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Cerebus Syndrome / Music

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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 '90s 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.
    • With Revolution Radio, they've mixed the fun with the politics, so they seem to be trying to split the difference on both.
    • 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 were one of the most successful examples of this tropes. They started out as a silly Psychedelic Rock band, fronted by Syd Barrett, on their first album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, whose lyrics were light, whimsical, and often humorous, with songs including "Lucifer Sam" about a cat, "Bike", a Silly Love Song, and "Mathilda Mother" about a mother reading fairy tales. However, after Syd Barett left due to mental illness and David Gilmour replaced him, the band's lyrics became much more abstract and serious, with pretty much no humor, and the music became darker and more experimental. Then, Roger Waters came to the fore on what is widely considered to be their best album, The Dark Side of the Moon, a dark, cynical concept album about life, tackling themes like insanity ("Brain Damage"), war ("Us and Them") and how time slips by as you get older ("Time"). Their following two albums Wish You Were Here and Music/Animals were about the corrupt music industry and how corrupt society is in general, before they went darker still with The Wall, about a rock-star who secludes himself from the whole world and fantasizes about being a neo-nazi dictator, only lightened up by some humor (Such as in "The Trial", or "One of My Turns"). Their darkest album, however, was The Final Cut, an entirely serious look at the horrors of war. Most of these albums are regarded as among their best.
  • 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.
  • The Beach Boys, the Beatles' American rivals, went through a similar progression. Their early albums were all about love, surfing, and having fun, but after a while Brian Wilson wanted to bring something deeper to their music. The second side of The Beach Boys Today! started to hint at this before the band's masterpiece, Pet Sounds, brought it fully to the fore. Many of the songs on Pet Sounds are still love songs, but with a more introspective, melancholy tone. Unfortunately, despite a great deal of critical success, Pet Sounds was the Boys' lowest-selling album (at least initially), contributing to Wilson's Creator Breakdown and the collapse of his follow-up project, Smile.
  • 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 '70s.
  • 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 two covers albums, her last real departure from the syndrome 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.
  • Country Music duo Big & Rich's first two albums (Horse of a Different Color and Comin' to Your City) had a roughly 50/50 mix of upbeat, rock-influenced party songs such as "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" and "Comin' to Your City", and lushly produced, hard-hitting ballads such as "Holy Water" and "8th of November". The next two albums (Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace and Hillbilly Jedi) put more emphasis on the serious songs, with many critics deriding the latter two albums' "party" songs for sounding calculated and tired. It seems they got the message, as after leaving Warner Bros. Records, they self-released Gravity in 2014, which was generally lauded for abandoning the "party" shtick in favor of a more focused set of "serious" songs.
  • Songwriter Dennis Linde, though a Reclusive Artist, seemed to show this. His early material was often light and bouncy, and often about being in love: for example, "Burning Love" by Elvis Presley or "I'm Gonna Get You" by Eddy Raven. But by The '90s, a darkness began to creep in. Some examples include "Night Is Fallin' in My Heart" by Diamond Rio (a song about a breakup), "Queen of My Double Wide Trailer" by Sammy Kershaw (about taking a woman back from another man who has claimed her), or most notoriously, "Goodbye Earl" by Dixie Chicks (a Black Comedy song about two women who conspire to kill an abusive man). Some of his later material also shows a sort of disilluisonment with the Nashville music scene, such as "Down in a Ditch" by Joe Diffie (about a worker who wishes he were at the top of the food chain) or "The Talkin' Song Repair Blues" by Alan Jackson (about a man who micro-manages an amateur songwriter's song).
  • Blink 182. Their first few albums were chock-full of dick jokes, sexually suggestive humor, and songs that aren't meant to be taken seriously. Then the happy songs became more serious. Then came "Adam's Song." And songs about the effects of divorce on young children. And serious, not silly love songs. Over two decades removed from their first album, and with Matt Skiba having replaced Tom DeLonge, it's safe to say that the goofy references to Benjamin "Ben" Dover and the frat boy humor of Blink in their late-teens and early-20s are more of a side show and no longer the meat of their creative output.
  • All Time Low followed in Blink's footsteps initially, with their first few albums and E Ps being more carefree and lighthearted, though with some serious moments like 'Remembering Sunday.' On their third album, the band started experimenting with general storytelling in their songs, like 'Lost In Stereo,' but still were having a general degree of fun with their music making. Then Dirty Work was meant to be more of a mix of both having fun and being more serious with their writing, since they wanted to mix a more Pop sound into their Pop Punk/Emo sound. It didn't work out too well for most, including the band. Don't Panic was more of a success, as they managed to have fun and further their serious writing. After that, Future Hearts went back to a more carefree attitude, as well as a more Pop sound. The next album, Last Young Renegade, however, was meant to be their most serious album to date, with more mature lyrics and tone for a majority of the songs, and only one true Pop Punk song on the album. Fans are currently divided over this, since the band has never truly taken themselves too seriously outside of a few moments before, and the way they're trying to do so on the album is leaving a bit to be desired for some.
