Back to basics. It’s a term with many meanings but in the context of initial successes vs. subsequent lackluster results it is a concept worthy of examination. Case in point: The band Linkin Park. In 1996, the group released their debut album, Hybrid Theory to rave reviews, Diamond sales and international fame. Their formula? A unique hybrid of hard melodic rock, metal and rap. And, while their follow-ups, including Meteora (2003) and Minutes to Midnight (2007) were well-received, the music had lost its initial edge – a seeming compromise for greater accessibility and airplay. After the concept LP, A Thousand Suns (2010 – which I loved but most panned), 2012’s Living Things was a disaster and barely listenable. Fans were left shaking their collective heads – again.
Thankfully, with the just-released The Hunting Party, it is, you guessed it: back to basic roots for the prolific band and an obvious attempt to win back a legion of fans once gained but since lost. The “edge” has returned on what should have been Hybrid’s follow-up. If you have followed the group through the years, it is evident that the new record is a re-embracing of an original brand and identity that had moved right of center.
Equally interesting to look at is the rock band Red. End of Silence (2006), Innocence & Instinct (2009) and Until We Have Faces (2011) all masterfully crafted a sound similar to Linkin Park albeit with greater consistency. With 2013’s Release the Panic, however, Red largely removed its trademark strings and orchestrations, much to the vocal dismay of their followers. And Red listened. Several months later, the group did the virtually unprecedented: they unveiled, Release the Panic: Re-Calibrated, with several cuts from its sister record remixed to include the heretofore non-existent orchestral elements. Give the people what they want. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?
So, why does a band or a company or any entity lose its way and move away from the tried and true? In music, it is often either a lack of creativity (can you say one-hit wonder?), or a desire to be more creative (eschewing the formulaic). For anyone, not being true to your brand is the result of losing sight of or ignoring who your audience is and what they love about you. Evolving to remain relevant is one thing. Being ‘too hip for the room’ is something else altogether. Remember, ultimately, it’s not about you.