“Sequels are desperate.” – Adam McKay
Happy Tuesday WFNY!
What a bizarre ride this Cleveland Cavaliers season has been. It can be difficult to remain centered when there are so many ups and downs. And it certainly isn’t made any easier when the team’s star player is acting…..strange. But I don’t want to talk about the Cavaliers today. Well, I do, but not in the traditional sense. Especially after Monday night’s turnover festival, the last thing I feel like doing is analyzing this team or telling everyone that everything is fine.
Instead, I want to talk about them in a much more abstract sense. In fact, it doesn’t particularly have to be about the Cavaliers at all, although I certainly can and definitely will tie this back to them eventually. What I feel like talking about today is the concept of the follow-up.
There’s a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That might be true, but duplication is rarely the same thing as authenticity. In life, there are so few moments of true, genuine creativity and genius. Most of our whole existence is a perpetual state of chasing the metaphoric dragon, so to speak. You have something that is truly great and inspiring, and then you keep trying to chase that same feeling over and over again. That’s the follow-up.
That principle has affected our lives in so many ways. We are subconsciously and consciously aware of it at the same time. In music, we all know about the sophomore slump. In movies, there is the curse of the sequel. In pop culture, we currently live in a time of overtly nostalgic remakes. Almost all of the most popular movies are remakes, sequels, and reboots. TV series try time and time again to remake original ideas into new premises. The entire basis of popular music criticism revolves around the idea of deciphering the originals buried in the heart of the sound.
But it’s not just pop culture where this idea of the follow-up exists. It can extend to almost anything, and that includes sports. Everyone is aware of how hard it is to repeat as champions in any team sport. Of course, it’s also really hard to make it back to a championship game after losing in the championship the year before.
This past year and a half of Cavaliers basketball has mostly been about LeBron James’ follow-up to his first run in Cleveland. As fans, I feel like so many of us have been trying so desperately to recapture that magical feeling of LeBron’s first tenure with the Cavaliers. But it’s not there. It’s been fun in its own way, but not in the way those 2009 and 2010 seasons were.
I’m starting to wonder if LeBron himself is falling into that own trap. Rather than judge this experience as something of its own accord, it sometimes feels like LeBron is alternating between comparing this to his first time here and to his time in Miami. There’s no doubt LeBron returned to Cleveland a very different player and person than the one who left in 2010. And in almost every way, he has changed for the better. But it hasn’t been enough yet to transform the Cavaliers into the instant champion so many seem to think this was destined to be.
In every way, I feel like I’ve been watching a sequel in slow motion. The premise feels the same, the faces are the same, but they are older. And wearier, somehow. I can enjoy this sequel, but it’s not the same as the original. I miss the Cavaliers being pure fun. I want that feeling again. Enough with these bizarre tweets, the overreacting to every loss by fans, players, media alike, the constant over-analyzing of every little detail and succumbing immediately to every inkling of doubt and gloom.
Just because most sequels fall short of the originals, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some exceptions. I want this season to be the Judgment Day to 2009-10’s Terminator. The Empire Strikes Back. The Godfather: Part II. The Dark Knight. The only question is, does this have to end in a championship at some point for that to be the case? That’s an answer that might very well be different for every person.
Keeping up with the theme, let’s talk about follow-ups a bit more as it pertains to music. Follow-ups are tricky. Many people are familiar with the concept of the Sophomore Slump, but follow-ups don’t have to pertain only to the band’s second album. Sometimes the idea of the follow-up applies to the album that comes after a masterpiece.
What is the perfect follow-up album? What does it have to accomplish? One of the best follow-up albums of all time, in my opinion, is Pearl Jam’s “Vs”, the follow-up to the classic album “Ten”. What makes “Vs” stand out as a follow-up, though? Sure, the songwriting needs to be on point, but there needs to be something more there. “Vs” builds on the themes of anger, frustration, and lack of place in society that permeated “Ten”, but “Vs” extends that anger to the music itself. “Vs” is a more aggressive and loud take on what “Ten” stood for.
That’s what I look for in a follow-up. Something that builds on the previous work in some kind of meaningful way. I much prefer follow-ups that take risks and attempt to do something different, as opposed to just capitalizing on previous success.
One of my favorite albums of 2014 was the debut album by the Brooklyn band, The Big Ups, titled “Eighteen Hours of Static”. The album was one of my favorite modern post-hardcore punk albums. I loved the way the album explored the dynamics between quiet and loud, aggressive and reflective.
Last Friday, the band released their follow-up album, “Before a Million Universes”. I love this album as a follow-up in the truest sense of the word. Those aforementioned dynamics are all still there, but the album is less raw and more mature. In fact, I was really struck by just how much the band seems to have matured musically in the last two years.
In some ways, I sort of miss that raw emotion of “Eighteen Hours of Static”, but on the other hand, I love that the band could deliver an album this good without having to try to simply replicate the last album.
I could have easily talked about the surprise album Kendrick Lamar dropped last Friday (thanks LeBron!) or the really excellent Muncie Girls album “From Caplan to Belsize” in this space, but truthfully, this Big Ups album seems more interesting to me as a whole concept. This idea of taking a really great album, and trying to build on it, represents the very soul of what I look for in music.
I don’t know that I would say “Before a Million Universes” is better than “Eighteen Hours of Static”, but it’s right there on the same level, and it gives me incredible confidence in this band going forward. I really look forward to seeing where they can go and what they can achieve.