Archive for June 20th, 2009

Is Rock all said and done?

There was an article the other day about the majority of the most influential rock bands being mostly British: Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden, Oasis and of course, U2 (actually Irish). The US has only Nirvana, Metallica, and to a lesser degree, Pearl Jam and Guns’n’Roses, to show off at that level. US has many more big bands collectively, but few stand out as much as the British ones.

In fact, if I was to pick the most important bands in the past decades of rock, it would look something like this:
60s: Beatles, Rolling Stones
70s: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd
80s: U2, Iron Maiden
90s: Nirvana, Metallica

Now, here’s the interesting thing: I can’t find for the life of me a single band for the current 2000s decade that I personally find important and influential. Green Day, Coldplay, and The White Stripes are coming close, but no cake. Green Day are just alt.punk (heard it all before), Coldplay are more pop than rock, and The White Stripes sound just like a more modern version of the Led Zeppelin. But none of these bands actually offers a new, fresh, and innovative sound like any of the bands I mentioned above.

Some will say that the decade is not out yet, and so I haven’t felt their impact to new artists just yet. But I don’t believe that this is the case here. I really don’t see any grass root innovation in rock anymore. The last one was in the early ’90s. Since then, the UK hasn’t had any new big bands, and USA just plays the “maintenance game”. I feel that I have heard it all before.

Let me be clear that there are bands out there that ARE innovative, bands like the Cloud Cult. But I can’t outright call them influential, since only few people know their existence. Even MGMT, who do sound different and have a major contract, only have had moderate success in the grand scheme of things.

I would go as far and say that most of the 2000s is governed by that folk indie-rock sound, like the Iron & Wine, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes. Problem with this is, by being mostly indie (both as a genre, and as a business model), they don’t reach a lot of people — especially not worldwide, like any of the bands of the previous decades have done. Most of Europe couldn’t care less about folk-sounding indie rock, for example. And yet, they were taken as with a storm by the Nirvana!

So, what’s wrong with rock? Why this decade hasn’t produced brand new sounds to inspire the generations to come? There are two schools of thought about this, from two different people that I will indirectly quote below:

1. Eric Earley, the singer/songwriter of Blitzen Trapper (a band that plays ’70s-sounding folk rock), said in an interview a few months ago (on the podcast interview here, and on another similar interview) that everything that can be done with rock is pretty much already been done and that rock might fade away. Also, for him, it doesn’t matter if something sounds modern or not, only thing it matters is if the song is good or not — no matter the sub-genre.

My take: If that’s true, then why people don’t buy old, traditional songs anymore? I know for one, I can’t stand them, even if I realize that some of them are actually good. And, is it enough for an artist to rehash something others did 30 years before him?

2. My husband, Jean-Baptiste, a software engineer, and someone who doesn’t believes in stumbling blocks. He is a problem-solver at Google — that’s his job. JBQ believes that there are always new possibilities, and new things to invent. For him, there will always be that open-minded musician that will surprise us all with a completely new sound, when we least expect it.

My take: if that’s true, why this decade had not had a single major Rock-God band? What if there is indeed a finite number of rock genres and melodies that can sound good to the human ear?

Finally, my opinion: As most of the times when I present controversial food for thought, I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I believe that you can only re-invent something so many times before it still feels old. At the same time though, music software gets more powerful and allows for more experimentation and research: this allows for previously independent genres of music to merge, blurring the limits of what is rock and what is not (e.g. MGMT’s electro sound). Adding to this the upcoming death of the entertainment industry at large, there will be fewer people choosing the profession (although this might prove a good thing, since too many cooks…).

The pessimist in me believes that “rock” (and music as something more important than just a random song playing on the background while eating dinner) had a golden era between 1960 and 2000. We are currently living towards the decline of the multi-billion industry and the highly innovative musical times. I know that for some people this is something that they can’t grasp since they grew up with this status quo, but I can tell you that priorities do change in society faster than you think. Music will never die, but our investment level in it can change dramatically on different times of the human history.