With specific reference to guitar-based music, the whole scene is getting like the bloody Antiques Roadshow. No wonder old bands are re-forming. They can cash in on a lucrative live scene. And no wonder that, alongside these genuine, fine and trusty old antiques, a new set of reproductions are being wheeled out to satisfy the market. That's why the Bunnymen supported Coldplay not that long ago.
Cash Rock versus Forward Thinking Motherfuckers...
Picture the scene. A meal has just been eaten in the Incendiary shed. The five of us chaps and gals sit round the table, engaged in post-prandial discourse. Music naturally is the subject of discussion. As we are wont to do, we occasionally flick the pie crumbs off our clothing at each other; each trajectory signalling if you will, a point made. During the discussion which eventually found its expression in this article, a lot of crumbs were dispatched at one another, but mostly at me I'm afraid to say. The subject under discussion was the growing acceptance, implicit in many cases, from new bands that are categorised as independent or underground to play to order to a set of predetermined principles, rigorously applied by a keen management or PR company. Prescription Rock if you will allow me to coin a phrase. Cash Rock if you will allow me to coin another.
And that is the subject of this article.
Playing devil's advocate I may be, but I will now lay the charge against a whole wave of new bands of not actually being in a band for the music at all, not even one little bit. And the sad thing is I am not wholly condemnatory in the accusation. In some ways this is a reasonable outlook for the bands in question to take. There must be a realisation that no-one is going to last three albums anymore, so why not play all your tricks at once? Time is short, memories are shorter. Subtle re-invigorations and re-births of earlier more credible acts are inaugurated to give the new act a kick-start. Throw in the money from a record company and the whiles of a smart PR and management team and hey ho! We're back to where we were with the boy bands of the early '60s and late '90s. Oh, great. Except of course these boy ands have Joy Division instead of Abba or Elvis as their point of reference. To be even cheekier you could say that rock's reservoirs of cool are being exploited and consumed and discarded at such a rate that we are all going to have to start looking for an alternative credibility source very soon.
I had already broached this subject very tentatively on a forum which I frequent. I was met with this caustic reply – well it's obvious, its pop music isn't it? (you dolt). Well it is... up to a point Lord Copper. Pop music is the cheery, sometimes incredibly poignant stuff that usually helps you through the day at work. It's mainly about whistling that happy tune, however sophisticated the pop you listen to may be. That's the kind of thing that pop music is. And bless me, but that isn't the same thing as Cash Rock.
Let us consider two lists at this point. Pop music to me is practised by the following artists; Sugababes, Kanye West, Madonna, James Blunt and McFly. Cash Rock to me is exemplified by the following bands; The Bravery, Editors, Bloc Party and Coldplay.
One fact should immediately strike you on perusal of this list, namely that the list of artists who are practitioners of pop music shows an extraordinary range of genders, ages, musical styles and images. Whereas in stark contrast, the exponents of Cash Rock are all guitar bands comprising of four members, mainly white lads. Most of these young men are sporting fringes or wear jeans that need to be sensibly repositioned about the waist area. The music created by this lot is pretty similar in attitude and style and all has one reference (indeed ending) point; British exponents of New Wave, circa 1979-81.
The generic nature of this list should hopefully lead you to conclude that my invented genre of Cash Rock is certainly not pop music. It may well be presently part of the pop scene, but it is definitely not pop music per se. It's not even comparable to the preceding waves of guitar bands, or guitar-based scenes in that it has no ambition in creating happy music, music to dream to or music to get angry to; no - it has no aims above becoming popular, by whatever means available to it.
Cash Rock differs from its idols and predecessors too, in that the bands this present movement strives to copy certainly did not have the presence in the market that these youngsters have now. Let us remind ourselves that Joy Division and Orange Juice only had one real hit each and were widely derided at the time by most people The wearing of an Orange Juice t-shirt in Accrington could, (as proved by personal misfortune on at least two separate occasions) lead to physical violence. Bands that are much touted now as stalwarts of the indie scene – namely Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths and The Cure were, in their day, largely peripheral figures, ousted by the UR-Cash Rockers of their day (U2, Big Country and INXS). So why do these new bands feel that mining half forgotten (though very much cherished) early 80s alternative guitar rock will garner them such acclaim? I think the answer lies in the fact that this music is a very useful front to mask their soulless ambition.
