August 29, 2010

Music odds and ends

- After watching the new video for "California Girls" (not a Beach Boys cover), you might be sad that Katy Perry isn't dead yet. But look on the bright side: at least she's replaced Fergie as the queen of the I'm-so-hot, it's-all-about-me, look-how-exaggerated-I-can-make-my-face way of life that prevails among the women these days. Katy Perry is annoying but doesn't make you want to punch her in the face, and she looks cute rather than like a horse-faced transvestite.

I don't get the attempt to try to shock with the word "teenage" in her album title, Teenage Dream, given how lacking in sexual charge the lead single is. That reminds me of the laughably tame song by Against Me! called "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" -- yeah right, you've never gone on a joyride, shoplifted anything, openly confronted the principal... damn, you've probably never even cut school! Buncha dorks. The only cool song with "Teenage" in the title is "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones, and the only erotic-sounding album title with the word is Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven by Love and Rockets (not a very good album, but the title is).

- What happened to literary references in popular music? I guess this is part of the larger trend away from reading fiction, both on the part of the audience (who now won't appreciate them) and the creators (who don't have them on hand in their mind to begin with). My impression is that these used to be more common. Just a few examples from albums I've been listening to recently, not exhaustive: "Dover Beach" by the Bangles quotes "Prufrock," Iron Maiden wrote a song around "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and Echo & the Bunnymen mention John Webster ("My White Devil"). As you can see, it wasn't just the arty people who made them, as you might expect; even the poppier and metal groups were doing it.

- Speaking of Echo & the Bunnymen, I picked up Ocean Rain -- another Sgt. Pepper's kind of album, one that's famous for being famous and for trying to turn a popular form into something Big and Serious. It's OK overall and has a few good songs, but it's overwrought. Their previous album Porcupine is so much better -- more stripped-down, vigorous, honest, and free of self-awareness. One of the best post-punk albums for sure. If you're going to get it, buy the re-release, which has an alternate version of "The Cutter" with more pleasing guitar harmonies.

- Before I noted that supermarkets play better music than coffee houses these days, likely a reversal from the pattern of 10 or 20 years ago. Mega-markets even have a better selection of music to buy compared to refined music-sellers like Barnes & Noble. I've been going on a buying binge lately, and B&N has had almost nothing I wanted aside from a low-priced copy of the Footloose soundtrack. There's too much fashionable stuff -- singer-songwriters on the one hand, and indie / emo and its alternative predecessors. Aside from the Beatles and some David Bowie, there's almost no classic rock there, no punk, no post-punk, no college rock, dance pop, synth-pop, heavy metal, or just about anything. That stuff has had its time, and room must be made for music that "goes beyond" it -- right, more like comes up light-years short of it.

Now go to the local mega-market, and even though the size of the selection is the same (only four or five racks) the quality is infinitely better. You can find a good amount of Madonna, Prince, and other superstars who you expect to see anywhere real music is sold -- and not just some greatest hits CD but the actual albums too. A bit too much indie / emo / alternative for my tastes, and too little post-punk or college rock, but still. There's a greater variety of classic rock, dance and disco styles, but the largest difference is that there's a lot more metal. They had plenty of albums that even my used record store, with its rows and rows of CDs, couldn't give me.

The obvious answer is who the average customer is for B&N vs. a Wal-Mart style mega-market, more well-to-do vs. more blue collar. Higher-status people are more concerned with oneupsmanship -- with signaling to their competitors that they're not only staying au courant but are part of the avant-garde (even if they're not leading it). So retailers that cater to them will have to throw out lots of great, classic material because that's not what's happening and not where things are going right now. Retailers who cater to lower-status people don't have to worry about whether something is "hot" but rather whether it's any good for its price.

...I was going to say a bit more about this greater preservation of metal classics vs. rock-for-the-college-educated, but that probably deserves a post of its own.


  1. It's a truism that contemporary rock is in creative doldrums. By Rock, I mean white, guitar-driven, with no rap or R&B styling.

    I'm mostly "meh" about Coldplay or Nickelback, and much of the new stuff comes across as recycled.

    And funny you should mention large department stores playing good music. A week ago I was at Kohl's and heard an insanely cool, catchy song. I made it a point to memorize a line or two, and then googled it. It was Epic, "Resistance."

    So there is at least one band cranking out good new stuff. Other suggestions?

  2. I meant "Muse" not "Epic" as the band's name.

  3. Good *and* new, rather than revival / recycled? Can't think of anything off the top of my head. Most of the OK stuff from the past 20 years was a return to earlier forms -- Dookie by Green Day, the whole post-punk revival of the mid-2000s... I'd have to say early Smashing Pumpkins, but even that is 17 or more years old.

  4. lemmy caution8/31/10, 2:01 PM

    In the eighties, there was a lot of nostalgia for the music of the sixties.

    The music of the eighties certainly did not have the clear and relatable emotional expressionism of the best music of the sixties.

    The music of the eighties is good stuff, but I wouldn't be so sure that people won't like ke$ha, lady gaga and katty perry songs 20 years from now.


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