Of Beards and Mohawks

Pop is not just eating itself anymore. They’re eating themselves, pooping it out and eating themselves again.

I do and I don’t understand this ‘revisionism” thing going on with music the last couple of years. I mean, pop has always looked in the rear view mirror for inspiration, but this whole hearted homage to music’s past is kind of baffling; especially with ‘indie’ and ‘alternative’. It seems to me that to be considered alternative is to be considered a revivalist nowadays. Take the current crop of bearded bands. It’s like the only music they listed to as kids were their parent’s CSNY and Cat Stevens albums.

All the ‘cool’ bands to pilfer from have been pilfered. The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Television, Love, Big Star, Kraftwerk, all of ‘em. So what are they left with? Cyndi Lauper? Falco? Culture Club? Obscure Russian New Wave bands? You betcha.

I can understand this to a degree. I’m of a certain age (ripe, old 44) and lived through the 1980’s and am currently experiencing a maniacal nostalgia tangent for that decade. But that’s normal, for me, I think. Right? Since I grew up in the 1980’s I will always have a soft spot for the music of that decade. And I’m really not listening, nor am I interested in listening to, a lot of the new bands that have co-opted the sound of the ‘80’s. I tried, with bands like M83, but in my opinion they suck. There are some that do it right, like Destroyer did with Kaputt, and Beach House, but these guys are far and few between.

If you’re going to ape the sounds of the ‘80’s I would highly recommend staying between the years of 1980 and 1984. After that it all gets a little sour (excepting the Smiths, and PSB’s, a couple of others). That stupid, tinny drum machine sound started to infiltrate virtually every album around that time and it wasn’t until bands like MARRS came along (Pump Up The Volume) that things started to change for the better.

I recently read an article on this whole phenomenon, and there was a paragraph on how wonderful it was to put on an album and be blown away by a new, strange sound that you’ve never heard before; music that sounded revolutionary, and exciting, and above all else, new. That’s something that hasn’t happened in quite a long while. Although I absolutely love some of the current crop of revival albums like Bloom by Beach House, Lonerism by Tame Impala and the self titled debut of Django Django, a vast majority of it just leaves me cold and yearning to pull out my original The THE records.

Generally speaking I have no time or patience to listen to the horde of bearded bands purveying ‘freak folk’ or Cat Stevens covers (I don’t know why but I’ve always loathed Cat Stevens. No reason, just do). They’re derivative with a capital ‘D’, and I never cared for that style of music when it was semi-original anyway. In looking over the vast majority of high scoring Pitchfork albums it seems like they’re caught up in this whole thing as well. They LOVE beards over at Pitchfork, but have no patience for the ‘old beards’. What I mean by that is this: Rolling Stone, for example, has no time for ‘new beards; that is to say the new bands that sound like the old classic rock standards of the ‘70’s. Pitchfork, on the other hand, is just the opposite. They won’t review a reissue of, say, the Steve Miller Band but will praise an album to the rooftops that utilizes the sounds and the feel of The Steve Miller Band. That’s strange to me.

Obviously record labels are aware of all this, as the reissue (deluxe or otherwise) craze will attest. I buy these things, but not necessarily for the so-called improvement in sound quality because, really, the sound isn’t always that much better than my originals and it’s always bothered me because what they’re basically telling me is that the sound on the original CD I purchased when it was new was sub-par. No, I’ll buy them because I cannot find the originals (rare), or because they have interesting and plentiful ‘B-sides, or for the packaging (which is, nowadays, far superior and way more interesting and complete than the old standard 2-pg ‘booklets’ that came in a jewel case). And, as I’ve always said, I’ll only do this once. I’ve already replaced all my old vinyl with CD’s, so…that’s it.

Nostalgia’s a good thing, I think, but just like everything else it can be taken too far. Once it’s overexposed and gets co-opted by the mainstream it’s just a matter of time before people get sick of it. Then it goes ‘underground’ again for a while. I’m looking forward to that day.