I’ve been a fan of The Tea Party since their first album Splendor Solis. I, like everyone else, noted Jeff Martin’s striking similarity (in both looks and voice) to Jim Morrison, but by the time their second album The Edges of Twilight (one of my favourite albums) was released, I’d forgotten about that. Martin and the rest of the Tea Party definitely had their own unique musical style (though not dissimilar to that of Led Zeppelin), and he’s a very talented guitarist.
The next album, Transmission, was also good – heavier, and without the Eastern musical influences that The Edges of Twilight had, but unmistakeably The Tea Party. Psychopomp is still my favourite Tea Party song ever, and Temptation, Gyroscope, Alarum, and Emerald are all great songs. (Hmmm…just noticed that Army Ants is the only song on that album that doesn’t have a one-word title.) I guess Triptych was when they started to go downhill. It was a pretty good album – The Messenger and Chimera are really good songs, and Samsara was reminiscent of The Edges of Twilight. However, the first song I heard from this album was Heaven Coming Down, which was not quite a sappy love song, but close. It certainly didn’t have the same Tea Party edge, and was much more radio-friendly than most of their stuff. When I first heard it, I thought “Uh-oh, sounds like Jeff Martin fell in love or got married or something between the last album and this one”. I remember laughing when the radio DJ said basically the same thing once the song was over.
The Interzone Mantras had some great songs (Angels, Lullaby, Cathartik), but more not-so-great stuff, and the last album, Seven Circles, was not great at all. Writing’s on the Wall was not bad, but was less than 3 minutes long. Wishing You Would Stay was pretty good, but Holly McNarland’s backing vocals really made that song. I guess Martin realized that they’d jumped the shark, and he left the band. Since he was the guitarist, singer, chief songwriter, arranger, and producer, his leaving effectively killed the band. I don’t know if the other two guys in the band even considered finding a replacement, but I really hope they didn’t.
So the other day I’m in Future Shop, and I see a solo album from Jeff Martin called Exile and the Kingdom. I didn’t know at the time that the Tea Party had broken up, so I just figured he’d put his own solo record together. I picked it up (only $9.99!), and I’ve listened to it at work a couple of times now. Unfortunately, it seems that either (a) he’s continuing the downward trend, since this album isn’t even as good as Seven Circles (the worst Tea Party album), or (b) the other members of the Tea Party contibuted a lot more than just bass, keyboards and drums to that band. Most of the album is just kind of boring and forgettable, but the last song, Good Time Song, is dreadful. Granted, I’ve only listened to the album twice now, so I’ll try to keep an open mind and listen to it a few more times, in case it grows on me. I didn’t like Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory when I first heard it, and now it’s my favourite Dream Theater album, so it could happen, I guess.
On a similar note, I also recently picked up Queensrÿche‘s new album Operation: Mindcrime II, the “sequel” to their amazing 1986 concept album Operation: Mindcrime. Can you have a sequel to an album? I suppose if it’s a concept album, you can. Made a bunch of money for Meat Loaf. Anyway, this is another example, like Jeff Martin, of a band that’s jumped the shark. Their first couple of albums were pretty good, Rage For Order was very good, and then came Mindcrime, which made Queensrÿche one of the biggest progressive rock bands around. After that came Empire, another great album, which contained the radio-friendly-but-still-cool hit Silent Lucidity. Promised Land was next, and it was good too, but then they dropped off big-time. Their next two albums, Hear in the Now Frontier and Q2K, weren’t good at all, and then I lost interest. I’m not even sure if there was another album or two in there. (Somewhere after Empire they released Operation: LIVECrime, which was a live performance of the entire Mindcrime album.) MC II was released a couple of weeks ago, and I picked it up, just to see how they would continue the story. The result so far: meh. It’s good, but as my sister might say, it’s no screaming hell. There should have been more continuity (both musical and story-wise) from the first album (they should talk to Dream Theater about how to do this). In general, it doesn’t sound like a sequel, it sounds like a completely different album containing a story that happens to involve people with the same names as the first album.
I hate to say it, since I’m a huge Hip fan, but I think The Tragically Hip have also jumped the shark. Their last three albums have been quite forgettable, though the live DVD “That Night In Toronto” released last fall was really good. Another shark-jumping band might be Audioslave — and after only 2 albums. Their second album was very disappointing, considering how good the first one was. Rush hasn’t gotten to the point of producing really bad albums, but the last few are certainly not as good as their earlier stuff, so maybe they should call it a career. A couple of years ago, I thought U2 had jumped the shark as well, but they seemed to be off of whatever drugs caused the Zooropa and Pop albums, and the last couple have been really good.