Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Times They Aren't A Changing

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am passionate about music. I am not aware of any form of music I have not listened to... and if I did become aware of one, I'd make it my duty to listen to it!
However, my thirst for music has made me aware of something that I think may be particular to popular music that is not common to any other form of entertainment - the urge against change.
Where any other entertainer might find their bookings drying up if they were repeating years old material, our popular musicians can make a profitable career from playing hits that are 40 years old or more! More so, they are positively encouraged to do so!
Very few people would book a ticket for the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney hoping they only do their new material! No, they want them to play the hits we all know and love!
Also, the likes of Simon Cowell and the big corporate record labels like Warner Brothers are very risk adverse. They invest millions into their artists and they don't want to risk that money on something that might not work and so they stick to the tried and tested. Thus you get the likes of Westlife who spent a decade or more doing the same old routines to cover versions of other people's hits!
And should an artist have a hit with new material, people want them to repeat the trick. So, for example, when Radiohead had a hit with The Bends people wanted them to follow up with The Bends 2! So when they followed up with the more experimental OK Computer, it took a while for people to warm to it and recognise it for the infinitely superior album that it is!
The knock on effect of all this is that you get a whole swathe of artists stagnating and the music suffering as a result.
Now, you might think it has ever been thus. After all, as I mention above, Paul McCartney is playing hits that are now getting on for 50 years old! But Paul McCartney is the same artist who, just 4 years into his recording career, decided to stop touring and retreat to the studio where he conceived of one of the most experimental albums in popular music - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And you simply can not imagine his modern day equivalents being allowed the freedom to do that!
Furthermore, it is astounding to consider the recorded output of The Beatles, with it's progress and diversity, and compare it to today's artists. It'd be like Take That moving from the boy band mush we all know them for to Drum and Bass to Alternative Rock to Dubstep and then on to whatever's next on the horizon!
And, when I consider the artists I fell in love with as a kid - the likes of Adam & The Ants and Duran Duran - I can see that the adventurism hasn't just disappeared from the music but also the presentation. I mean, I hardly imagine Justin Bieber's gonna start dressing up as a dandy highwayman or tie himself to a windmill any time soon!
So, that may be why I no longer care what's in the charts. I know that, for the vast majority of it, I've seen it done before and done better as well!
That is not to say there's nothing new and interesting in popular music anymore. I put together a monthly compilation highlighting the fact that there is! It's just that, where once it might have been topping the charts, these days it probably hardly bothers the charts at all!
So I'm not sure it's fair to point the finger at the musicians and businessmen and accuse them of the drudgery found in today's popular music. I think perhaps we need to look at ourselves.
Why is an artist playing hits more than 40 years old selling out stadiums whilst up and coming artists with new and interesting ideas barely sell out the Manchester Apollo?
Why are the likes of Simon Cowell so successful with the same old stuff we've heard a million times before?
Why are the likes of Coldplay expected to make an almost exact same copy of their most successful album every time?
There can only be one answer - because we demand it.
And I can't help thinking that that's a strange state of affairs. Why is there such resistance to new ideas and fresh sounds?
Surely I can't be the only one who gets bored of hearing Blowing In The Wind for the billionth time!