Predicting creativity

After discussing nuclear fission and solving the world’s problems, my husband and I started daydreaming about the upcoming release of the new Fleet Foxes album (out on May 3). Will it be better than their first LP? Or at least as good? What will the future bring?

(best song on their last album. I “hearted” 10 out of their 11 songs on my mp3 player.)

John, being a realist, dished out the following piece of advice to help manage our expectations:

Think of the worst song on their last album and imagine a CD comprised entirely of that.

According to him, the worst songs on an album are symptomatic of artists running out of creativity and needing to produce fillers to complete their projects. Many times, artists use up all their creativity in their first albums and fizzle out when they work on the sequel.
We’ve seen this happen to Band of Horses, Midlake, and too many others who we describe as now “hanging out in the Shearwater house.” So this could very well happen to our beloved Foxes (shudder).

(worst song in my humble opinion. The only one that didn’t get a heart.)

I wonder if this theory can be applied to other creative areas in life. I was trying to think of this concept in terms of books and chapters, but, according to John, songs are “self-contained environments” when chapters aren’t (can you tell how philosophical we get about music?).

While I appreciate John’s conservative and rational approach to creativity prediction, I like to hold on to the hope that sparks will fly no matter what. While music can be created scientifically using algorithms, a true piece of art also contains a soul. This soul may waver, explaining some inconsistency in the musician’s output, but it’s still there. It cannot be mathematically replicated or measured. Pressures of the music industry may cause great songs to be born prematurely, with little time to mature, but talent will find its way through the system.
If an artist’s music has punched me in the stomach, leaving me breathless and in an awe, I’ll stick around – weathering the blandness and waiting for the next revelation.


2 Comments to “Predicting creativity”

  1. Lovely post. Enjoyed every bit of it.

    While I agree on the premise of the argument that in most cases artists squeeze out their “soul” in the first album, what differentiates a great artist from the rest of the pack is the ability to rekindle that fire. My personal few examples would include:

    1- U2 (Yes. Unfortunately ever since the mid 90s they produced nothing but utter shite): Joshua Tree, followed by Rattle and Hum, then by arguably their best ever Achtung Baby.
    2- Bruce Springsteen (I know not everyone’s cuppa tea!) : Born to Run (3rd album), The River (album #5), Born in the USA (#7) etc.
    3- Joy Division: Closer (Ian Curtis probably ended up paying dearly for putting too much “soul” into it).

    More recent examples would include the Editors, Massive Attack and Radiohead, the National, and to a lesser extent Arcade Fire.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Ameen!

    Yes, as you point out, some artists have lost “it” and never brought it back. I couldn’t agree with you more about U2 and Radiohead.

    Not sure what you mean regarding Massive Attack: I adore all their music up to Mezzanine (included). Downhill from there.
    And the National: I just love everything they’ve done. Their latest is not as great as Alligator / Boxer though (imho).

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