luckily, these guys have the ability to write songs that fit more than one interpretation, which is always a good sign.

Overall, this song has a slightly different feel than what you may expect to hear from this band, which unlike most of the stuff from The Black Market, actually works out in the end. It was not an instant hook for me, as I’ve said, but I also didn’t have to listen to it 20 times in order to like it, which is a good return on investment for a song. I don’t know what to expect from this album, but I sincerely hope it’s a combination of both introspective songs like House on Fire and societal songs such as The Violence.

I know some people want them to continuously write songs such as State of the Union or Give It All, but I am actually a bigger fan of their non-political songs (Blood to Bleed, Like the Angel etc), even though Give It All will always be my favorite song of theirs. Hence why I believe a combination of these two themes would be best (see also The Sufferer and the Witness). I definitely don’t want another Appeal to Reason album.

Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage (album) review

I’m probably in the minority on this one, but lucky for me I don’t really care. When I found out Avenged was releasing an album in 2016, I was hyped, as their previous records (starting from their self-titled release) are some of my favorite albums I listen to.

And then they released The Stage. I was a bit confused about the title, but I did get a bit of a concept album feel when I listened to the first verses. And my first impression of the song had something to do with the vocals. I mean, my first thought was “Shadows forgot how to sing…either that or he can’t sing anymore”. I don’t know what technique he’s been using throughout this album…but it’s bad, it sounds like someone is strangling him at times! Seriously, listen to the 3rd act of the song, right before the last chorus, what is going on with his voice there?

Ugh, anyway, instrumentally this song is brilliant, Syn is doing an amazing job on the guitar as is expected of him. But vocally and lyrically? It’s a bloody atrocity. To sum it up, Avenged Sevenfold apparently took to angsty edgy teenagers as inspiration for the lyrics for not only this song, but for 3 of the first 4 songs of the album! Seriously, why on Earth did they think the community of people who post opinions on imgur and 9gag right after jerking themselves off to half naked pictures of celebrities is the place to look for inspiration for ANY SONG? Seriously, go read the lyrics, I am not going to dignify them here, I don’t want to promote things I utterly hate. To add to the melodramatic and angsty teenage vibe of this clip, the video of it is centered around the idea that we are all just puppets that are controlled by their leaders, who in turn are also controlled by someone else. You want to know what the funny part of all of this is? They actually think they are clever and upfront about it. While being upfront, it comes across as distasteful and angsty, two characteristics which are a big turnoff for me.

Moving on, I did not know what to expect from Paradigm, the second song on the album. This one is the exact opposite of the first one. It’s fast paced, has a very good chorus and it touches on the idea of merging humans and computers. But it does so in a very tasteful manner, starting with the idea that because you’re breaking down because of your human limitations, you may want to take this route in order to become basically a super human. It has good lyrics, a very good solo and one of the best choruses they have written.

With my hopes up after Paradigm, I started listening to Sunny Disposition. And my hopes for the album plummeted again. Once again, the instrumental for the song is brilliant, the trumpets on the chorus are an amazing touch. But the lyrics are even worse than in The Stage. Well, maybe not worse, but just as cringey. Take these for example: “I’d make a decision if granted the privilege / But I’m afraid my taste is unrefined / And no one likes cheap wine”. As much as I like Avenged Sevenfold, I wouldn’t listen to ANYTHING these guys would say with regards to running a country, for the same reason I don’t listen to any celebrity when it comes to issues concerning the regular people: they are so out of touch with the day to day life, they can’t possibly understand the struggles of 9-5 people.

My hopes already down, I listened to God Damn, to which they have also released a video. This one steals some of the lyrical ideas straight from Stairway to Heaven. Go read the lyrics to see what I am talking about. While not quite as cringey as previous two atrocities, it still comes short in some aspects. Mostly because I think they have used the lyrics as a sort of metaphor for world governments, because we’ve not had enough celebrities discuss this subject now, have we?

All right, I can’t do every song without people getting bored, so let’s summarize the album and its 2 major themes: “society is falling apart, bro” and “space and AI which we briefly use in 3 or 4 songs”. While listening to the album, I’ve noticed that the AI themed songs are brilliant (Paradigm, Creating God, Fermi Paradox and even Exist) while the other ones suck very badly. And I couldn’t help but wonder why, until I found out that the band had some discussions with Neil deGrasse Tyson prior to releasing this album. And it all became very clear to me as to why the AI themed songs are so good. So I’m guessing the band thought something between the lines of: “So, we got Neil deGrasse Tyson to help us with these AI songs. We need a source just as good for political and societal issues. I’ve seen these radical ideas in the comment section of 9gag and imgur. We should totally use them!”. And the end result was this album, a cavalcade of melodramatic songs mixed with brilliant ones that somehow manage to keep whatever was left of the band’s credibility alive.

I’ve seen people bash Hail to the King. Well let me tell you something. Hail to the King was an honest album. It knew what it wanted to be. A hard rock album, tribute to the bands that inspired Avenged Sevenfold. The Stage is one of those albums in which the band try too hard to be upfront, resulting in cringey lyrics, weird (to say the least) vocals and an overall vibe of “what the f**k were they thinking with this”. And when an artist needs to write a post about HOW you need to listen to an album before you begin to like it (yeah…this is a thing), much like when you need to explain a joke…it’s a bad album.