It seems that nostalgia is everywhere today. Maybe I’m just noticing it because it fits in with my mood at the moment. Just the other night on the Review Show one of the panelists was musing about how music didn’t seem as important these days. People didn’t seem to take it seriously. I can certainly see how this might appear to be the case with the rise of such nonsense as The X Factor, The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent which makes it seem like no one is serious about proper music anymore. Never mind the bad influence of YouTube. Or the number of ‘alternative’ songs that appear on adverts these days. Having just listened to the top 40 – there is no depth to the lows I’m prepared to plummet in the name of this blog, readers – it is hard to escape the idea that there is very little variety at the moment. Some of the voices are quite interesting but the ubiquitous banging electronic backing track makes for little diversity. Even the two bands that favour guitars – Fun and Mumford and Sons – are a little dull and pedestrian. Everything just seems a little safe. It is certainly hard to imagine anyone getting excited by these tunes the way I was excited by Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana or You Love Us by the Manic Street Preachers. Maybe the presenter was right.
However, it’s not as if rubbish music is a new phenomenon. Even though I love eighties music, I know there was also a lot of rubbish. This can be seen quite clearly when you look at the chart from this week in 1982 when Shakin Stevens and Bucks Fizz were no.1 and no.2 respectively. Not good. However, what is apparent is the variety. It might not all be amazing but it certainly didn’t all sound the same. For example, there was electronic in the shape of OMD, Soft Cell Human League and Japan; Metal in the form of AC/DC, Meatloaf and Foreigner; Pop music such as Altered Images, Adam and the Ants and Madness. Not to mention alternative classic, Drowning in Berlin by The Mobiles which was loitering just outside the top 10. To me, it seems unlikely that modern teenagers will be looking back on the current charts in 30 years time with such fondness as I look back on this one. Although maybe they will, as nostalgia is as much to do with memories and timing as it has to do with the actual quality of the music. Remembering being young will probably cloud their judgement just as it clouds mine. But still, what would be the stand out classics from those tunes that all seem largely the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to suggest that good music does not exist. It certainly does. You only have to listen to the new albums by The Decemberists or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – to name but two – to know that this is the case. Certainly in Sheffield – and most cities, I would imagine – there is a thriving music scene. Bands working hard, creating a fan base, honing their skills; a sharp contrast to the quick fix and the quicker disappearance of the X Factor generation. I certainly know which I’d rather listen to.
So is the gap between mainstream and alternative bigger than it used to be. It seems that in order to be in the charts, you have to be safe and similar. You need to guarantee sales. Hence the lack of excitement. I’m sure that people are still serious about music and there is still music to be serious about. Just not the nonsense that is in the charts.