Back in May of this year The Horrors released Luminous, a record that emphasised how much the band had evolved since the spiky punk of their debut. It’s an interesting case but not so much of a rare one in the musical world. Sometimes it works for the better and the artist will push themselves to create their finest work yet whereas other times this significant a change in direction can just make you wonder at one point they lost their mind. Here’s a look at a selection of superstars that are now barely recognisable from their earlier material.
From ‘Death At The Chapel’ (2007) to ‘Chasing Shadows’ (2014)
Back when The Horrors released their debut album, Strange House, it was all garage punk, blatant disregard for musical propriety, and scattily macabre styling. On their latest release, Luminous, a melancholy Smiths-style indie pop seems to wrestle synth-heavy progressive rock for control of every track. Every long, drawn-out track.
Allusions of grandeur and aspirations to musical supremacy so often end in insipidity. Once raw, the production is now finessed. For The Horrors, like so many others, pomp and arty pretense brought only dullness. Somehow, this end of the timeline, they manage to be both boring and impenetrable.
From ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ (1981) to ‘Angel’ (2013)
From synthpop legends in the eighties, masters of the irrefutably catchy hook, to darkly industrial synth-rock, Depeche Mode have always had something of value to add. Since the departure of Vince Clark in 1981, cheesey, chirpy synthpop has given way to growling, bluesy synth-rock. Cheerful bop-along pop has evolved into minimalism, incisive use of acid synths and a touch of the classically dramatic.
From ‘Baby Boy’ (2003) to ‘Partition’ (2013)
Her debut solo album, Dangerously In Love (2003), saw Queen B sporting saccharine-sweet, inoffensive pop/R&B. Boasting hits like ‘Crazy In Love’ and ‘Baby Boy’, it was the first in an impressively long line of number one albums. Impossibly radio-friendly it also marked the first musical collaboration of the future superstar couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Fast-forward a decade and – via several albums of belting power ballads, pop princess staples, and number one hits – she’s gone ultra-slick, futuristic R&B. Her 2013 release, the self-titled Beyoncé, marked the graduation from club-worthy girl power and chart-bound epics, to the cutting edge of NSFW electronic R&B. A step also known as The Total Annihilation of Cheese. Half the fun, a thousand times the critical acclaim.
From ‘Beastie Boys’ (1982) to ‘OK’ (2011)
Radical transformations aren’t usually quite as extreme as hardcore punk to hip hop. In NYC, 1982, Beastie Boys could be found blasting through 90 second punk tracks, inspired by the likes of Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. In 2011, they released their eighth and final studio album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – a mash up of their signature touches of funk, punk and acutely humourous rap. In between, they established themselves as one of the leading hip hop groups globally, and helped pioneer a hip hop that was open to all ethnicities and classes.
From ‘Through The Wire’ (2004) to ‘Black Skinhead’ (2013)
In the space between his first and most recent studio albums, the now superstar rapper has catapulted from Rolling Stone claiming that he “isn’t quite MC enough to hold down the entire disc”, to a Grammy nomination for one of the most explosively, unapologetically brilliant albums of 2013.
With his debut, The College Dropout, West was already a game changer. Hailed as breaking in a new era of hip hop, it introduced West as a rapper to the world, where previously he was the producer of the likes Jay-Z’s ‘I.Z.Z.O’ and Alicia Keys’ ‘You Don’t Know My Name’.
A steady ascension (808s & Heartbreak notwithstanding) has taken him from good hip hop, sizzling with potential, to a self-proclaimed God. And, in some ways, it’s hard to disagree with him. Yeezus (2013), rightfully, took the world by storm. West selected everything that’s ever made him great and fused it with dark, growling synths and a toxic dose of self-confidence – ego to slay anything in its way. What was once skillful use of soulful samples and raw ambition, has evolved into defiant, unassailable genius.
From ‘Harder To Breathe’ (2002) to ‘Animals’ (2014)
In the journey taken from their stellar debut album, Songs About Jane, to their new album, V, Maroon 5 have expertly misplaced virtually everything that once made them brilliant. Gone is the funk-tinged soul edge. Gone is the (rare) ability to write genuinely subtle pop music. Gone is the appeal of a guitar-happy, rock sound. Instead, Maroon 5’s overall identity is now based on soulless over-production, lyrics of zero integrity, and the decidedly dubious morals of their frontman. Their one remaining attribute, a singular saving grace in a sea of sell-out tainted disappointment: undeniably catchy singles.
From ‘Tim McGraw’ (2006) to ‘Welcome To New York’ (2014)
Once upon a time in Nashville, Taylor Swift was a country singer. Honestly. From basing entire lyrical themes around country music stars to Icona Pop-esque club pop (see new single ‘Welcome To New York’), sweet, small-town Swift has definitely relocated to the big city. Modifying everything but her cutesy image, she is the prime example of selling out in style. Now a bona fide pop princess and cover star of teen mags the world over, Swift crafts clever pop into a commercially appealing, multi platinum-selling career.
The Black Eyed Peas
From ‘What It Is’ (1998) to ‘The Time (Dirty Bit) (2010)
Pre- ‘I Gotta Feeling’, pre- Elephunk, even pre- Fergie, Behind The Front was the first album under the name The Black Eyed Peas. Long before will.i.am became a parody of himself, they were a old school hip hop group, with their own live band and elements of jazz and funk that provided a fresh sound. All very laid back, in contrast some of their more recent material.
The reign of 2009‘s club sensation ‘I Gotta Feeling’ felt never ending. As time passes and zeros are added to his paycheck, will.i.am’s creations stray further and further from accessible, and futuristic takes on a new meaning.
From hip hop that gave us Vine favourite ‘Shut Up’ and the eternally brilliant ‘Where Is The Love’, to an unstoppable chartpop hits machine, The Black Eyed Peas have done a perfect one-eighty: feel-good, authentic nineties hip hop to increasingly alienating electronic dance pop. But chart-toppers are chart-toppers, whatever the genre.