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Slow Starts

Some recording artists hit the scene with a strong sound, thrilling listeners with their confidence, inventiveness and fully-realized talent right out of the gate. Others need to spend a few years digging through their influences and refining the sounds they pioneer. Though it would be nice if every great artist could have a debut as strong and on-the-money as The White Stripes or Arcade Fire, it's often just as interesting in retrospect to listen to those who would soon be the best building up to their "wow" moment. Here are a few acts who spent some time dabbling before they found their voice.

R.E.M.

These most famous boys to ever come out of Athens, Georgia (no small feat considering the college town's disproportionate contribution to music in the 80's and 90's) managed to release a decade's worth of unforgettable albums between 1986 and 1997, but R.E.M. had been in the studio since 1983. Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life's Rich Pageant are all good records, each with at least one of the band's essential tracks, though they lack the power and the focus R.E.M. would begin to dig up on Document then bring to the front on Green. Early R.E.M. is a mix of the heartfelt jangle that made them famous and a smattering of ideas pilfered from all over the spectrum of rock and folk. By the time "Pop Song 89" first spun, R.E.M. had found its voice.

 

The Mountain Goats

John Darnielle has been bringing his particular brand of darkly humorous lyrics and stripped-down instrumentation to the studio as The Mountain Goats since 1991. He hopped between several super-small indie labels until 2002 when he found his home at 4AD. Darnielle's first release with 4AD, Tallahassee, finds him enjoying the comforts of a proper recording environment without losing the raw heart that his fans have loved since his cassette days. While songs like the vitriolic breakup track "No Children" definitely benefit from the clarity of a pro studio, it's quieter moments like "Game Shows Touch Our Lives" that really flourish in the new digs.

 

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

1984's From Her To Eternity is memorable as a dark, visceral art-rock album but there isn't a single toe-tapper on the entire record. In fact, the funny, morbid, beautiful sound that would make Nick Cave a legend didn't rear its head until four albums later in 1988 with Tender Prey. The Bad Seeds premiered their intense flagship song "The Mercy Seat" on that album and filled the rest with spooky lounge music and sudden bursts of energy. By the time The Good Son hit shelves in 1990, Nick Cave had found a way to mix his nightmares with his sentimental side to make unforgettable music.

 

David Bowie

Granted, the legendary David Bowie didn't spend too much time fiddling around before he began routinely blowing minds, though his self-titled debut is little more than twee folk music not unlike a lot of what was spinning in the mid to late 1960's. Some of that style still lingers on his breakthrough sophomore album Space Oddity and Bowie spends half of The Man Who Sold The World tooling around in blues rock. It wasn't until 1971's Hunky Dory that rock's favorite chameleon embraced his freaky side and found the sound that would blossom into a career that has been running five decades and counting.