Change is essential to the artistic progression of any artist. But sometimes bands so drastically change the fundamental elements of their sound that the band is almost unrecognizable. Here are six artists that made the transition, some more successfully than others.
Hit: Beastie Boys
Before: License to Ill sold the Beasties as beer drinking, womanizing frat boys rapping over slabs of guitar riffs. They were lambasted by the hip-hop community for their loose interpretation of the form and by critics as misogynist douchebags.
After: the trio remade both their sound and social outlook on its funky, sample-happy follow-up, Paul’s Boutique, an album that remains a landmark in both hip hop and pop music in general.
Key transition track: “Shake Your Rump”
Miss: Smashing Pumpkins
Before: Billy Corgan and co. were the single biggest guitar band of the early 90s to not come out of Seattle. After the grunge bubble popped, the Pumpkins blew up their sound to stadium-sized proportions with the double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
After: The group ditched the heavy guitar riffs and embraced the then nascent sounds of electronica on Ava Adore. Fans fled in droves and the half-hearted mea culpa Machina/the Machines of God couldn’t turn the tide. The band split shortly after.
Key transition track: “Eye”
Before: The kings of Britpop, Blur were the posh art-schoolers to Oasis’s working class heroes. Nevertheless their Anglo centric anthems soundtracked many a punter’s night out.
After: The band looked to American indie rock, resulting in the musical restlessness of their self-titled album that pointed the way forward for the band and particularly lead singer Damon Albarn.
Key transition track: “Beetlebum”
Miss: Liz Phair
Before: Debut Exile in Guyville was reportedly a female response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street and remains an indie classic. The later single “Supernova” Trojan-Horsed Phair’s feminist politics into the alt-rock mainstream.
After: For reasons that remain beyond comprehension, Phair hooked up with Britney Spears’ producers, the Matrix, to pen an album rejected by the indie world that birthed her and the mainstream alike. Her career has never recovered.
Key Transition Track: “Why Can’t I?”
Before: Pablo Honey positioned the group as Britpop also-rans trying to jump on the grunge bandwagon, but The Bends and OK Computer remain high watermarks of the alt-rock era.
After: Fejecting guitar rock completely Radiohead embraced the electronic sounds of Warp Records and made Kid A, a modern masterpiece that remains a cultural touchstone that’s influenced everything that came afterwards.
Key transition track: “Everything in its Right Place”
Miss: Neil Young
Before: Young’s sound changes like the weather, but the country-rock of Harvest, Rust Never Sleep’s proto-grunge and even Le Noise’s noise have proved critical and commercial winners.
After: After signing with Geffen in the early 80s, Young released the electronic influenced Trans, marking a decade of musical experimentation that found few fans. Geffen eventually sued their artist for making un-commercial music.
Key transition track: “Transformer Man”