Still, no-ones saying you can't steal from the past. And I'm sure someone has been itching to interject a statement which will run along the lines of "oh, Richard you dummy, bands have always stolen off other bands and this theft normally follows a delayed 20 year cycle anyway, so what is so different about this current crop? Look at the Stones with Bo Diddley, Primal Scream with the Stones, and Stereolab with Can. Many bands in the 80s pilfered things that could possibly enrich their sound - mainly for commercial ends - just look at the Clash. But in most cases, this pilfering was a means to an end, not just an end in itself. Let us look at Orange Juice. A band whose first label, Postcard used the moniker The Sound of Young Scotland. A new - albeit Glaswegian – Motown. Orange Juice drew heavily on sources such as the Velvet Underground and Glaswegian music hall turns. It could be argued that they were the first post-modern band. Yet they also created something fresh and new. Yes Orange Juice covered Al Green but they also wrote stuff ranging from the fey as hell Three Cheers for Our Side through the rock of The Day I Went Down to Texas to the white boy soul of The Third Album. A back catalogue that reveals, on inspection, a very varied and inventive body of work. Granted they had created the changes over four albums' worth of material. But then again, it was all done in just under four years. It's astonishing really. Could Kaiser Chiefs do similar? We'll just have to wait & see.
a proper band
To be fair to these young bands, will they be allowed to develop at such a pace? Indeed, would the current cash-in quick environment allow a young, clumsy and endearingly naïve U2 prosper and develop? I doubt it if they would get past recording October. If you doubt me, I ask you this. What are U2's modern day counterparts (for argument's sake The Music) doing now? Perceptions of a duff second LP, widely perceived as having lost the zeitgeist, uncool Led Zep copyists etc. These charges were laid against U2 early on...
Indeed I ask you, what precisely is The Bravery going to do next that's any different, or challenging? Or Bloc Party, or Editors, or Kaiser Chiefs? In fact, the same goes for more talented bands such as Franz Ferdinand who have tried to shake off the scenes manacles with a much tougher sounding, more diverse second LP. You would have thought that a band as blessed as Franz would be able to find a way through, but no. The public is already a leetle bored with them, truth be told.
What makes all this especially galling for an old sod like me is the subversion of something that had at least a smidgeon of artistic credibility. Art was briefly, in the wake of punk, allowed for arts sake, even if money always called the tune eventually. No; when the Bravery or Editors adopt the poses and styling of an earlier generation, they do it without a thought for the reasons why these poses were adopted in the first place. I suspect that all they know is that it is cool and popular (btw - prove me wrong Bravery/Editors, I will happily eat humble pie). When the music press calls them cool popular and alternative, they are happy to oblige. After all why not?
Not so long ago I was talking to a young man who was going to interview Tony Wilson of Factory Records fame. The lad needed some background information and I was happy to oblige. I asked him, out of interest what questions he was going to ask and was struck by his insistence on concentrating on the past, nothing past 1990. Upon asking why such interest shown in the past exploits of Mr W, I received the reply, "because the past is cooler than now".
This may be so and it is indeed a common trait in all walks of life to hark back to a golden age. People have been doing that since time began. What is worrying is that a generation has never embraced the past so lovingly, never adopted the past as a concept so thoroughly, revered the past so unquestioningly and bought its look and artefacts so voraciously. This voraciousness for the past has resulted, as a by-product if you will, in the utter lack of anything startlingly original by way of a cultural mark in this particular field. With specific reference to guitar-based music, the whole scene is getting like the bloody Antiques Roadshow. No wonder old bands are re-forming. They can cash in on a lucrative live scene. And no wonder that, alongside these genuine, fine and trusty old antiques, a new set of reproductions are being wheeled out to satisfy the market. That's why the Bunnymen supported Coldplay not that long ago.
You have to give it to these old bands, their energy and appetite is startling. For all the chatter of a new musical revolution taking place the best records over the last few years have all been made by old gits. In fact, the most forward thinking out there, Year Zero attitude releases in the world of alternative/left-field music have all been made by established artists. Peruse this hastily drawn up list (there are many others I have forgotten) and think it over at leisure.
Tom Waits – Real Gone, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds _Lyre of Orpheus/ Abbatoir Blues, Brian Wilson – Smile (note in this particular case that Wilson didn't opt for the easy, lets make it sound like we've found the original mastertapes approach; on the contrary, he effectively started the project afresh), Echo & The Bunnymen – Siberia, Julian Cope – Citizen Cain'd/Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day, Marianne Faithful – Before The Poison, The Fall – Fall Heads Roll (though you could argue that the Fall have never really stopped making forward thinking records) .
I'm not saying that there's a dearth of new diverse and exciting music out there, far from it. An hour's browse on myspace will categorically refute that notion. In fact there's a glut of new music these past few years. Rather, it is the way a certain genre (independent guitar rock) and some of its practitioners are so eager to create something so passive so wimpy and so lumpen, to the exclusion of anything that may hint at this genre's innovative and insurrectionist past. For some kind of emotional proof, try reading NME's cod-hype over the present crop of bands and you should feel how false it is – all this British Guitar Music Taking on the World nonsense. I rather hope it doesn't if British guitar music reveals itself to be as one-dimensional as this.
Right. Enough whingeing. Where's Maggot Brain?
Words: Richard Foster.