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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, June 14, 2024

The pros of artists breaking their own molds

There are an insane number of musical genres. Like, there are way too many for anyone to even try to keep track of. And I’m not just talking about big genres—rock, rap, country (and western), jazz—the ones where you can just lump any group or artist that sounds a certain way. Each of these broad categories has an absurd multitude of offshoots (post-punk, west coast gypsy jazz, anyone?).

So what’s the point of this investigation? That often, artists labeled as part of a genre write songs that either transcend or completely go against their prominent image.

One prominent (albeit cheesy and outdated) example is Poison’s “Every Rose Has its Thorn.” Poison wasn’t a band that wrote a lot of slow ballads. In fact they were known for writing glam-metal songs—most of which didn’t have a shred of sensitivity. I think the song title “I Want Action,” proves this point based on its title alone.

But “Every Rose Has its Thorn” was different. It wasn’t just Bret Michaels going on and on about getting some. It was about being heartbroken by a woman—a side of Poison that rarely surfaced in their other songs. However, despite being different from the majority of the band’s catalogue, “Every Rose Has its Thorn” was the only Poison song to ever reach number one on the U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Poison though. They just serve as a solid example because most people know about them (even if it’s only because of VH1’s “Rock of Love” with Bret Michaels). A lot of groups find success when they move away from what they know best.

A more modern example that I like to use to exemplify this point is the math-folk-rock group Maps & Atlases. They’re a band that sort of reinvents their sound on every new recording they put out. But on each of their albums they have one or two songs that come from a completely different vein than the rest. Maybe the album that most obviously shows this is their 2006 EP Tree, Swallows, Houses. And the song that sticks out most notably is the beautifully written “The Ongoing Horrible.” The majority of the album relies on frantic riffing from all of the band members—lead guitarist Dave Davison in particular. But “The Ongoing Horrible” is completely different. On it, Davison smacks harmonics, taps a rhythm on the body of his guitar and intentionally de-tunes in order to create an incredibly original melody. I think I can speak for a lot of Maps & Atlases fans when I say that this is one of the coolest songs ever when played live. Despite being seven years old, it’s still one of their most popular tunes.

Maybe you can say “Every Rose Has its Thorn” was so popular because Bret Michaels was a heartthrob back in the day and he just wooed women into loving his music. Maybe that’s true. But regardless, it was the band’s most successful song. And if music evokes enough of a legitimate emotional response in people for millions to rush out and buy records, no matter how mundane, it’s doing something right. The bottom line is that often times when artists break away from what they know is when they create their best work. I guess that’s why we call them artists. And even if sometimes they flop hardcore (this also happens), artists should always be pushing their boundaries.

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