Friday, October 27, 2006

It's Only Rock n' Roll

The NY Times joins in on the plethora of "let's save rock and roll" articles, mish-mashing commentary on the Killers, My Chemical Romance, and whatever-the-hell-that-Blink-182-guy-is-doing. To be fair, I haven't (and probably won't) listen to a single one of these new albums, and thus can't and won't comment on the bands themselves. If My Chemical Romance is questioning the state of rock and roll, it might be a fair statement that the kids are more fickle these days, but that's me saying it as an outsider and thus a crochety old man (though I would've thought that every adolescent girl would want to be Karen O, and thus have something to get behind)(it probably also doesn't help that there's little notion of rebellion or danger to mainstream rock these days, unless rampant existential angst gone unchecked counts). If these bands want to write The Great American Album, far be it for me to get in their way - if anything, I'll get out of their way. We all know, however, that there's always something I can be an asshole about.

For instance, wtf with this thesis? "Now that rock ’n’ roll seems more than ever like a niche genre, a handful of bands are reaching for grandeur. In an age of weightless mp3’s, they want to make weighty albums (whatever that means). Conscious of a rock ’n’ roll power vacuum, these bands are trying to fill it."

A little surprising from Kelefa Sanneh, who I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) was acutely tuned to the "rockism" thing. The statement isn't 'rockist' in the least, but I would've expected Sanneh to know that there's no shortage of rock these days. To extrapolate Sanneh's initial statement, every genre is now a niche genre, and most people can only hope to be a generalist. Though hip hop/pop/all else might have blocked out rock's stranglehold of past decades on the Billboard Hot 100 (though I highly doubt this), the Billboard Hot 100 Chart might not actually mean a whole lot next to the genre-specific charts (well, maybe not to youth culture). If what Sanneh means to say is that there's no one new rock band that we all look to nowadays, it's because we're too busy looking everywhere at once.

For every Kayne heating up the charts, there's seemingly ten emo bands to fill in the gap. Last time I checked, there was no shortage of white adolescent males now dyeing their hair black and toying with eyeliner. There might not be any obvious contenders for 'the greatest rock and roll band alive' in that U2 sort of way (save, perhaps, for Radiohead, if only Thom Yorke could tap into Bono's unwavering optimism), but that's out of glut rather than the disparity that Sanneh surmises. There's a "power vacuum" only in so far as there's just that many more bands vying for the title, and they're all falling in the middle of the pyramid.

It doesn't help that easy accessibility on the Net and otherwise has basically made every teenager a de facto archivalist. Only a short time back, those of us outside the big cities had a hard time finding articles about older bands outside of the rock canon, much less any back catalogue (Punk Planet was as hard to come by as, say, any of the Can albums). Now that anyone with mouse in hand can become an expert in tropicalia overnight, the expanse of the niche audience is staggering. There's no dearth; there's more competition. If My Chemical Romance or any other band - or, perhaps more accurately, their record labels - feels the need to beat the glut and grasp that brass ring known as universality, I suppose the only fail-safe plan is this: go big in Japan first.

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