Vive la Révolution!
IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis
Why We Need to Bring the Spark Back into Music
MUSIC really sucks right now…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I’ll qualify that: it really sucks! I don’t mean the quality is lacking but there is not the same character and contention we had a couple of decades back. There is no getting away from the fact – nobody can argue or offer reasoned counteraction – that the 1990s were the best! I know people who think the decade’s music was overrated and poor – I hope they die of some genital infection in the very near-future. The 1990s, on the contrary, was the last time the music world was king of the world. Outside of the music business; everything in culture and entertainment seemed to be at its peak. Legendary sitcoms/comedies Friends and The Simpsons were either starting out or at their very peak – the former started in the 1990s whilst The Simpsons was at its very best in the decade. Fantastic filmmaking and the most innovative comedy ever – I haven’t even mentioned the likes of Seinfeld and Frasier – were inspiring the masses and bringing joy to millions. Politics were fraught but, luckily, by 1997; we welcomed in a Labour government – a much-needed revolt that spawned a sense of optimism in Britain. Of course, there were issues and turbulent political times; bad economic slumps and social tensions.
That is only natural but what struck me was the quality of the music emerging. I am willing to negotiate with someone who feels the 1970s is the finest decade for music – I cannot get behind the notion the 1960s was all that. What defined the 1990s was the fact big genres and movements began then. Grunge might have originated in the late-1980s but it hit its peak in the early-1990s. Fantastic Dance music was ruling the waves and it was the last time an innocent and substantial form of Dance music was popularised. Now, there is far too much shallowness, sexuality and plastic sounds (in the genre). If one types in the words ‘best albums of the 1990s’ then you will get a sense of the treasures and moments of genius that sprung through.
From R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People and Radiohead’s OK Computer; Beck’s Odelay and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic – masterpieces and pioneering records that changed the face of music. Take away those L.P.s and you still have dozens of records that could easily challenge for the medal places. We have seen some world-class albums over the past few years but I wonder whether, in years to come, we will look back with the same fondness that we have of the 1990s’ best. I doubt it and wonder whether technological development and changing tastes mean we cannot reclaim and match the same energy and originality. The albums I have not mentioned – from the 1990s – are Pulp’s A Different Class and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. One can toss their follow-up, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? into the debate. I will come to that but, looking at music from the 1990s, I am fascinated by everything from the ascension of Rap and U.S. bloc parties – everything about the culture and times is astonishing.
For me, the last great wave of British Rock/Indie was during the 1990s. Oasis, sadly long-defunct, created two of the era’s biggest records in 1994 and 1995. Oasis’ debut arrived in August of 1994 and, upon its release, was a smash. The defining single, Live Forever, seemed like a pearl dropped from the sky. The band, when discussing the album on the documentary, Supersonic explained how the song seemed surreal. Noel Gallagher walked in with it and played it to the guys. Nobody could believe it was happening and HE wrote it. Gallagher talked about writing the song and the fact it came straight to its head. It, alongside tracks such as Cigarettes & Alcohol and Shakemaker, were anthems of the time and galvanised the young. Live Forever has taken on its own legacy and life owing to its uplifting nature and inspiring lyrics.
It was chanted at concerts then; it was chorused at Oasis’ famous Knebworth gigs – every time it is played, someone, somewhere, sings the track. It is a moment of defiance and seizing the moment. The song does not care about conversation and pointless details: it is about living for the day and having a great time. Oasis, by the time of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? has established themselves as one of Britain’s most important bands. They stood toe-to-toe with Blur – their infamous Britpop battle of 1995 gave Blur the victory – and were seen as the great working-class band of the day. Oasis’s second album pushed Indie music into the mainstream and changed the nature of Rock. Gone were the leather trousers and posing heroes: in were light ballads and huge songs that has an actual message. By the time the band split – 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul was their final album – their best days were behind them. It is sad the band ended but it was inevitable. They had, in their career, cemented something unbreakable and shown what was possible.
Those early albums were the zenith and apex of working-class Rock truth and, alongside contemporaries Pulp, Oasis were talking about what was happening in society. Pulp’s album, Different Class, released in 1995, talked about common romance and class mismatch; drugs and modern youth – art and culture in all its forms and flirtations. Jarvis Cocker, the pencil-thin poet and beguiling frontman, detailed the nuanced and complex rhapsodies tangible in the working-class suburbs. Flirtations, late-night liaisons and marital disharmony was laid out in a rich and tapestry-like tableau that brought together so many different sounds, stunning vocals and quotable lyrics. Different Class embraced the Britpop spirit but was a true and unflinching insight into the working-classes and the realities in Britain. There were other albums of the time that did this but few as effectively and hypnotically as Different Class. Maybe Cocker is that once-in-a-lifetime writer but, as Oasis showed, it was possible to have other artists articulating the flesh and bones of a less-glamorous lifestyle.
