Sunday, June 26, 2005

play it cold.

The monsoon is here; I smell the rant about rock music no longer being what it was in the air.

I love The Guardian. They tell me exactly what I want to hear as a bleeding-heart pinko-liberal-intellectual-elitist-womyn and - oh, hang on while I take my tongue out of my cheek - they have some good writers. They did this piece on Coldplay just a month back that was excellent armchair rock journalism, full of the sort of bewitching trivia and fuzzy pop perspective that allows Rolling Stone to maintain its dignity even as it features the Ashton Kutchers and Ashlee Simpsons of the world on its venerated covers. Rock writing is an art, an exercise in creating a spectacle out of spectacle. Or as in the case of The G's Coldplay piece, spectacle out of nothing.

Now, this Friday, they come up with the piece linked in my first sentence. In summary it says: Coldplay sucks, Keane sucks, Snow Patrol sucks, new rock isn't going anywhere, the lyrics are no longer poetry, did we mention that Coldplay is the suXX0rz??/\??

Like, hello. We knew that already?

*discerns the sounds of Coldplay fanrage nearing*

Disclaimer: I'm a dud rock fan, possibly the worst, most populist, herd-following, nostalgia-glutted girl that ever owned a Doors tee-shirt. The most recent of my favourite English rock albums? Came out in 1986. (for more details, see the U2 post further down this blog.) So, yes, positively vapid. So much so that it's a wonder I don't listen to more 90's post-rock.

Rock music is no holy cow of mine. I don't care who plays their own instruments or writes meaningful lyrics or doesn't sell their songs in adverts or places in the charts. I love The Beatles, The Doors, Floyd, Zeppelin, and U2, and they have all committed crimes against their own beginnings by doing big fat commercial stuff and breaking out of the long dark teatime of the soul. I love Sigur Ros and I don't understand a word of what they're singing - I don't care what sort of noise-metal-thingummy they actually are, they sound like rock to me. And when I say love, I mean love, the I-can-listen-to-this-album-on-repeat, I-still-remember-what-each-note-felt-like-when-I-first-heard-it, now-i'm-dancing-now-i'm-crying sort of embarassment.

There aren't any newer rock bands that can do that for me. (Although, have you heard A Perfect Circle cover Imagine? They're pretty frickin' awesome.) I adore rock as an entity of many parts; there is the charisma of the band, the sense of being part of a passionate community, the preciousness of the bits of trivia that every fan uses to construct their idea of the band, and all these things add up to something that creates a framework for the main thing, the music. You could say that really good music doesn't need cheap props and spectacle. I'd say probably not. But that's what defines rock music for me; anything that doesn't create that need to geek out in me doesn't have the same effect.

In a conversation with Lindsey and friends about the Guardian article (on suxx0r bands), D, who I hope will not mind being quoted here, quite rightly pointed out:

Kinda unfair to say today's lyrics are banal and the ridiculous belief that older automatically means better. He holds up Lennon, Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker as great? Why not throw in Bob Dylan while we're at it? Yes, Bob, writer of such fantastically deep and profound words such as "Everybody must get stoned!" How about the incredible "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bla la la how life goes on" from the untouchable Lennon? (sp? It's a Macca song) ... I take the point that great lyricists are not as plentiful as they used to be, and I don't argue it. Music is more than just the lyrics. Oh, the lyrics help, but people don't air guitar, nod their head, tap their foot or just rock out to lyrics.

Yeah, man. I've never understood the need to equate rock lyrics with poetry. Who on earth goes to a rock concert for the 'poetry'? I love Lennon but I don't think he's a poet in the 'maker of poems' sense of the term.

I did pontificate thus:

Since the 1990's, rock bands have taken on the mantle of ironists rather than poets, and I think the post-Radiohead generation has brought this examination on itself. These guys are, at least at first glance, indistingushable from one another musically, they have no defining signatures - and there's no leavening by way of star power either. Rock music has traditionally been oriented around the figure of the bard, the prophet, the one who has been chosen to speak the mind of the public in spite of and because of the fact that he or she is different from them, because he or she can where others cannot. 'A man speaking among men', as I think Wordsworth put it. None of these bands have that, even though they sell themselves as boys-next-door.

