Friday, November 21, 2008

The Confluence of Things

I've been reading Dave Thompson's I Hate New Music: The Classic Rock Manifesto, and for the most part it's disappointing in its dumbness. Tim Gebhart summarizes Thompson at Blogcritics.com and inadvertently gets to the heart of the problem:

Regardless of the blend any reader may think he uses, the ultimate message is the same: rock music has lost something crucial and we're worse off for it.

The vagueness of that doesn't get us closer to the problem - presuming a problem even exists - so the book breaks down to a "things were better in my day" that too often supports itself with easy and false wisecracks.
The classic rock period is a really interesting one, and when Peter Frampton blames himself for killing rock 'n' roll, there's some truth to it. Frampton Comes Alive and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours demonstrated in a big way what musicians and companies were slowly learning in the early 1970s - that there was more money to be made from rock 'n' roll than anybody had previously imagined. The '70s see the birth of rock 'n' roll as a business, and that changed everything. Yes, the growing importance that was put on studio recordings and the technological changes that made "less human" recordings possible affected music, but those changes happened for business reasons, not because musicians were better, more artistic souls then and they're callow sucks now.

Any then-vs.-now argument cheats because all crappy artists who put out lousy albums back then have been forgotten. So far, I haven't seen any discussion of Angel, for example. Many of the trend-following albums and artists have faded from memory, leaving the great hard rock bands to stand seemingly as a posse of Camaro-powered greatness next to which all the pale and nerdy that have followed them seem puny.

That said, during the time I've been reading Thompson's dismissal of contemporary music, I've had doubts about modern music. To pick an example at random, I received three emails from publicists for Sebastien Grainger & the Mountains asking me if I'm going to review his new album on Saddle Creek Records. Grainger was part of Death From Above 1979 and the CD's a perfectly likeable album of guitar-oriented new wave dance rock. The bass is punk rock insistent and the songs are often little more than chord progressions, but they become anthemic and are fun.

Still, I know a year from now I'll have forgotten I own this CD, and I wonder if any of the publicists working the album will think of it again this time next year. And I wonder if my thoughts here have more to do with the business of rock 'n' roll than Grainger himself. He came to me as an example not because the music was so memorable - though again, I enjoy it when I hear it. Find it at an mp3 blog at and check it out - but because someone treated it like it was important. And next month will treat another slate of releases as important, and another. That machine-like cycle suggests that something has changed and not for the better, which is about as far as I'm willing to go with Thompson right now.

1 comment:

Alex V. Cook said...

That's part of the reason I love John Peel - whenever asked, throughout his multi-decade career, for the best era of music was his answer was invariably "this one."

I'm curious as to what music of now will last. I spent my teenage years in the 80s fully convinced then that the era's music would die out with the decade, even the music I loved, and I'm continually surprised that relatively 2nd tier groups like Spandau Ballet and The Fixx and Simply Red penned songs that keep on living, yet when was the last time you heard a Duran Duran song?