There are many ways to revive a lagging career, or better yet, be proactive and revitalize your artistry before you're seen as a bloated hack ( I'm looking at you, U2 ). Over the past 60 years of rock n' roll a few key artists have shown that the way to go from sensational to legendary is to take a left turn and throw off your audience, in a good way.
Setting the blueprint was 1960s crooner Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers. Outside this Righteous-Brothers-meets-Tom-Jones style vocal trio, Walker gradually made four solo albums in the late '60s that got more and more bat-shit artsy, taking his career from mainstream to underground. While his albums sold less and less, his influence got bigger and bigger, and currently at 71 years old, he is one of the best reviewed artists around.
The '70s saw big surprise hits by glam legends Lou Reed and David Bowie, who both promptly turned in other directions right afterwards with Lou Reed's rock opera Berlin and Bowie's three albums ( coincidentally ) The Berlin Series. While not fully appreciated at the time, especially Reed's, now they're considered some of the most influential works of the '70s and gave both even more credibility than previous imagined.
Grace Jones and Prince closed the '70s as disco dollies, but were smart to drop the genre after a their first couple LPs, basically helping invent alternative R&B. Grace went dub/reggae and Prince merged rock into his funk. Prince went even further in the experiment, and after selling 17 million albums of Purple Rain, made the gorgeous, puzzling flop, Around the World In a Day. While fans still bought it, the lack of videos and real hooks turned off the casual listener and set the stage fore two even stronger artistic albums to follow, creating a bed of trust with fans that still clings today. Barely.
Any decent band to come out of the '90s followed this pattern as Pearl Jam, Beck, Radiohead, and Nine Inch Nails all went Yoko-loco after hitting with their debuts, some rejecting music videos, putting expletives into singles, or ditching song structure. And guess what? All four are still regarded as huge, stadium-filling and critically-acclaimed artists 20 years later. How's that going for you, Stone Temple Pilots and Hootie?
So as we see formerly interesting pop divas like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry slip in sales while Beyonce has the biggest hit of her career, you have to wonder, who is making the right choices: the ones who follow the formula of their past glory days, or the ones who took some chances and went with their gut? I'm still looking at you, U2.