Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First Albums

First albums are really conundrums. Some are great and some are awful. I've got a theory that the quality of a first album depends on how easy or difficult it was to get that album recorded and released. According to this theory, a band that is recruited too early or who self-produces their first album before they're ready produce lousy albums. While top-of-the-line recording studios are still prohibitively expensive, mid-level recording equipment is relatively cheap, and there are many people running little studios who price their rates really low. Since the barrier then is pretty cheap, some bands can professionally record their material before it is truly ready.

Some of the really great debut albums were released by those bands who crafted their material over years and paid their dues by playing live for years. A typical example would be "Appetite for Destruction" by Guns n' Roses. There's not a clunker on the whole thing. But that's because they chucked a bunch of their earlier material as it grew stale -- or was poor by comparison. (They forgot the "chucking" part when they came out with their massive, bloated "Use Your Illusion" double album).

By contrast, a band like My Chemical Romance got too early a start on the album-making business. Their debut, "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love," was released too early. The material suffers; they hadn't found their distinct voice yet. I would say the same thing about Slayer; the early material just hadn't had a chance to mature.

Queensryche followed an interesting strategy (or Q Prime, their management company, did). They started with an EP. I think that EP is a classic...but that's because it doesn't contain a bunch of half-gestated material. The EP got them out in the public eye, but didn't reveal any weaknesses. (Incidentally, "The Warning" and "Rage for Order" and "Operation: Mindcrime" was a total upward trajectory...just better and better).

In the age of stealing albums over the internet (or many inexpensive streaming options), I think it's becoming ever more important to release only top-quality music. The music industry is suffering terribly, but that's because they've released so much terrible music. Industry executives need to slow down the flood of music. If they require bands to cull through their material and only keep the keepers, then it becomes almost irresistable to purchase an album. All this is in keeping with my general feeling that albums, conceptually cohesive collections of quality songs, are increasingly important even as fans download a song here and a song there.

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