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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Freedom Of Choice (Is What You Got)

If someone were to ask me what band I think best defined the sound of the 80's, you might expect me to say Madonna or Prince, or maybe Duran Duran. Even though they represent some of my favorite music from that decade, and beyond, it is the signature sound of New Wave pioneers Devo that, for me, best represents the 80's as a musical movement.

It has been nearly 30 years since Devo released their "Freedom Of Choice" album in July 1980, featuring the hit title track, along with super-smash hit "Whip It" and "Girl U Want". The wait for new material is finally over, with upcoming album "Something For Everybody" slated for a June 2010 release. The first glimpse of new Devo material came in a commercial for Dell laptops, featuring parts of the song "Watch Us Work It", which was selected by Dell from a number of tracks the group was working on. The song features a sample drum track from the song "The Super Thing" off their 1981 album New Traditionalists, and a video was created for the track, parts of which were incorporated into the Dell commercial.

After hearing that track, I became increasingly interested in the upcoming album's progress and began searching for information about its release and other track information. A second track was released, "Don't Shoot (I'm A Man)", and a video was made for it and played on a screen during live performances. In anticipation for the new album's release, Devo has created a website called the Devo Song Study, created to allow fans to preview the 16 tracks that have been recorded and select 12 of those to be included on the new album. I found it easy to select the standout tracks, and I'm glad they chose to include "Work It" in the study as I feel it's the strongest of the new material and ultimately among my very favorites of theirs. Upon selecting the 12 tracks, participants have the opportunity to enter some personal information and some comments, as well as a personal picture. The next page is a large graph showing the updated results and the "bars" in the graph are made up of the photos of those who have participated.

After completing my selections and exiting the Song Study page, I was very impressed with the bands' inclusion of fan input, especially regarding such an important decision. The final tracklisting of a new release is usually compiled with great care and input by the music label and the artist; mostly because the labels are pushing "singles" these days. I've seen several interviews regarding the release of albums in which the artist is either forced to include or exclude certain tracks as decided by the label executives. In similar fashion, the email I received from the band with the link to the Song Study even mentioned that the 16 tracks recorded "at the request of corporate leadership, must be narrowed down to 12 for the official album release". With this song study, not only does Devo get an idea of the type of songs fans want to hear from the results, they will get an early forecast of album sales, if those voting were to purchase the album.

I wish more bands would show this kind of interest in what the fans want when it comes to new releases. For many fans, such as myself, a new release from a favorite band is a big deal and core fans follow the progress of that next album with great interest. With the slump of album sales the music industry has faced in this digital age, fan input should be more important than ever if it will lead to improved album sales. Of course, many would say that kind of process would take the creative control away from the artist forcing them to sell out and stop making music they wanted to make in favor of selling records. However, I think there is a healthy balance that could be achieved from letting fans hear a few tracks prior to release to get a feel for how it could be received, as Devo has done here. Perhaps an enthusiastic response could inspire a new track, or make the label change their mind about a track they had decided to leave off. Ultimately, I think that the artists should have full creative control, since it is their sound and vision that the fans are following. Having said that, I do see an opportunity for artists to learn from this Song Study that giving fans a voice can help them become more successful without giving up their identity.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chicken Soup For The Headbanger's Soul

While fans of hard Rock music, like myself, love the window-rattling, fist-pumping drive of loud, grinding guitars and pounding drums, there are moments when we need something to cleanse our palate, like a jar of coffee beans in a perfume store.

There are many songs from a wide variety of artists that I turn to for this kind of aural therapy, but there is one such artist that I favor above all others and she goes by the name Sade. I was first introduced to Sade by my uncle Paul, who is also a big fan of Rock music but his collection was never limited to one genre. I never went to his house without a few blank cassettes in my pocket, eager to capture the latest and greatest. I remember first hearing "Smooth Operator" and "Sweetest Taboo" when MTV was in full swing with the big hair bands of the 80's and even back then it was as refreshing as I find it today.

At the dawn of the new millennium Sade released "Lovers Rock", which hosts some of my favorite songs of hers, namely "King of Sorrow" and "Every Word". I've never seen her live but I've heard her live album "Lovers Live" and she sounds every bit as good if not better than she does on her albums. Ten years later, "Soldier Of Love" was released and the title track really grabbed my attention so I got the CD on its release date, February 9, 2010. Once again, I was very pleased and each song has grown on me significantly. Favorite songs include the title track as well as " Morning Bird", "Long Hard Road" and "Skin".

Early in her music career, Sade kept the wait time between releases very short; her first 4 albums came between 1984 and 1992, with her first 2 released in the same year in the U.S. However, after her 1992 release, "Love Deluxe", 8 years passed until her "Lovers Rock" was released and then another 9 years and change before "Soldier Of Love". In March 2009, Maxwell, a fellow Sony Music recording artist and longtime friend and collaborator with Sade bandmate Stuart Matthewman, sent a message to fans via his private Facebook page in which he indicated that he had heard some of Sade's new recordings, saying, "Trust me, it's so monolithic it'll shake you in your shoes!" In June 2009, near the end of the recording process, a source from her Sony label said "She is in the studio and the album will come when it is ready. You don't wait for years for one and then rush it." That approach has obviously paid off, and not just for her fans. Sade's 2000 release, "Lovers Rock," sold 3,881,000 copies in the U.S. and the prior album, 1992's "Love Deluxe," sold 3,407,000. Since her debut, Sade has sold nearly 17 million units in the U.S. alone.

"Soldier Of Love" is Sade's first No. 1 album in 24 years, and some believe it's her long absence that played a huge part in its success. To promote her new album, Sade gave very few interviews but sang on several shows and it appears that her reticence keeps people wanting more. Doc Wynter, vice president of urban programming for Clear Channel Radio, said “The audience was really thirsting to hear more of her music”. *Insert cheesy Gatorade analogy here*.

For me, Sade is simply one of those artists that can soothe my inner beast and change my outlook on nearly any situation, and though Pearl Jam, who remains my favorite band of all time, certainly has their share of songs that have that affect on me, Sade will always be that escape I need when my ears are ringing from the noise of the world, or from the Rock that rattles my car windows.