February has been a month of heartache for music fans as breakups and rumors of breakups abound. First, the White Stripes amicably quit their courtship, then LCD Soundsystem announced they’d play their last show in April and there was even a rumor about the Gorillaz calling it quits at the top of their game. All of the tragedy aside, 3GM found it strange that these breakups, whether rumored or true, were uncharacteristically harmonious.
Conor Kelley on LCD Soundsystem:
It’s better to burn out than to fade away.
What could be more rock and roll than following through with that line? Although Neil Young is way past the age where he can burn out, and his new work shows absolutely no signs of fading into insignificance, his lyric is still a tried and true adage of the musician lifestyle. Going out while on top almost ensures a legendary reputation in the rock and roll record books. It’s the George Costanza theory about leaving on a high note, and it works like a charm.
In the ’60s and 70s people would rarely leave the game by choice. It was mostly at the hand of drug overdoses (Hendrix), alcoholism (Joplin), french hookers and baguettes (Morrison) or the occasional peach truck (Allman). These days people are hanging up their guitars for a different reason entirely: they see a project’s creative end in sight and walk away before it becomes stale. READ ON for more of this week’s Three Grown Men column…
In the case of James Murphy, that project was the 10-year, three- album band LCD Soundsystem. Murphy has decided that the April 2nd Madison Square Garden show will be the band’s last and judging by the pre-sale line I stood in for an hour yesterday only to get turned down, people are pretty pumped up about this finale. And why wouldn’t they be?
LCD’s entire catalog is beastly. Every album they released is a classic and the B sides are just as rewarding. On top of the band batting 1.000 in the studio, they are one of the best live acts of all time. People don’t go to LCD shows to carefully watch the band hit every change with precision and talk about it later over coffee. People see LCD because it’s two hours of the most bat-shit, wild fun they’ve ever had. People can’t help themselves. Even the guy in the cubicle next to you eating Polly-O String Cheese sticks whole while staring at pictures of his cat right now will jump around like a lunatic during the 11 minute Yeah.
In 2001, James Murphy pondered whether he was teetering on the brink of “uncool” in the band’s first single Losing My Edge. 10 years later, the band is as relevant as ever and Murphy is the one calling the shots. Sure it’s a shame that there will be no more live shows, but the truth is that LCD is doing it right. Murphy respects what he created, but won’t let people’s expectations or the promise of money dictate his creativity. The best part is that he has no choice but to take that talent with him to fresh projects. LCD may be leaving us with a bang but maybe James Murphy is the next person to neither burn out nor fade away.
Jonathan Kosakow on the White Stripes:
So the White Stripes have called it quits, huh? Didn’t this happen four years ago? No? Well, it certainly seemed that way. Since Jack White has become Rock and Roll’s most rock and roll guitarist, I thought he left that band behind.
Last year saw the first White Stripes album since 2007, and it was a live album. Their last studio venture, 2007’s Icky Thump was an album that reached #2 on the Billboard charts, but still won’t be remembered as “monumental” as Elephant, Get Behind Me Satan or White Blood Cells. Those three albums took the music world by storm, and the Stripes gained more notoriety with each one.
Here’s me speculating on what happened: Jack and Meg White got famous and the world realized an incredible talent. Jack, of course, ran with this good fortune, and jumped on board with every project he could get his hands on. His hubris on the guitar is practically unmatched in these times, and he was able to use the White Stripes as a launching pad for his now high-profile, multi-project career. Since being engulfed by that fame, every two years he would find his way back to the band that he helped create – and that created him – to make an album, tour and then go off on his own again. In 2010, one more return to the old school probably seemed like the best way to let the White Stripes down easy: one last bang before each member calmly walked away.
I’m going to go ahead and say it. As a band, The White Stripes’ best music is behind them. You won’t find another Elephant hiding within them. And, like so many others are finding it fashionable to do, they are throwing the bread to the birds just as it starts to get stale. As disappointing as this fact is, it’s not really a bad idea. I’ll gladly keep those albums on my iPod, and I’ll surely throw them through some large speakers every now and again, but I’ll be even happier to see what comes of each of their new found freedom. Neither Meg nor Jack should have too much trouble making a go of it in the solo world, and they seem to be pretty content with the decision. We’ll see what happens on the reunion tour, but for now this is one breakup that was done with grace.
Kevin Smallwood on the Gorillaz:
Apparently the primary British figureheads of the Gorillaz, Daman Albarn (musician) and Jamie Hewlett (cartoonist) have been experiencing creative differences. Recent whispers of turmoil and an article from UK magazine, The People, suggest that the Gorillaz are calling it quits; and so it seems appropriate to at least speculate over their conclusion. (Yesterday, the rumors were dispelled).
Accessible only through their artistic representations and infectious concepts, the Gorillaz are like the Banksy of the music industry. Albarn and Hewett have ingeniously constructed an anti-establishment machine in which a virtual projection of the band as cartoon-characters is the most important cog. In the physical sense, the band is actually a revolving door of different musicians that have contributed in various ways to each of their three albums. With this elastic blueprint, Albarn and Hewlett have made an ironic commentary on how an audience latches onto the image a performer projects, rather than his or her actual identity. The enthusiastic acceptance or pure ignorance of their social criticism (by both the industry and their audience) may either be their greatest artistic victory – or failure – depending how you look at it.
When most successful bands break up, they usually leave behind a catalogue of music, a few friendships and a number of embittered fans who vow to smash all their records. If Gorillaz broke up, it would just be the end of the story, much akin to the final issue of a graphic novel. The band members aren’t static so the relationships aren’t deep enough for infighting and the albums are released so far apart that fans aren’t emotionally attached. In the end the whole thing has always felt a bit detached; like casual sex between the band and the fans. When it’s all over, everyone will raise an eyebrow in reflection, light a cigarette and move on.
If Albarn and Hewlett were to part ways and the cartoon band were to dissolve, it would mean that every new door they have opened in the past 10+ years can be accessed by anyone with the balls to walk through them. Gorillaz have done for music what Lewis and Clark did for America. They extended the musical world with digital content and continuously pushed the limits of what can be accomplished in the studio. These are the guys that asked Danger Mouse to produce a record before he was über famous; earned Dennis Hopper a spot next to Morgan Freeman on the list of incredible narrators; and created an entire album on the iPad.
If the Gorillaz quit today, they’d do so at the top of their game…the ultimate anti-establishment move. Hopefully they realize they could never come back without crumbling the empire they’ve built on their principles. But luckily for us it sounds like the experiment will continue on, for now.