I've discovered that this is one of the most tell-tale signs that the songs of some music group are no longer worth listening to. Generally it means that the lyrics are no longer engaging or provocative, the overall energy has been drained, the variety of moods has narrowed, the melody has been cut out of the song's guts, and there are no more ornamental motifs. And it is no longer danceable at all, in the sense of taking over your body and making you tap your feet, drum your fingers, or want to get up out of your seat and move around.
What's left is basically a sonic recording of a heroin ride -- the lyrics are ponderously self-indulgent, a hazy space-out replaces a driving feeling, the mood is monotonously melancholy, the over-emphasis on harmony with hardly any melody heightens this spacey time-come-to-a-standstill quality, and so do the motifs, which are more like slowly surfacing kaleidoscopic flickerings, not catchy riffs or whatever that help you place a song in long-term memory. ("Oh yeah, that song that starts off -- " and cue the opening riff of "Satisfaction".)
No surprise that a good deal of this kind of music tends to be done under the influence of heroin itself, like the varieties of jazz that followed the Jazz Age (such as bebop), or the strains of rock that followed the Rock 'n' Roll Age (such as indie or "post-rock" -- what a faggot name).
The function of this kind of music seems to be to allow the performers and listeners of music to go through the motions of performing and listening to what should be a socially and emotionally engaging experience, but isolating everyone into their own little spaced-out worlds. Thus the link to periods of cocooning (falling-crime times). They don't want to feel like there's a real interaction or shared experience going on, just a room or a hive full of closed-off individuals shooting up opiates through their earbuds.
Some talk about entire genres developing a "more mature sound" in the above way, but usually it's in the context of particular groups changing their sound over time. What are some examples that I've gotten burned by and learned these facts the hard way? That assumes that some of the group's earlier work was engaging, and that their "more mature sound" is a fall from grace. So I don't mean to rag on the group's output as a whole here.
I thought about including YouTube links to compare the earlier and "mature" sounds for each group, but that's going to take too long.
Disintegration by The Cure was the first time I remember consciously reflecting on the disconnect between "critical acclaim" -- i.e., fanboy gushing by loner nerds -- and human response. There are a few memorable songs ("Lullaby," "Lovesong," and the uplifting "Pictures of You"), but overall it is mind-numbing and emotionally off-putting. Sold it back used the next week.
After reading so much unqualified praise for the Eurythmics' album Savage, I checked out some songs on YouTube before buying it (now a standard precaution when the reviews are so effusive). Just couldn't dig it. Like the others here, it wasn't bad or unlistenable, since the core talent was still with the band, and yet -- I feel like saying they should just lighten up, it's only pop music, but their original hits weren't exactly upbeat. They were engaging and memorable, though.
Talk Talk got off to a great start in the heyday of new wave, their first album The Party's Over being about as good as any other from that era. However it was their follow-up, It's My Life, that blew most of the others out of the water -- why doesn't that album exemplify a "more mature sound" in the minds of music geeks? As with the Eurythmics, I've mostly sampled their later three albums before plunking down the money to buy them, and again I just can't groove to it. These are the ones that the reviewing class praises as helping rock music evolve past itself. Who knew suicide was so praiseworthy?
I doubt it's just the luck of the draw for the ones I've sampled either. The Pandora entries for the songs on their last three albums hardly mention melodic qualities at all, whereas 6 of the 9 songs on It's My Life had a sufficiently strong "thru-composed melodic style" that their entries mention it as an identifying feature. That's easily the highest rate of songs on an album with that quality. In plain English, it means that the somewhat largish units of the melody (like phrases or clauses in a sentence) tend not to be repeated very often. To sustain an entire song, that requires a lot more catchy phrases to be written, not to mention be woven one into the next. Song composers tend not to use it that much because it sacrifices easy memorability (less repetition makes it harder to memorize) for greater sophistication. By the end you feel like you've taken a tour through many more melodic places.
That's probably enough to give you an idea. Some more widely understood examples would be Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road compared to Help! and Rubber Soul by the Beatles. But I figured I'd be more fair and subject the groups and styles I cherish to the criticism. Again I don't really hold it against the groups too much that an army of try-hard nerds has sanctified their less successful efforts just because it has the self-conscious stamps of Really Serious Music, which out of a deep insecurity they rely on as guides for what is good and bad, rather than just let the music speak to and move them -- or not -- and judge it that way.
Maybe one YouTube link won't hurt. Here's an engaging, rather than opiated, mature sound: