Bands decline. Most of them sooner rather than later. Or they break up. Or someone important dies. This makes us sad.
So, in our continued quest to find out more about this phenomenon (and WHAT WE CAN DO TO STOP IT!), we are introducing a new concept to Pop Culture Has AIDS: Science! Or maybe, Math! Or, Some Combination Thereof!
Because maybe, just maybe, if we all put our heads together, and apply scientific theory, we can stop our favorite bands from entering the death-rattle stage of their careers. (Sorry Hold Steady, I fear we may be too late for you.)
For the past several months, I’ve been cloistered in a laboratory with nothing but a turntable, some records, and a host of fancy scientific instruments and measuring tools.
I examined the careers of some recent-vintage, PCHA-approved bands (minimum five full-length albums), and graded all their albums on a simple 1-10 scale. (Nate Silver: better not look over your shoulder, hombre.)
We not have 100% objective, graphical evidence that most good bands experience a decline over the course of their careers to date. The pattern is readily apparent.
Group I: The Paradigms
The Hold Steady
The New Pornographers
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
The Old 97s
Obviously, the patterns of all these bands are remarkably similar, though minor variations exist in the length and severity of their declines. Almost each group here peaks somewhere in their first 1-3 albums, and doesn’t have much left in the tank by album #5 or 6.
A much smaller subset of this group are those bands that mostly beat the odds. They made it decades without collapse, but still ended up succumbing to the ravages of time.
Group II: The Wily Veterans
So is there anyone out there who gives us hope? Anyone who might have a distinguished career similar in length to U2 or R.E.M.? Or even better, a band who might never experience the seemingly inevitable drop-off? A band who might gracefully retire before their “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
Group III: The Potential Outliers
The White Stripes
Am I missing anyone? Are there other current bands who have at least 5 albums out that might buck this horrid trend? Holla at your boy.