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Cerebus Syndrome: Music
Examples of bands' music getting progressively more serious.


  • The Prodigy's sound and videos show a clear move away form their campy early works such as "Out of Space" and "One Love" into Darker and Edgier territory, with works like "No Good". This shift became gradually more apparent as The Nineties progressed, to the point where it would be difficult to believe that "Out of Space" was even made by the same group as songs such as "Breathe".
  • WASP were an 80s heavy metal band with a slight pop/glam bend once infamous for their dirty, innuendo laden lyrics and shocking stage shows. They were largely lumped together with the Hair Metal bands of their time. But after the release of The Headless Children in 1989, they became a lot Darker and Edgier and began making music that was a lot more focused on themes of politics, religion and violence. Most metal fans agree it was for the better.
  • Green Day started out doing pretty straightforward punk with lyrics about getting high, masturbating and being a deadbeat. By American Idiot they instead started focusing on politics and becoming more serious. The fans are now very split up around this. 21st Century Breakdown continued from American Idiot.
    • Subverted with their latest project, the Uno! Dos! Trè! Trilogy—from what the band has said and what we've heard of the songs, they're back to a just-having-fun style reminiscent of The Clash.
    • Note that during the time period of Lighter and Softer punk with Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong was doing political punk with Pinhead Gunpowder.
  • Pink Floyd may not have been quite the lightest of bands in the first place, but the departure and mental breakdown of Syd Barrett lead to severe Cerebus Syndrome - and, in an excellent example of Tropes Are Not Bad, also produced much of what is generally considered their best music, including Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon.
  • The Beatles had a moderate version of this. While the Silly Love Songs never disappeared altogether, their structure and the songs that got mixed in with them changed. This made it possible for rock to be considered a serious genre.
    • And they widened their themes. Following their first not-love-based-singles ("Nowhere Man" and "Paperback Writer"), they recorded with an album that included a Tear Jerker story ("Eleanor Rigby"), a whine about taxes ("Taxman"), a song about drugs disguised as a love song ("Got to Get You Into My Life"), a song praising sleep ("I'm Only Sleeping") and a childish song ("Yellow Submarine"), topped off with a very weird song about the LSD experience via the Tibetan Book of the Dead ("Tomorrow Never Knows"). And then came a Concept Album, some mindblowing singles (which were shoehorned into an "album," not entirely without filler), followed by a Genre Roulette album.
  • Done a few times with The Who. While never known for particularly happy songs, the early years of the band were the typical R&B/Rock songs about girls or The Man that you had out of the Beatles or the Stones. Then came "A Quick One While He's Away", about a woman having an affair while her lover is gone, and ultimately being forgiven for it. A few years later came Tommy, a full on rock opera that has a young boy go deaf, dumb, and blind after the shock of seeing his missing presumed dead father return and kills his wife's lover. It goes downhill from there. The next rock opera, Quadrophenia, is a story about a speed addicted, sanity slipping mod named Jimmy. Attempted suicide, fights with police, fallen idols, dangerous obsession over girls, and mental illness are just a few things touched on in the album. It was followed up by the darkest album the band ever made, The Who By Numbers. It has long been regarded as "Pete Townshend's suicide note". All the darkness in Tommy and Quadrophenia, but directed inward at Pete.
  • The Beastie Boys came to prominence with such intellectual works as "Girls" and "Fight For Your Right", only later to be distracted by such droll projects as organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert and becoming an alternative rock band.
    • Their earlier works were actually a Stealth Parody of fratboy cuture, which were taken seriously by their audience and is now considered an Old Shame. They partially changed their style to seperate themselves from that era, and seem to be disowning or downplaying everything from the "License To Ill" period.
  • The 69 Eyes started out as a typical Glam Rock band, but ever since "Wasting the Dawn", have developed a progressively more Gothic sound, which reached its tipping point at "Paris Kills."