Every decade has its share of pathetic bands that are all carbon copies of each other - and I am SO thankful the eighties are over - but there's been no overweaning, defining sound that the post-Nirvana era would be proud to be associated with.

Alt-rock really doesn't seem to offer any alternatives, because there aren't any BIG bands to take the house. Call me inattentive if I'm wrong, but from here it looks like we're sitting through an alarmingly long string of opening acts, waiting for the real thing to show up drunk and loud and beautiful.


Two U2 links. Shut up. They're good links: Transcript of a recentish Bono interview. "Radiohead just looked at the pop machine and the machinations of pop and just said, we don't have it in us, we don't have the energy, to have our way with that. I don't hear Thom Yorke singing on the radio. I want to hear Radiohead, extraordinary band that they are, on MTV. I want them setting fire to the imaginations of 16, 15, 14 year old kids."

Their Vague Majesties Of Rock. Excellent, if one-dimensional. Slate piece that notices something rather extraordinary about the band. U2's other trick is to pretend that it is a political rock band.

current musix: exodus quartet - the far east coast


  1. As much as I like a few Radiohead numbers I think they're becoming far to pretentious. Rock is not just sitting in a studio and recording and selling records that go platinum and molybdenum, it's about connecting on the stage. It's the devil's music and unlike God the devil is a very people person

  2. I think Coldplay is begging to suck now. The song "Speed of sound" is so predictable.
    Please to check out my post on ChutneySpears on how rock fans had to be disillusioned.

  3. Thanks for the link, Shivaji; I'll run over and read it pronto.

    I gues Coldplay was always a little predictable, weren't they. I liked some of their early stuff - like The Scientist. They're harmless in themselves; there's just no big countering factor in rock these days, no opposite-of-Coldplay or beyond-Coldplay. And that's what bothers me.

  4. Hi Roswitha,
    very nice post. But I can’t quite relate to what you say about bands “committing crimes against their own beginnings by doing big fat commercial stuff...” - at least not with regard to the Beatles and U2. Seems to me the Beatles were doing the commercially popular stuff in their early days, up to 1965, after which they headed teatime-of-the-soul-wards.
    With U2, it’s a little more controversial; in a broad sense I get the point you’re trying to make, and a majority of rock fans still yearn for the Joshua Tree and Unforgettable Fire days. But listen to Achtung Baby (and even the unfairly maligned Zooropa, for that matter) without bothering about the ostentatious rock-star show-offery (and Bono’s “Fly” posturing) that accompanied those albums and you’ll see that the music is of an exceptionally high quality. It’s certainly more varied and experimental than in the earlier albums, and I think it was brave for a superstar band who had established themselves with a particular sound/image to ditch that in favour of newer things.

    Just a few thoughts. I’m not dissing any of the earlier stuff, btw, I love both pre-Achtung and post-Achtung phases equally.

    Pink Floyd, yes: but I actually think they sold out pre-DSOTM. Check this post sometime:

  5. Hey Jabberwock,

    I'm not sure in turn why you were left with the impression that I don't like post-Achtung U2. I do. I think they've grown a little tired and they've definitely gone commercial with the iPod campaign, no matter how much Bono will rhapsodize about Apple-as-art, but I love much of their electronica, including all of Achtung Baby. I do think they haven't made a better or more complex album than The Joshua Tree in terms of overall artistic success but that's purely personal opinion. I'm a fuddy-duddy, since most of my favourite albums were made before the 80s, but I am a little aware of what goes on these days. But thanks; you've made me realise that electronica and noise HAVE produced a sound the 90s will be proud to be associated with, even if the only guys who can really pull it off are obscure Nordic dudes. Oh, and Pentagram when they're in form.

    And I grant you the point as regards the Beatles always being huge commercial bunnies. I think its the fact that they predate and in some way, define terms like sellout and pop and even rock that muddled my thought a bit. In a sense, they recreated both pop and rock, and that is as much a betrayal as anything else.

    *goes off to read your post*

  6. Oops, guess I got that wrong then. Read your U2 post without reading it well *smacks self on head and slinks away ashamedly*