Aging in pop music makes for a tricky subject. It's a youth-oriented medium, and one often geared toward discovery. Thus, a strong debut album usually gets received with a bounty of buzz and accolades. But by album, say, number four or five, the element of surprise is no longer on the artist's side and it's easy to take an act for granted. That is, of course, if a band even manages to stick around for five albums. Some great groups – adventurous punk trio, the Clash, for instance – more or less imploded before it could celebrate a fifth release. Others, such as momentary 90s-era alt-rock stars Elastica, only lasted for two releases. The Sex Pistols? One. Lauryn Hill? We're still waiting for that sophomore set. So today, we extol several artists that have stuck together – five that managed to not only issue five albums, but made the fifth one count.
Grandaddy Last Place
Released early this month, Grandaddy's Last Place is the West Coast indie band's first album in more than a decade. The work contains many of the same themes Grandaddy explored in the past – technology versus isolation, human progress versus a sense of place. Once again, leader Jason Lytle seems lost amid our ever-busy, hyper-connected times. However, there's good news: The music jumps with life. The band's trademark sound of muted vocals, forward-pushing guitars, and just a tinge of synths and electronics remains intact – even updated for the times. The guitars on "Brush with the Wild" twist around humming keyboards until everything locks in step. "Oh She Deleter" mournfully leads into "The Boat Is in the Barn," which melds the nostalgic emotions of looking at old digital photos with an upbeat march and digital orchestrations. Sadness abounds, but the tone suggests a will to power through.
The Beatles Help!
The soundtrack to the film of the same name arrived before the psychedelic expansiveness of Rubber Soul but offers prime evidence of the Beatles starting to stretch out. The explosive title track offers the sort of the melody the band churned out with regularity in its early days, but layers in more grown-up, wistful thoughts. See, also, "Yesterday," and its mournful string arrangement. Throughout, the quartet expands its repertoire, regularly adding in woodwinds and tambourines, and also reaches into more diverse styles. Check out "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," with its slow jangle and punchy rhythms recalling American folk. Or "It's Only Love," with circuitous guitar lines and downtrodden vocal melodies, all of which foreshadow the trippiness to come. All told, from start to finish, Help! survives as a grand statement of maturity.
Iron Maiden Powerslave
The ancient Egypt-inspired artwork makes it clear from the start: Iron Maiden aims for civilization-building grandeur on its fifth album. How else to explain the majesty of the nearly 14-minute "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," a re-telling of the poem of the same name by Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Minute by minute, instrument by instrument, the song lays a foundation and never stops building upon it. Guitars lock, load, and fire, but it's the rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain that holds our interest for the duration. Workmanlike in the song's opening moments, the two strap us in for a rollercoaster ride. Indeed, the pair represents the melodic light at the end of the tunnel as the epic composition burrows deep in its midsection and explodes late. And we haven't even touched on the WWII-inspired pain and aggression of the album-opener "Aces High" or doomsday-scenario charge of "2 Minutes to Midnight." The album's imagery, too, remains iconic.
Wilco A Ghost Is Born
In 2004, Wilco was coming off Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a breakthrough that saw lyricist Jeff Tweedy grappling with the band's place in America while also distilling and twisting its rootsy pop into more sparse, experimental-leaning works. A Ghost Is Born, however, looks more inward, and does so while keeping a similar sense of sonic exploration. The album teems with contrasts. Production-wise, a late-night darkness clouds the songs, even as moments contain some of the band's heaviest guitar freak-outs (see "At Least That's What You Said"). Other tracks are pure mystery ("Hell is Chrome") or capture the band merging rock with slight synthetic textures, such as the nearly 11-minute hot-and-cold assault of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." Save for the esoteric "Less Than You Think," A Ghost Is Born witnesses Wilco cement its status as modern risk-takers.
A Tribe Called Quest The Love Movement
A Tribe Called Quest reunited last year with the combative, politically inspired We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, its first album since 1998's The Love Movement. The latter shows off the hip-hop forebears' less-militant side. It explores the more romantic sides of life via beats that belong in a jazz club. Lyrically, the members woo, promise, and lust (they definitely lust). Even when A Tribe Called Quest takes a poetic approach, its rappers are upfront – a contrast to the sometimes subtle, groove-based backdrops. Start with the celebratory "Against the World," with stutter-stop rhythms, handholding vibes, and a cooing vocal hook. Or go straight for steamier stuff such as the sweaty "Hot 4 U" or more direct "Hot Sex," the latter equipped with club-ready pulses.