Trúarlega bloggið. Færslur þrisvar í viku, á sunnudögum, þriðjudögum og fimmtudögum kl. 21:03

þriðjudagur, október 28, 2003

The Catchy Meaninglessness of the Strokes
Rock’s neocons sound good, and they sure look good, but is there any there there?

By Joe Hagan
Oct. 17 — With much fanfare, the new album by the New York rock-and-roll quintet the Strokes arrives on Oct. 27. It’s called “Room on Fire,” and it’s a perfectly listenable, perfectly catchy, perfectly well-crafted record.

IT’S PERFECT because it replicates the strengths of their last effort, 2002’s “Is This It?”, itself a handsome quilting of 1970s New York punk and New Wave. This release might be slightly less catchy than the first, but you can chalk that up to the pressures of fame and a minor sophomore slump. The differences are negligible.
But judging whether “Room on Fire” is “good” or “bad”—whether it deserves two stars or four, whether it exceeds its last album in quality—is really beside the point. A more appropriate question is: is it accurate?
In the past few years, a truly fascinating phenomenon has hit the world of popular music. I call it pop neoconservativism. Overwhelmed, it seems, by the mountain of recorded musical history they’ve inherited, the age bracket known as Generation Y—late teens, early twenties—have opted to forsake the subversion of rock and roll (as Jack Black says in the movie “School of Rock,” “sticking it to The Man”) for harmless, boutique replicas of the past. The White Stripes have taken the pop neocon philosophy to its extreme, stripping down to two instruments and adding a winking Warholian Campbell’s Soup conceit (a duotone, red-and-white color scheme) to their well-crafted classic-rock homage. You can see and hear it in mainstream pop, too, in everything from Justin Timberlake’s studied Michael Jackson act, to Britney Spears’s wanna-be Madonna simulation.
If the 24-hour music-video channel VH1 Classics is the History Channel of pop, then the Strokes are the 1970s punk and New Wave equivalent of a Civil War reenactment. Their spiky haircuts and skinny ties are cut and pasted directly from the Cars, their guitar riffs from Television’s 1977 album, “Marquee Moon,” lead singer Julian Casablancas’s blah-blah-who-cares vocals from Debbie Harry and Lou Reed. Like brass buttons on a Confederate Army jacket, or a rapier at a Renaissance fair, their extraordinarily hip look—and the magazine paparazzi shots that display them carousing with underfed women in New York City nightclubs—are at least 50 percent of the appeal.
Not only are they accurate, they are consistent. This makes an album review fairly easy: each song, varying slightly in melody line, consists of fast, downward guitar strums, snappy 4/4 drum beats, a bold-faced fuzz-guitar melody line (occasionally substituting a keyboard)\ and indecipherable, heroin-chic vocals. The whole thing sounds like it’s carved out of the same monotonous gray slab of Lower East Side attitude we hear on the historic recordings of Lou Reed.
The best song on “Room on Fire” is entitled “12:51.” It’s an eminently hummable, head-bobbing, tasteful pop song—a true radio hit, circa 1980. Again, it has a fantastic keyboard hook. And again, it sounds like a Blondie song. And yet, again, there’s something vaguely unfulfilling about how eminently hummable it is, how like a Blondie song it is. It feels like we are 51 minutes past rock and roll’s witching hour (in fact, it’s at least 10 years) and the Strokes have turned into the shadow of rock and roll. While they may have the look and feel of late-’70s skinny-tie New York rock, they sound like a bloodless meme, a well-made copy crafted to travel lightly in our data-clogged culture, to be downloaded safely without fear of the emotional impact, social subversion or, most importantly, the strangeness of the originals.

If the Strokes are original in their way, it is by such a marginal degree as to be meaningless—except, of course, to kids in their late teens and early twenties who have never heard the source material and who are desperate to touch the hem of history if only for some sense of that old-time rock religion. Even so, context is everything: 1970s punk and New Wave in the year 2003 is a market, not a revolution. Indeed, rock neoconservatism is about defanging revolution for easy consumption.
Did I mention that the Strokes are very catchy and easy to listen to? They are! So while all this might sound like old-fogey talk, it’s really not. The Strokes and the White Stripes seem to signal a natural calcifying of the white-hot music revolutions of the 1960s and ’70s. The last 40 years of rock and pop music can be broadly described as the slow fallout of that musical explosion, as band by band, idea by idea, riff by riff, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to George Clinton to Talking Heads to Prince to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Nirvana, all the mutations and permutations remixed in endless varieties, both underground and in the mainstream, until, through the forces of capitalism, the underground became the mainstream, and vice versa. When Stephen Malkmus, of the seminal indie-rock band Pavement, sang “goodnight to the rock-and-roll era” at the end of the album “Crooked Rain,” it was 1994—and the lyric was sad and heartfelt because it was true. Shortly after, rock recycling hit its nadir in stuff like nu-metal, rap-rock and Disney teen-pop nth-generation copies animated only by the fact that different kids with different haircuts were inhabiting them.
Perhaps the best evidence of this pop-neocon era is the existence of Liam Lynch, a 34-year old rock satirist who on his debut album, “Fake Songs,” created pitch-perfect imitations of David Bowie (“The Fake David Bowie Song”), the Pixies (“The Fake Pixies Song”) and the Talking Heads (“The Fake Talking Heads Song”). While they are all declared fakes in the titles, they sound astoundingly like the artists themselves, with the lyrics only slightly caricatured, both mocking and adoring the originals. Mr. Lynch would have almost no difficulty in recreating the Strokes’ sound. And chances are it would probably be more accurate. But his nerdy mug might be hard to market to the Teen People crowd.
Looking back, it’s interesting to recall the career of another nerdy mug, Lou Reed. Starting out in the early 1960s as a writer of pop hits for a commercial music company, he quit to make wildly uncommercial but poetic music about heroin and S&M. And perhaps when Mr. Reed was brought into the art-world fold by Andy Warhol, the Strokes were foretold. As with almost everything in our culture, Warhol predicted this pop neocon era—the endless cloning and repetition of fame, which would eventually iron out the more interesting wrinkles in the fabric of society.
In the end, the Strokes aren’t awful or misguided or “bad.” The Strokes are so affable and easy to listen to that they’re easy listening. They’re the opposite of subversive: they’re the soundtrack of a culture that is calcified, conservative, hardened by marketing and fashion and gazing into the rear-view mirror at road signs we’ve already passed. But, hey, they’ll look great on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Joe Hagan is a columnist for The New York Observer and has written about music and pop culture for The New York Times, Spin and Blender. His last piece for Arts & Opinions was on Bjork.

Þetta finnst mér frábær grein... ég er samt ósammála honum að einu leyti... mér finnst the strokes ekki rassgat vera "catchy"... me´r finnst þeir bara ömurlegir. punktur.

0 Ummæli:

Skrifa ummæli

<< Heim