  • Fall Out Boy started out as a general Pop Punk group. After their initial album, due to Pete's lyrics, they started the Emo Pop revolution of the mid-2000s, they went back to just Pop Punk, while also starting to be more Alternative. Infinity On High is really where they started writing more heavy songs. Folie A Deux turns this up a bit, complete with another development in Pete writing from different perspectives than his own. After their hiatus that followed Folie, though, they went back to just making music to just enjoy without thinking about it, with them redefining themselves as a Pop group than Alternative, with each successive album growing ever so more, with added electronics and less regular instrumentations. A lot of fans didn't like their third and forth albums at the time, since they changed it up from their earlier style, and while they have more fans of those albums today than when they came out, particularly Folie, their newer Pop style is slowly gaining more detractors, if sales figures of their latest singles are any indication.
  • While it still retains fun and/or silly songs in between, the themes in BTS' music become darker and more complex with each album and concept. Their work as a whole can be read as a Coming of Age story on its own, as it mirrors the growth of the members.
    • While the School Trilogy had songs criticizing the school system, societal expectations and consumerism, the rest of the songs were generally (with exceptions like "Tomorrow") either some form of Badass Boasts or love songs that ranged between Silly Love Songs and Break Up Songs, with the Outros of the three albums being "Outro: Circle Room Cypher", "Outro: Luv in Skool", and "Outro: Propose".
    • Dark n Wild - their first full album - has a more complex take on love, dealing with both happier love songs ("24/7=Heaven") and topics like mixed signals from the other person, Love Hurts and Hormone Addled Teenagers. It also deals with themes of depression ("Rain"). The album ends with the heartbroken "Outro: Does It Make Sense?".
      • "Intro: What Am I to You?" is a Cerebus Syndrome example in a song, starting off with beautiful sampled violins while a love-struck RM spouts lyrics about the start of a relationship... until a Tone Shift occurs mid-song, where RM starts detailing problems in the relationship. By the end, he's angrily shouting, "what am I to you?! What am I to you?!/I do love you crazy, uh, do you?!".
    • The Most Beautiful Moment in Life introduces the theme of the struggles of youth that go along with its beauty. While it features some of their biggest empowering/hype songs ("Dope", "Fire", "Intro: Nevermind"), it takes on topics like uncertainty and fear for the future, depression and loneliness, how things can change over time, desperate love and Destructive Romance. I ends in an emotional and bittersweet note with "Epilogue: Young Forever".
    • WINGS is a Coming-of-Age Story in itself and possibly their darkest/most emotional album yet, with the theme of falling into temptation and breaking the world of illusions. "Intro: Boy Meets Evil" and the title song "Blood, Sweat and Tears" (about a forbidden/obsessive love) are followed by a series of very personal solo songs for each member, with topics like melancholy and self-hatred, guilt and living a lie. It ends in a hopeful note with Jin's solo, "Awake". The second half has a lighter hopeful tone, but with songs that are either empowering or emotional in a hopeful way. It ends on a high, but still emotional note in "Outro: Wings" (a dance song) and "A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone".
    • LOVE YOURSELF: Her seems like an aversion, having a much Lighter and Softer sound... except that the album goes through a Cerebus Syndrome in itself. It starts with an idealized vision of (not necessarily romantic) love with "Serendipity" and "DNA", gradually changing into a more obsessive kind of love ("Best of Me", "Pied Piper", the latter of which is also a gentle commentary on fan-obsession), to "Mic Drop", to the very dark lyrics-wise "Go Go". It ends with "Outro: Her", which is about changing oneself and hiding one's darker/uglier sides to be loved by the other person. This theme reappears in the hidden track "Skit: Hesitation and Fear", where the members openly talk about their image being a filtered version of themselves. The last track is "Sea", a melancholic song reflecting on BTS' struggles throughout their career and the momentary nature of success.
    • LOVE YOURSELF: Tear follows on the themes reached at the end of Her, with the theme of the realization that hiding under a mask has only led to a Loss of Identity, and that the love received is therefore not real ("Intro: Singularity", "Fake Love"). It features "The Truth Untold" and "134340". While the tone starts getting a bit lighter and more hopeful after that with "Paradise" until the EDM song "So What", the tone goes back to dark again with "Outro: Tear", where the illusion in Her is completely, bitterly and painfully broken.