Taking the Long Cut: Detour Albums

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I think we can all applaud the idea of doing something well, becoming successful at it, and then deciding to try something a bit different instead of just repeating yourself. And if the results aren’t always what one might’ve hoped for, well, it’s like that old line from the Mary Tyler Moore show – when a donkey flies, you don’t blame it for not staying up. That seems to be the case with most “detour albums” – records by musicians who’ve become successful in one style and decide to try something that seems to be out of left field.

How you respond to these musical detours depends on what you expect from the people behind them. I personally thought that Devo’s “E-Z Listening Disc” was a hoot. Of course, Devo was so willfully weird that even this collection of electronic “easy listening” versions of their songs didn’t seem like such a left turn. But it makes it onto PopMatters.com’s list of 33 detour albums. So does Björk’s “Medulla,” I guess because of all the choral music, but for a similar reason, that doesn’t seem like such a detour to me either. And The Clash’s “Sandinista”? Anyone who’d been really listening to the band before that knew they loved reggae, so that wasn’t a huge surprise either. But man oh man, when Dylan went “Christian,” and Stevie Wonder went all photosynthetic, and Neil Young channeled his inner Mr. Roboto – those were shockers. So much so that most people (myself included) just didn’t know what to make of them all, and so we made nothing of them.

I think the benefit of a list like the one PopMatters has done is it offers a chance to look again at some of these musical detours to see if they’re as important as their creators initially hoped or as bad as most of us believed. So, how was Paul McCartney as a new waver, or an ambient/techno geek? (And why isn’t his classical music on this list? Talk about a detour…) What about when Kiss wiped off the makeup and tried to make an album of “serious” music?

Tell us about a detour album that surprised you – and tell us what you think of it now.