Y’know what’s, like, stunningly difficult? Making a great album. My musical ability is so poor so as to be comparable to that of an armless kangaroo who’s pouch contains Chad Kroeger, but even for people who seem very competent with their instruments and familiar with not only musical history but also composition and the like, making a good album – let along a great one – is fucking difficult. Imagine if you could do that not only once, but many times over, for literal decades?
Some heads be making deals with the devil, is all I’m saying. All of the artists on this weeks High Five have had generation spanning careers that remained prolific, evolving, relevant, and objectively great. The amount of difficulty involved in that is kind of staggering. Someone (hint hint) wrote that it was better to burn out than to fade away. These five proved that that sure isn’t always the case. Here’s the High Five.
5. Ghostface (Born 1970) // First Album: 1993 Most Recent: 2010
Oh Ghostface Killah, how fantastically awesome you are. I was so inebriated outside of a Ghostface show one time that when I saw him walking by to get in his minivan (the BEST minivan ever I assume) I uncontrollably yelled out “Dennis Coles I love you!” before thinking about it. I probably almost got my lily white self punched but it was true: no one has carried on the legacy of the Wu-Tang Clan, quality wise, more than Ghostface. For real.
It used to be that if your name didn’t end in “ZA” then making a Wu-Tang solo album was a not so great idea. But then this genius up here dropped Supreme Clientele and everyone collectively shit their painted Wallabees. But it’s what he’s done since: evolving from a stream of consciousness, nigh-dadaist rapper into a seasoned, grizzled storyteller with a vocabulary that’ll smack you upside the head with an ice cold steak, that’s been truly impressive. He’s also the best part of Cuban Linx AND Cuban Linx II. Sry.
4. Brian Eno (Born 1948) // FA: 1973 MR: 2011
This fucking guy. Basically inventing (with some others, don’t worry) ambient music is wild enough. But also being in multiple amazing bands, and convincing everyone that Bryan Ferry was some sort of genius? That’s next level. Then collaborating with artist like David Bowie and David Byrne (lots of repeating names here, aren’t there?). Okay. Then also being an absolutely world class producer behind albums like Remain In Light and The Joshua Tree? Alright Brian Eno, chill out a little bit.
From glammy gattabout to baldheaded elder statesman, Brian Eno has been innovating and impressing for about 40 years. Not bad. The craziest part is how off on his own he was much of the time, not just working to maintain along some predetermined path but striding confidently off into the darkness, synthesizers and whatever else in hand, only to reemerge with a treasure trove of heretofore unconsidered sounds. Like, 10 times.
3. Bruce Springsteen (Born 1949) // FA: 1973 MR: 2012
Yeah that’s right. If you say “Dad Rock” I will punch you in your fucking mouth. Then hand you cassette copies of Greetings From Asbury Park, Darkness on The Edge of Town, and two tickets to his next show and wait for you to return thanking me profusely for the shiner. I feel that The Boss is dangerously misunderstood by children of the 90s, due in part to various conservative avenues co-opting his formerly subversive anthems into jingoist theme songs. It sucks.
But his music was, is, and will continue to be amazing, even the stuff he’s releasing now. Also, he’s by no means beholden to any particular sound. He may be best known for rollicking stadium anthems, but of course he is, because those are what’s going to play best in his famous concerts (which really, really are all they’re cracked up to be). But listen to Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, or the more recent We Shall Overcome and you see an artist who isn’t afraid to try new stuff, and is always great at it. Hats in pockets 4 lyfe.
2. Sonic Youth (Formed 1981) // FA: 1982 MR: 2009
“The most famous band to never be famous.” I hate when people say that. It makes it seem like Sonic Youth somehow missed some sort of benchmark, when in fact they cleared any one they could get their incredibly talented hands on. They outlasted everyone else (except for maybe Yo La Tengo, but that’s a whole different conversation…) and it totally freaks me out that they’re actually broken up now.
It’s especially sad since their last album, The Eternal, showed no signs of the band slowing down. It always helped that Thurston and Kim looked like they hadn’t aged a day, especially Thurston who looks like he could use a Go-Gurt, if he had any time in between ripping his guitar in half.
1. Neil Young (Born 1945) // FA: 1968 MR: 2012
Neil Young fucking sucks at taking his own advice. Not that he’s fading away, but I don’t think anyone could ascribe the term “burn out” to the long haired musical god that first penned those words back in 1979 for “Hey Hey, My My.” Neil has been everywhere, seen it all, DONE it all, and remained a stone cold badass throughout. There’s a Neil Young & Crazy Horse techno album. Didya know that? It’s called Trans. Sonic Youth frequently covers a track from it. It may not be his finest moment, but the point is, the guy is cognizant of the times.
He’s also done grunge, acoustic rock, heavy metal, country classic, and guitar shredding, and more and more and more. Plus his music is now inextricably linked with genius filmmaker Jonathan Demme. He wrote “Man Needs A Maid” AND “Cortez The Killer”. He has more than one incredible classic album who’s title has the word “Harvest” in it. He looks insane. So I guess the lyric should be “It’s better to just continue burning really bright for ever, than to fade away like you losers” *drops the mic*- Whole Milk