The Kids These Days With Their (lack of) Rock & Roll…
My midlife crisis moment has arrived. But it’s not really what I thought it would be. I’m not splurging on a sports car or growing out a ponytail, or rocking an earring (did that the 1st time around thanks).
Nope, my mid-life crisis is my annoyance with myself for becoming the angry old man. The one who thinks kids today and their music sucks. I really don’t want to be this dude. As an adolescent and young adult I always bridled at convention and always thought I was ahead of the curve. But now I just can’t get past the fact that new music as a whole leaves me cold. The ironic part isn’t that its too loud, or offensive or threatening. It’s the fact that it’s none of those things. Its non confrontational, all about inclusion, not exclusion. About being ironically rocking by not rocking at all.
Let me try to articulate this into some points and see where I’m either out of touch, or right on point:
Ballsy vocals. Seriously I don’t get why dudes don’t want to sing like dudes anymore. We have such a long history of manly vocals. When I was growing up I had the new wave/skater hair cut. I loved moping around to the Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees and Depeche Mode. But the male singers I gravitated to the most still tended to be…well manly. This has nothing to do with sexual orientation; Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury are proof of that. Name me one modern singer (i.e. 21st century) who has the pipes to match those guys? Matthew Bellamy for Muse certainly stands out, but their remains a vacuum overall. Make fun of Glenn Danzig all you want (go ahead he deserves some of it, although I find him bizarrely endearing), say that Ian Astbury is past his prime, that Chris Cornell can’t hit all the notes, but at least at their essence and in their prime, they could belt it. And while they may be at the more delicate end of the musical spectrum, Dave Gahan/Martin Gore and Peter Murphy have good vocal chops. We need more of that.
It seems these days we have 3 types of male singers: the making your voice break in a grating off-key whine (i.e. Coldplay and all their descendants), the nasally whine of EMO that just reeks of adolescent desperation, and in metal you have the Cookie Monster Vocal style, that really sounds like someone trying to be funny and impossible to take seriously. You might as well record a drunk person vomiting in the bathroom of a bar. You’d get the same equivalent. And then you have the bands that try to combine the 2, which is the definition of aural torture. And speaking of:
Auto tune. I think if there’s one indicator modern music is in such bad shape it has to be the fact that organic music in and of itself is in sharp decline. Pro-tools and digital slice and dice editing have the unfortunate result of dulling everything into such a perfect package that with all the rough edges sanded off that ends up having all the appeal of Ikea furniture. Functional perhaps, but completely uninspiring. And Auto tune is the main symptom of the disease. It’s gone from something meant to correct pitch and make someone sound better, to just the opposite. If often sounds like someone is throwing up a harmonica. And it’s used in such quantity that it truly does make it sound like everything is the same. Listen to any TOP 10 hits on the pop chart and it is really hard to discern one from the next without a DJ or your satellite radio ID’ing which track is next.
The fear of rocking out. This to me is just plain sad. How often do you see a live performer these days just going for it, sounding like their at their breaking point, appearing dangerous the way rock and roll was first intended? Think about it, where’s the next Iggy Pop? The last band I saw that sounded and looked like they were ready to spontaneously combust onstage was At The Drive In, and that’s a lonnngggggg time ago. I fear part of this was an overcorrection to all the Nu-Metal stuff from the late 90’s, early 00’s. It had gotten so cartoonish to rock out that the thing that felt safest to do was to put on your geek specs and coo in a bad off key falsetto over herky jerky Gang of 4 lite guitar lines. Just give me more bands not afraid to rip a good guitar solo while belting away and showing some energy. Please.
In the end, I think more of this has to do with the way radio is positioned. It’s easy and cheap to produce the auto tuned kiddy crap that we’re drowning in today. Disposable yes, but much easier to work with than doing multiple takes to get a guitar solo done organically or to hit the right notes vocally without all the studio wizardry. But it’s a sad price to pay.
Please don’t take me for a complete stick in the mud. I can find new music I do enjoy. In the past few years, The Horrors, the XX, Mastodon, M83, Red Fang, Silversun Pickups and She Wants Revenge have all caught my appreciation. But in the end what makes them appealing to me is how much they sound like old stuff I liked, not pointing to any new movement or something unforeseen.
I think growing up in the Grunge era spoiled music for a lot of folks in my age range. Hair Metal and Boy Bands were everywhere, and then this great roar of feedback killed it dead. Suddenly the bands that were your best-kept secret were the talk of the nation and everything felt a little bit cooler for a while. But then it imploded. Britpop & Techno, much of which I enjoyed, were mainly a hit in Europe and kind of trickled down over here, but not in a demonstrative changing way. Instead we got primarily hit with post grunge, Creed, ET all and then Limp Bizkit, and then the resurgance of the boy bands and teen pop. We’ve gone full circle. We are currently in an early stage of riding a wave of 90’s nostalgia, which I dearly hope will give some teenagers in their garage a desire to let it rip and to freak people out. Go out and offend, destroy some eardrums and make me proud kids!