Hard-core fans like to attach themselves to certain works. The songs and albums that the general public doesn’t know (or like) are the ones they worship. These are the songs that actually mean something, they say, and not that shit that you hear on the radio. There’s a certain badge of honor in being able to tell someone that the alternate version (found online, of course) of a band’s biggest single is better. You belong to a certain club. Even if an artist is huge you feel validated for liking them.
I admit to falling into this category pretty often. I have dozens of U2 bootlegs I’ve collected over the years. I’ve downloaded the entire Basement Tapes. I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Bruce Springsteen, and prefer the stark Darkness On The Edge of Town over the slick and massively popular Born in the USA. But I also like the more familiar stuff as well. “Born to Run” is one of Springsteen’s most well-known songs, and it’s also among his best. Is “Part Man, Part Monkey” better than “Born to Run”? Not a chance. Is it fun to hear Springsteen bust that particular song out? Of course. While I admit to being a huge fan of some artists, other artists I am only familiar with the hits. I like The Police and enjoy “Message in a Bottle” and “Can’t Stand Losing You”, but I have zero interest in buying Zenyatta Mondatta.
Some fans it seems, only prefer the stuff that isn’t so well-known, despite its over-all quality. I sometimes refer to this as “the misunderstood masterpiece syndrome.” Because the general public doesn’t “get” an album, hard-core fans latch onto a particular piece of work and claim it as their own. Take U2’s Pop for instance, an album that is generally forgotten about by casual fans. Among online forums, Pop is constantly viewed as the single greatest thing they’ve ever done. The general view is that U2 pushed themselves further on that album than any other and that Bono’s lyrics are among his best and its follow-up All That You Can’t Leave Behind is shit in comparison.
In reality, Pop’s “experimentation” in the late 90s techno craze is the very thing that causes the album to suffer. In attempt to cash in on this sound, most of the album contains half-baked songs that come off as soul-less. For suggesting this, I probably have to turn in my “hard-core” U2 fan-card. All That You Can’t Leave Behind in contrast is seen as “U2’s comeback album” and contains one of their biggest hits – “Beautiful Day”. The rest of the album finds U2 focused and reassured, something that was missing from Pop.
Pearl Jam’s No Code is another example. After their earlier rise to fame, Pearl Jam decided to deliberately push away the casual fans. No Code dabbles between garage rock and Neil Young-style classic rock and with the exception of a few songs, it comes off as a mess. Naturally, the Pearl Jam “Jamily” as they are called, absolutely adore this album and view it as one of the band’s triumphs.
I could certainly be viewed as hypocrite for holding The Basement Tapes in such high esteem, and maligning Pop. But just because I don’t like certain albums by one artist doesn’t take any from my overall fandom. I’ve never liked Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces even though it’s supposed to be one of his best, yet I still consider him to be one of my favorite artists. I suppose I’m just happy that anyone likes the same artists I do, whether it’s “Beautiful Day” (U2) or “Million Dollar Bash” (Dylan.)