In this three-part series, PopMatters is celebrating the bizarre, lovely, and funny albums that have emerged from an artist’s desire to try something different. Some are modern-day classics, while others are laugh-inducing commercial disasters. Today: Part Two: The Innovators.
Edited by Evan Sawdey / Produced by Sarah Zupko
DETOURS will run in three installments this week. Monday was the Icons. Today is the Innovators. Stay tuned Friday for the Eccentrics.
There's a song on Blur's album The Great Escape called "Ernold Same", a Beatle-esque spoken-word interlude in which a bored man wakes up and looks in the "same mirror" at the "same man" and later meets "the same ol' what's-his-name", the listener serving as a spectator to a man who's life has been completely consumed by routine. There's very much a reason why none of us wish to live Ernold Same's life: it's because life would be nothing without surprises, changes, and detours.
With many musicians, it's easy to write yourself into a corner. There's a reason why Coldplay have released three albums of "Coldplay-esque" ballads, and why their forth is a kaleidoscopic journey of textures and styles. There's a reason why Oasis detoured for awhile by mixing their Brit-rock with big beat electronica, and a reason why they eventually went back to the sound that made them superstars in the first place. You can never blame an artist for wanting to try something different, and sometimes the change of pace can pay off grandly (why, hello there, White Album!). Yet, let's admit something to ourselves: sometimes that desire to try something new can lead to unexpected, unintentionally hilarious places. When Joseph Conrad described the "fascination of the abomination" that lies inside all of us in Heart of Darkness, there's very little chance that he was talking about Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music; what's strange, however, is just how easily those two items fit together.
With DETOURS, the PopMatters staff is celebrating the strange, bizarre, lovely, and funny albums that have emerged from an artist's desire to try something different. Some of these detours have lead to modern-day classics (Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones). Some have lead to laugh-inducing commercial disasters (Garth Brooks' infamous Chris Gaines experiment). And others ... others are just plain weird (see: Paul McCartney's techno album). All in all, we've gathered up 33 of these fantastic detours, and now, we eagerly re-evaluate each of these fantastic little pieces of rock history.
It should be noted, however, that this is by no means a definitive list: there are still dozens upon dozens of albums that could have easily made the cut. What we avoided were items that were either novelties (no Crazy Frog or Disco Duck) or "ironic" detours (Pat Boone's "metal" album No More Mr. Nice Guy, for example). What we have here are breaks in character that are both genius and equally ill-advised, all in the name of true art. These are some of the greatest Detours in rock history, and now it's your turn to travel down these forgotten paths. Enjoy. Evan Sawdey