Friday, November 27, 2009

Thirty Years of Pop Music: A Narrative

The fractious economic and political climate of the late 1970s saw a flowering of musical creativity, as a generation of British youths, energised by a radical left-wing ideology, turned their alienation and anger into musical gold. With The Jam’s Paul Weller and The Clash’s Joe Strummer at the forefront, the end of that dark decade was lit up with music that represented both a primal scream of rage and a reaction to the pompous, self-indulgent noodlings of the Prog Rockers. The raw excitement of the seventies has never been recaptured since and a decade of superficial posing was to follow…

…The seventies were the decade that taste forgot, with the garish naffness of Abba and Glam Rock giving way to the anti-everything nihilism of punk. The briefly-interesting Clash had imploded with the pompous, self-indulgent noodlings of triple-album Sandinista, while the nadir was reached with squalid death of Sid Vicious. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, the 1980s saw a renaissance of colour, light and refinement. Paul Weller read the signs, disbanded The Jam and took his songwriting to new levels of sophistication with The Style Council. The mood was enacapsulated in the slogan “Choose Life” and peaked with the world-uniting Live Aid events. Freed from the limitations of punk’s three-chord thrashings and primitive production values, in an era of economic prosperity and optimism, pop music, led by the swooning New Romantics and the hedonistic freaks of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, became a joyous expression of living...

Heaven knows I’m miserable now, sang the Mancunian Morrissey in perhaps the defining British pop song of the 1980s, a decade in which urban alienation plumbed bleak new depths under the harsh realities of Thatcherism…

... I wanna be adored, sang Mancunian Ian Brown in perhaps the defining British pop song of the late 1980s. A generation of creative youths rejected miserabilism as Baggy and Acid House exploded in a glorious celebration of shimmering music and drug-fuelled dancing. Shunning politics and ignoring the harsh realities of Thatcherism, the Stone Roses gig at Spike Island in 1989 marked the musical zenith of the decade…

…By 1989 pop music had reached a nadir. Stock Aitken and Waterman’s soap stars dominated the charts while the pompous, self-indulgent noodlings of The Style Council had alienated rock fans and left the once-mighty Paul Weller without a record contract. The time was right for grunge as a wave of American bands, led by Nirvana, swept across the Atlantic. Themselves influenced by the British punks, but with a gloriously a-political outlook that freed them from the naïve and tiresome cod-leftist sloganeering of the likes of Joe Strummer, the howl of grunge guitars was like an injection of pure adrenalin into the moribund music scene…

You and I are gonna live forever, sang Liam Gallager in perhaps the defining British pop song of the 1990s, Live Forever. Reacting against the bleak and self-indulgent noodlings of US grunge, Oasis represented a defiant new optimism in British music. Influenced by the punk bands of the 1970s but shunning the outdated politics and class-warfare elements, Britpop dominated the mainstream media as well as the indie charts. Re-cast as “The Modfather”, Paul Weller found a new lease of life, producing his most mature and consistently high-quality work to date. ... Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for? sang Liam Gallagher, in perhaps the defining British pop song of the 1990s, Cigarettes and Alcohol. With Pulp’s Common People also crossing into the mainstream, and Blur vs Oasis representing the middle-classes vs the workers, Britpop was the time when class-warfare returned to the agenda…

…By the late 1990s, pop music had reached a nadir. The pompous, self-indulgent noodlings of Oasis’ Be Here Now and the so-so Dad Rock of Paul Weller represented a creative lull in British music…

…By the late 1990s, pop music had never been more exciting and varied. Inspired by the mad genius of Aphex Twin, innovations in dance and urban music had led to a flowering of genre-bending creativity, crossing into the mainstream with Underworld, Goldie and the Prodigy, and flooding abroad with the Ministry of Sound's euphoric Ibiza anthems, which rejected the pompous, self-indulgent noodlings of the likes of Aphex Twin, Underworld, Goldie and…By the early 2000s, pop music had reached a nadir, with the crass commercialism of the Ministry of Sound’s Ibiza anthems endlessly retreading old ground. The time was right for a resurgence of back-to-basics guitar music. It came from the US in the thrilling form of the White Stripes and the Strokes, augmented in the UK by The Libertines’ irresistible combination of pop sensibilities and self-destruction…Reaching a nadir with the self-indulgent and self-destructive tendencies of Pete Doherty’s Libertines, the mid to late 2000s saw mainstream rather than alternative music as the place for real innovation, as the wild electronic beeps and jagged underground rhythms of urban music seeped into the hits of the likes of Beyonce, Britney and even manufactured reality stars such as Girls Aloud and Leona Lewis…

...The mid to late 2000s saw an unprecedented homogenisation of youth pop culture. Simon Cowell, perhaps the single most powerful force in popular music since The Beatles, read the signs and capitalised with a constant supply line of commercial acts. While the kids slumped like zombies in front of The X Factor, the mainstream monoculture had never been so dominant as the scene moved further than ever from the days of the late 1970s when tribal youth movements were so musically and politically vital…

...The mid to late 2000s saw an unprecedented splintering of youth pop culture. While their parents slumped like zombies in front of The X Factor, the kids were at their bedroom computers or on the streets with I-phones and I-Pods, creating and downloading material from a bewildering fractal array of genres and sub-genres and specialist online music streams. Radiohead, perhaps the single most innovative force in British pop music since The Beatles, read the signs and gave away their album In Rainbows free on the internet. The mainstream monoculture had never been so irrelevant as the scene moved further than ever from the days of the late 1970s when a small number of tribal youth movements dominated the restrictive BBC and chart-led media...

10 comments:

malty said...

OK Mr Nixon, the job's yours, can you start next Wednesday?

Brit said...

I can fit you in Thursday week if that's any good.

Willard said...

I always feel like I'm a bit harsh on the 70s. There's so much to dislike but it's the decade that gave us the maturing work of the 60s icons. Harvest was 72. Also the decade of Talking Heads' early albums, some of Lou Reeds better work. And Paul Simon's solo career. Punk too had its moments.

In fact, it's much like every decade since: not particularly interesting in the mainstream but always engaging in the periphery.

Brit said...

Surely I gave you enough narratives to choose from, so that you don't have to make the effort of coming up with your own?

Willard said...

My brain is slow today. I deliberately (cough) missed the mention of writing bollocks. However, it was convincing bollocks, if that's any consolation.

You need a policeman to stand on this spot and say 'come on now, please move along, there's nothing to see here...'

Gaw said...

Let me know when it's safe to come out. I'm feeling utterly skippered.

Brit said...

Yeah sorry about that mate, it's a compulsion, I can't help it. Possibly territorial.

Keith said...

Good article but why oh why do people dismiss progressive rock. Sure there was some indulgence - any genre has this - but the music that followed would not have been possible without the adventures that were explored in prog. The Beatles were progressive in their latter days and Radiohead are as prog as they come! Oh and if you hadn't noticed, prog is becomming cool again ie Muse, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree etc

Brit said...

Hmmm, I wonder if I need to put ***SPOOF ALERT*** at the top of half my posts. I admit the line isn't always clear.

But wouldn't disagree with you re Prog, Keith.

martpol said...

This is the single most astute piece of musical satire I've seen, and I hereby announce my retirement from the industry. Sorry, I mean my pursuit of a career in it.