Distressing thing, really....the state of pop music. Things have grown so depressing that I've taken up digging through music that was produced in the 60's, 70's, (some 80's) in a mad quest to find something remotely interesting that I might have missed the first time around. (Actually, I'm digging as far back as four hundred years ago.) That I have, but it doesn't rankle less to see the state of music is so substandard that I'm starting to question the whether Western Civilization as a whole is going to make it....but then, that's a topic for another post....
It is either a blessing or a curse to be extremely knowledgeable about music, its history, its forms and the like. Even more so, unlike the average music listener (and that isn't a dig on them, mind) I pick up on the trends, the recycled lyrical content, the retreaded guitar sounds, etc. The same keys, the same chord changes, the same sounds, the same format....endlessly and repeatedly regurgitated to an otherwise oblivious general public. Rock in particular has fallen into this horrible ditch; the last gasp of anything remotely creative from rock was in the late 80's/early 90's, and even then, it didn't even come close to matching its glory years between 1967-1975. Of all the bands from the aforementioned late 80's/early 90's, the only ones still standing are Pearl Jam, who are so cringe-worthy and torpid as to render them unlistenable.
Now...how DID this happen, one has to ask. Various theories abound, but the great Bill Bruford opined about this pretty extensively in his autobiography, and his theory is thus: The death of creativity in pop music can be traced back to when publicly traded companies, responsible to post quarterly earnings, started taking over record companies and adding them to their media conglomerate empires. In the beginnings of rock, the music existed before the record companies could dream it up. It was a permutation of black American blues: raucous, untamed, and free. The "suits", even in the 50's, did their level best to get their arms around it and exploit it for monetary gain. But even then, the creativity wasn't bled out of it. Then came the 60's: The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle...all representing forms that were either wholly original or creatively stolen (probably closer to the latter), but sounded fresh and creative nonetheless. The power was with the artists, not the executives, yet both prospered. The early 70's, particularly the progressive rock movement, marked the apex of creativity in rock music (in my opinion). Emerson, Lake & Palmer liberally ripped off classical music in the most aggressive way, but who could possibly have the ability to do so in the first place? Keith Emerson was about as talented musician as rock would ever see. Yes got away with writing twenty minute opuses on three straight albums. Genesis did a whole album based on a surreal (and incomprehensible) story by Peter Gabriel written about a Puerto Rican street kid who finds himself in a kind of Salvador Dali world, desperately trying to get out...a musical journey spread out over two LPs. Pink Floyd might have produced (according to some critical opinions) the 70's equivalent of "Sgt. Pepper" with their "Dark Side of the Moon". Inevitably, the question that beggars to be asked is this: What are the chances that a record company would ever, EVER let any of these bands produce any of these works in this day and age. The answer is obvious; Q.E.D.
Everything is short term. In an earlier time, a band was given three albums to "get it together". The first two albums from Yes were interesting experiments, but they didn't hit their stride until "The Yes Album", which is where the material that made up their classic catalog began. Two albums later, "Close to the Edge" managed to bring it all together into one timeless album. Led Zeppelin hit their stride by their second album, but it was "IV" that produced songs like "Black Dog" and "Stairway to Heaven". Now, bands have ONE album to come up with a hit. If they're lucky, they'll get two, but that's chancy. Record companies need hits; they need quarterly earnings to be positive, lest their stock prices tank and their investors grow disgruntled. In the conflict between art and commerce, art may have won a few battles, but it clearly lost the war. Now the best any of us rock fans can muster is Tool, a good (but not great) band that is entirely too harsh for these ears. Closer to it is Nickelback, who are the perfect distillation of blandness, regurgitated barre chords, stale riffs, and obvious key changes. The food equivalent would be eating three month old crackers: edible but stale.
Per this listener, I'm still hoping, still digging. I've postulated since college that there's ALWAYS something interesting to find out there, one need only dig a little deeper, look a little longer. I have found some interesting acts out there, but you'll never hear them on the radio. I frequent a bar in Greenwich Village called the 55 Bar; I've been there three times and have yet to hear an act that didn't impress me. If going to dank music clubs that are approximately 600 square feet to hear something good is what I've been reduced to doing, that is what I will do. If listening to Big Band composers like Bix Beiderbecke and Count Basie for inspiration is what I have to do, I'll do it. If scouring online radio sources like Pandora (as opposed to real radio, which is atrocious) is what need to be done, I'll do it. But one thing I'll never do is accept the status quo and learn to like it.