Oasis were the more bombastic, accessible option: Pulp, the poetic and intellectual counterbalance. Both bands were spearheading a countercultural movement – one where preening fakes and facile music was part of the landscape. “We don’t look the same as you” goes Different Class’ opening track, Mis-Shapes. That was a perfect distillation of Pulp in the music industry. Whilst there was a lot more industriousness and quality in the scene back then: the sort of music Pulp were putting down seemed foreign and a bolt of lightning. I bring these examples in because we live in the most tense and precarious time in recent memory. I was alive during the mid-1990s and do not remember the world being as fractured and toxic as it is now. The Labour government didn’t come in until 1997 but, until then, there was the need to revolt and restructure the government.
It seemed like politicians were not speaking for the masses: today, that is heightened and underlined with every crooked speech and fake promise. Terrorism is an ever-present threat – including a possible attack on London today – and the U.S. President (Trump) is leading the world towards a nuclear apocalypse. Having a raving derelict helming the world’s most powerful nation would be enough to provoke a Pulp/Oasis-like attack: the fact we have a hopeless Prime Minister making our decisions should steal the deal. Throw into the mix climate change/disintegration and terrorism; sexism, racism and the prevalence and negative impact of social media on human relations – rich pickings for a modern-day orator to shape that into an epoch-defining record, no?! One would think that is enough fuel and impetus to lead a sonic attack. I, for one, would get behind a record that tackled these themes and tried to connect the people together. I know there are some incredible Rock/Indie acts like Wolf Alice and IDLES – who have a political and social bent in their music – but there are few, if any, who have the populist edge and skillset of the 1990s’ best.
I guess, as I speculated at the top, the scene has changed so we cannot duplicate the same majesty and sensation we had in the 1990s. The reason albums like Different Class and Definitely Maybe struck a chord was the fact they were new and inspiring. They brought the people closer and said what few other records did – at a time when the nation needed true guidance and compelling messages. Our world is more dented and anxious than it was back then. We need a modern-day Common People (Different Class) or Live Forever to get the music industry on a track it needs to flow. I know music does not have the power to change the system and remedy all the evil being felt and seen around the globe.
What I know, for sure, if the fact music has the strength to elevate lives and eradicate pains; compel other like-minded acts to do something different and try and make a difference. In a time when our current government is hanging by a thread: one feels a well-timed and definitive record could be the difference! The only way we are going to bring about a true vein of quality and progression is questioning the current system and the values we hold dear. The mainstream is a weak and gossamer-thin cobweb that still proffers the hollow and vacuous. Rock is not dead but it needs a serious loan of purpose: bands and artists coming along and steering it clear of icebergs. Away from that; we have great albums/music but what is lacking are the huge artists who genuinely made a change. They do not have to talk about the working-classes and northern life – what it is likely living on council estates and navigating a labyrinth of social misconstructions and hopping-over-the-fence romantic escapades. In those albums; one could immerse themselves in something fantastical, evocative and brilliantly alluring. Now…where are those artists?!
IN THIS PHOTO: One of the most promising bands of the moment, IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Crack Magazine
I do not believe we have gone too far the other way and the 1990s’ peaks were a product of the time. Every musician has the opportunity and means to record an album; the times we live in are crying out for the common philosophers and anthem-penning heroes/heroines. The production sounds would not be the same as they were back then but that is the only thing that has changed. Many are disincentivised creating something that strikes against the government and steps off the garden path of love-and-romance-with-a-side-order-of-self-flagellation. That would be awfully risky and one would not like to risk their record deals and Spotify streaming figures! The unsigned artists are doing their best to have their say but I am worried their progressions and procession will be delayed by the clogs in the system. Change can only come about when artists take a stand and do something radical.
There is that desire in the public and I wonder how many reflected rumblings are detectable in the dressing rooms of the music scene?! Times are bad and music has a role to play. I do not want to listen to music that is escapist and deflects away from the real issues on the table. I want to see that cocksure rebellion where musicians speak about working-class struggles and political stupidity; the less-heard elements of romances and the way the world is unfolding. I think, only when that happens, can we truly call the music industry – the sounds we hear; I think sexism and other issues will not be eradicated that easily – truly progressive and inspiring. We do have a few artists who provide hope and promise but, when you consider how many musicians we have in our midst, that is really…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
NOT good enough.