  • The Monkees, once employed as a fictional, manufactured bubblegum pop group (based on The Beatles' films) signed by Don Kirshner for an NBC TV show. Other people produced and wrote the material on the records, while session musicians were secretly employed to provide backing tracks. When the truth was revealed to the public, leading to a Critical Backlash, the band members rebelled against their superiors, had Kirshner fired, and controlled more of their recordings and show episodes. The music took on serious and often sociopolitical tones while becoming musically more experimental and progressive. Meanwhile, the show took on more surreal and psychedelic tones. By 1968, with the series cancelled and Monkeemania fading away, the original quartet would film Head, an experimental and fairly incomprehensible film allegorically criticizing and dissecting the same media machinery that created the band in the first place. This movie, now a Cult Classic, would help put the final curtain on the band's teen following, but would give the group a hipster credibility in The Seventies.
  • In the early '90s, Alanis Morissette was pretty much the Canadian version of Debbie Gibson, singing light dance-pop songs. Then in 1995, she released Jagged Little Pill, an album full of angry breakup songs, turning her into an international superstar. The shift was successful enough that many of Alanis' non-Canadian fans don't even know that she was ever a bubblegum pop star. Watch this if you need convincing.
  • Oh, ABBA. In ten short years they went from shiny and upbeat to angsty and vaguely political. You can say what you want about early sad songs like "S.O.S." and "Knowing Me, Knowing You", but when both couples divorced we got really heartbreaking songs like "The Winner Takes It All" and "Happy New Year". There are only two songs on their final album that are remotely upbeat: "Head Over Heels", about a childish woman and her long-suffering boyfriend, and "Two For The Price Of One", about a man who feels so lonely and worthless that he religiously scours the personal ads (and was suicidal in the demo lyrics).
    • It must be said that 'Head Over Heels' has quite an eerie tune, at least for western music.
  • In 2007, "Evelyn Evelyn" was what Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley called themselves when they pretended to be conjoined twin girls and sang a cute song about riding an elephant. As of 2010, Evelyn and Evelyn are two full-fledged characters whose backstory is 99% rape, pedophilia, slavery, beatings, more slavery, abandonment and death.
  • Inverted and then played tremendously straight with Frank Zappa's work. The early Mothers of Invention albums were dark, scary, and subversive. As his compositional style got more and more colorful, Zappa got farther and farther away from this, doing straighter comedy and only occasionally becoming as dark as he once was. Then, in the last years of his life, he created Civilization Phaze III, which is his darkest and most serious album, complete with an insane plot about Pigs & Ponies he had started years before.
  • When a part of The Jackson 5 Michael Jackson sang whatever a kid his age was expected to, cute songs about romance and such. After he grew away from the group he sang lighthearted tunes. An album or two later, his songs became more angsty and dark (even including cursing on more than one instant), before eventually changing back.
  • Can be seen throughout the album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance. Starts out on the light-hearted, you-suck-we-win themed track "Na Na Na", before the tracks get more and more angsty and tragic. However, their last track, "Vampire Money", revamps the entire feel and ends the album with the same feeling it started out with, contradicting this trope in the first place.
  • Joy Division, who started off playing upbeat punk music with vaguely war related lyrics. By their last year, Ian was writing songs that came across as suicide notes. Their last recorded song "In A Lonely Place" mentions the process of a man hanging himself. And Ian did just that several days later. The band's evolution, New Order are an inversion, starting off a dark continuation of Joy Division and moving into poppier territory as they went on.
  • Miley Cyrus' first album outside of the Hannah Montana franchise, Meet Miley Cyrus was in the teen pop vein, with love songs devoted to her then-boyfriend Nick Jonas. After they broke up, her second album Breakout naturally reflected the breakup. Her EP The Time Of Our Lives, despite being more lighthearted, contained some angrier/punkier material like "Talk Is Cheap" and her cover of Ashlee Simpson's "Kicking And Screaming", while some songs show the beginnings of her image makeover to come. More of the makeover was found on Can't Be Tamed (although more of the songs invoked empowerment than sexuality), while songs like "Stay" and "Forgiveness And Love" were more reflective and/or melancholy.
