One of these days I ought to blindfold some youngster, put together a mix of tracks from Led Zeppelin (the first album) and In Through the Out Door with Robert Plant’s voice nulled out to the extent possible, and then ask the kid how many bands were involved.
KingShamus, I suspect, would appreciate the experiment, having made the following observations:
[W]ould a modern band be able to survive the sort of creative contortions Led Zeppelin put themselves through? We don’t really have to speculate on that question. It’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of rock groups simply don’t attempt to push their musical boundaries all that much. For every Radiohead that has rearranged their sound over the course of their career, there are only about a thousand other bands that have pretty much stayed in the same general artistic space they occupied on their first albums.
The rule of thumb we used back in the day: if the second album is a major departure from the first, people would complain that the band is just throwing stuff against the wall, hoping something will stick; if the second album sounds just like the first, people would complain of a lack of growth. Today, the latter scenario might seem to be more common, but the complaints have subsided:
I don’t know when it happened, but at some point bands started to recognize that they were also brands. Brands require consistency in order to be successful. McDonald’s cannot go from selling cheap American-style fast food to gourmet $50 a plate Japanese-Mexican-Dutch fusion cuisine within a few years. Nobody would buy the change and McDonald’s would kill their company. The same process has changed the way rock music operates. Bands are very conscious of the creative space they occupy and hold to it.
On the other hand, I suspect some of us are ready for sashimichangas lined with Leyden cheese.