I have a wishlist of artists who have fallen on creative hard times and producers that I think could bring them back to their former glory. It's a short list because the way I see it most artists don't have anything new or interesting to say after 30, and that number drops exponentially with every 5 years after.
Rare is the artist who can make interesting music late into their life, usually it's an artist who genre hops, and finds little nooks and crannies of overlooked or long lost styles, playing the archeologist and bringing them back to the surface; think Elvis Costello. Even rarer is the artist who's brought back to life by a genius producer who knows how to push the right buttons and create something new and exiting from a long established voice. Think Loretta Lynn with Jack White or Johnny Cash with Rick Rubin, who plays prominently in this fantasy of mine.
The short list includes the legendary rapper and god Rakim; who has been doing everything in his power to damage his legacy with subpar and boring release after subpar and boring release since Don't Sweat the Technique. A few years back the rumor mill was going nuts with talk of Rakim working with Dr Dre. Most rap fans were creaming at the idea of this collaborative effort between two pillars of the genre.
To me it seemed like a snoozefest.
The match didn't seem to make sense. Dre does his best work when he is establishing the sonic template for a new artist. Look at his career - NWA, Snoop and Death Row, Eminen and 50. There are no established acts in there. Then when you look at the styles, Fuck, it was just a mismatch. Rakim is the quintessential New York emcee, he needs gritty, and hard hitting, fast-paced production that sounds like it rose right out of the piss covered New York City streets. Dre's production style is sun soaked and clean, and stinks of Coppertone and implants.
It didn't make sense. I always felt that Rakim should have been working with the Neptunes, just listen to the first two Clipse albums and tell me that Rakim wouldn't sound amazing over those beats. It would be a beautiful return to form.
The other artist is an artist that I get made fun of constantly for liking, Billy "Muthafucking" Joel. That son of a bitch is a genius. A terribly sad and broken genius.
Joel's early work offers up some of the most heartbreakingly gorgeous pop music of the last century. I know it's fun to mock his work from the MTV era, and frustrating to listen to dickbags who were born and raised in Westchester, but cling to their Irish heritage, singing Piano Man, on the one or two nights a year they are brave enough to venture into the city and stink up our watering holes - but don't let that cloud your senses. This fucker made some great music.
His post 90s life seems as though it has been heartbreak after heartbreak. Multiple divorces and DWI charges, and all sorts of family issues; it has been a rough patch and there is a hell of a story to tell if the right person can bring it out of him.
Joel has always been his best when writing about love and pain. For me he is the king of bittersweet. Even songs like She’s Got A Way, Just The Way You Are and She’s Always a Woman feel as though they are doomed. They are gorgeous expressions of love but they feel as though they are from a man desperate for acceptance, even from the people he loves most.
For many, myself included, Joel’s early works were distinctively New York. They felt grey and cold, and stunk like the steam coming out of the manhole covers. There was a gloom to it that was wrapped up in the hope of something big and inspiring, what better metaphor for the city that built a reputation for greatness, but at the time of these releases he was falling apart. Even songs like Scenes From an Italian Restaurant and Captain Jack are fucking epic as shit. Played out as all Fuck, but epic none the less. The magnum opus of New York State Of Mind still gives me chills and makes me well up every time I hear it.
I even like his more upbeat music, side one of the Glass Houses album is fantastic, and songs like Big Shot and My Life on 52nd Street still get me singing along when they come on the radio. Plus let’s not forget that Kool G. Rap’s classic Road To The Riches is based off a sample from the track Stiletto off this album.
shit, I still bang songs from An Innocent Man. Pressure and Allentown are fucking amazing.
From 1971 to 1983 you couldn’t find a bigger or better artist. He could hit you with upbeat and fun rock joints or move you with emotion and moving ballads. Songs like Piano Man and Scene From an Italian Restaurant don’t get played out because they are trite bullshit, they get played out because they connect. They move people to the point that they become clichés and are coopted to help people develop personalities that might make it easier for them get laid.
Billy Joel lost me when he dropped The Bridge. It was just boring, and it felt like he moved into an uninspired portion of his career. Can you blame him?
Here he was the proverbial outsider married to a woman who was arguably the hottest woman on the planet. He was vindicated; he needed to work out some of his angst and insecurities in the bedroom. I can totally dig it.
Did his music suffer?
You betcha, but I am pretty sure he didn’t give a Fuck when he was elbow deep in super model love.
Eventually it all crashed down, he has been spiraling since, but the man is a storyteller. He can take the most brutal and heartbreaking events and spin them to gold. I feel there is an American classic lurking behind those puppy dog eyes, and he just needs the right producer to harness that energy. To get him to dig into the reserves and pen some glorious gems, I would love to see him eat a gang of peyote with Rick Rubin and lock themselves away for a year or two mining this territory. It might result in nothing but some good hug therapy, but if we're lucky, it might just result in the glorious return of this national treasure.