  • Although Bruce Springsteen's early songs have occasional moments of melancholy, the overall impression of his first three albums is a manic world of street racing, fairgrounds and lots and lots of sex. After a long court case, he came back with Darkness on the Edge of Town, which was just what you'd expect from the title. A few years later, he put out Nebraska.
  • blur started out as one of Britpop's defining bands, but after The Great Escape, their sound became far less British and far less poppy as Damon Albarn wished to change their style (having once remarked, "I can sit at the piano and write brilliant observational pop songs all day but you've got to move on") and Graham Coxon became obsessed with lo-fi, experimental American bands. Their self-titled 1997 album was a transitional album that featured the US breakthrough hit "Song 2", but also darker songs such as "Theme From Retro" and "Essex Dogs". 13 (1999) completed the transition; it's hard to believe it's the same band that wrote "Country House". Their final album Think Tank (2003) eased up a bit, but contains a secret track that shows how far they'd come in the almost decade since Parklife - like the title track of that album, "Me White Noise" features a spoken guest vocal from Phil Daniels, but the two songs are nothing alike.
  • Martina McBride: She was originally an above-average female country singer with pop aspirations, which generally meant that she did what was popular at the time. But starting with "A Broken Wing" in 1997, she began focusing more entirely on sweeping Adult Contemporary ballads with loads of belting and "serious" issues ("A Broken Wing" was about domestic abuse and implied suicide) — before then, her most "serious" song was 1994's "Independence Day", which was at least still country-sounding. From the late 90s onward, almost everything she did was a dead-serious "issue" song of the same ilk. Among them: "Love's the Only House" (a general message of comfort to people in need), "Concrete Angel" (child abuse), "In My Daughter's Eyes" (self explanatory), "God's Will" (about a handicapped kid showing her how to love), "Anyway" (a vaguely religious-themed empowerment anthem), and "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" (breast cancer). Even when she does do an uptempo, it's almost invariably big, anthemic and life-empowering ("Ride", "Wrong Baby Wrong"), about domestic bliss ("Blessed", "I Just Call You Mine"), or both ("This One's for the Girls"). Not counting an album of 1960s and 1970s country covers she put out in 2005, her last real departure from formula was "When God-Fearin' Women Get the Blues" way back in 2001.
  • The Roots started getting darker from 2002's Phrenology onwards. 2010's How I Got Over was a slight return to their well, you know before 2011's Undun took another Cerebus turn.
  • Scott Walker started out as a pop singer with The Walker Brothers before becoming a solo crooner. After hinting at what would come much later with his fourth solo album Scott 4 in 1969, Walker spent the 70s releasing unmemorable covers albums before taking a slight Cerebus turn with 1984's Climate of Hunter. He completed the transition eleven years later with Tilt, and continued in the same vein another eleven years later with The Drift, both of them notable for having almost nothing in common with Walker's earlier work and for their experimental nature; Walker made his drummer hit a slab of pork for one track on the latter.
  • Hard Rock music as a whole with the 1970 debut album of Black Sabbath.
  • The English band Japan started out as a bunch of glam rock loving teenagers who managed to sound a lot like a British version of the New York Dolls. Then, beginning with their low-key cover of Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion" and the release of 1980's Quiet Life, they began sounding more adult and experimental, culminating with their very Asiatic (fitting for their name) final studio album, 1982's Tin Drum. Then band leader David Sylvian struck out on his own and recorded a few albums of solid adult contemporary pop/jazz hybrid music before repeating the Japan trend by going off into a progressively more experimental direction with each subsequent album. (His late-'90s album Dead Bees on a Cake was a brief foray back into the jazz-pop world.)
  • Gorillaz first album was fairly light-hearted in tone and lyrics, and only dipped into darker stuff on a couple songs. Demon Days started building up a continuity for the band, and the tone of songs got much darker sounding and lyrics more bleak. By Plastic Beach, Noodle is supposedly dead, Murdoc builds a new Noodle out of her DNA, 2D is kidnapped and forced to work on the new album while suffering withdrawal symptoms, and Russel becomes gigantic, supposedly from pollution in the ocean. That's not even getting into how much darker the actually happy sounding songs are.

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