Periodically, the DJs on my favorite album-rock, satellite-radio channel will get giddy about a new release coming from one of the older acts that are featured on its playlist. (Ditto for reunions of disbanded bands, and ventures on what I call the Geezer Circuit, but those are topics for another day.)
Me, I’m getting to the point where my reaction is, “Please don’t.” I may be stuck in a time warp, in terms of musical tastes, but the surviving artists who made the music I listen to often sound like they’re past their sell-by dates.
Deep Tracks occasionally plays those new releases by the oldies, and most sound like they’re trying too hard. Take for instance the most-played cut off Bob Seger’s most recent (2014) album, “Ride Out.” “It’s Your World” is painful to listen to, a recitation of environmentalist doomsday talking points without a hook.
For a guy who wrote some truly great rock lines — think “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” from “Against the Wind” — it’s pretty disappointing stuff. Some of the other song titles sound more like Seger stuff, but “It’s Your World” certainly doesn’t make me want to pony up and find out.
One artist who could take preachy gloom-and-doom lyrics and turn them into memorable songs, with an arc of narrative and sense of grandeur, was Jackson Browne. Yes, he often sounded self-congratulatory — him being among the chosen ones — but his work can still move me.
Maybe it’s just me, but what I’ve head of his two-year-old “Standing in the Breach” just sounds preachy and self-congratulatory, like he’s the only thing standing between us and The End. But it’s maybe an improvement over his 2002 album, “The Naked Ride Home”; 54-year-old dudes doing songs involving nudity qualifies as too much information.
Then there’s Joe Walsh, who often did kind of goofy, fun songs — “Space Age Whiz Kids,” “Life’s Been Good,” that sort of thing — and occasionally threw in some political commentary. He got off track in 1992’s “Songs for a Dying Planet,” with unmemorable lines like “We're killing everything that's alive,/And anyone who tries to deny it/Wears a tie/And gets paid to lie.” (The last two lines perhaps might describe the attorneys Joe hires to do his taxes and protect his wealth. Unless he discriminates against tie-wearers.)
Walsh seemed to recover his sense of humor in 2012, with “Analog Man.” But recently, instead of boycotting North Carolina over its “Bathroom Bill,” like a lot of entertainers did, he followed through on his tour commitment — so he could lecture the audience, while sounding like he didn’t know what he was talking about. Hope he doesn’t do songs about that.
Lectures are what we’ve come to expect from Graham Nash, who argued with another artist (I think it was Pete Townshend of the Who) on TV 40-plus years ago about the power of rock to change the world. Nash released “This Path Tonight” earlier this year, and the title song at least is pretty stiff.
The interview he did on SiriusXM, in conjunction with the album’s release, was pretty stiff, too. Nash sounded pompous and overly sincere when he talked about splitting with his wife of 39 years, and taking up with another woman; OK, we get it, the wealthy 70-something guy dumps the old wife for a shiny new, younger one. Try pulling that off if you’re not rich and famous.
I’ve been getting teases about a new Van Morrison album, and a Deep Tracks DJ said earlier this year that Steely Dan is going to release a new one, too. I am not too worried about those artists, though, and not just because they are among my all-time favorites. (Or maybe they are among my favorites because they are unlikely to do what the afore-mentioned artists have done.)
Morrison, for instance, has said that his lyrics are based loosely in actual experience, if at all. He’s also the guy who pretty much nailed the pompous, preachy rocker, in“The Great Deception”: “Did you ever hear about the rock and roll singer/Got three or four Cadillacs/Saying power to the people,/Dance to the music/Wants you to pat him on the back.”
Walter Baecker's and Donald Fagen's senses of humor would seem to make them temperamentally immune to over-seriousness. The Steely Dan songwriters more likely would have a field day, loading up on irony, with the absurdity of our present situation.
But I could be wrong about both acts. So I guess it’s “let the buyer beware” when it comes to getting new albums by old artists.