Wednesday, September 23, 2015

POP MUSIC PUSBAGS; Ryan Adams , Taylor Swift, and the Brainwash Rule.

I am an admitted POP Music fan. Always have been. I love good hooks, don't mind dumb lyrics, and can withstand some of the stupidest posturing imaginable. However, I wince and whine, bray and bay when the POP upheld so highly is the worst of it's genre, not the best. I count Taylor Swift as part of the worst, though not THEE worst (THAT you never hear about, cause it's really just that bad.) And we must create a distinction when talking of POP music, versus something that I myself do, which is Rock & Roll. A very different art form. One requires popularity, a huge fan base, a team of producers and writers, and preferably a youth driven image to exist, the other is a spiritual calling that requires nothing more than your own ego and a few chords to get across. Pop is not more difficult to perform, Pop is not better, and Pop is not the answer to anything other than a transitory good time. Pop does require a more universal, less personal approach, and a more perfectly constructed one, as it is attempting to communicate with millions of people all at once. It may even require actual talent in technique, though certainly not a prerequisite if you are young, charismatic, and have the right connections. Steve Martin is painfully wrong on this when it comes to Pop- you don't have to be good at it, you just have to be good enough.

Rock & Roll in the mainstream, Pop driven market has been dead for sometime now. Though such anomalies as The White Stripes or The Strokes have come down the pike over the years, rock music has ceased to have a viable place at the table due to it's increasing homogenization from bands like Foo Fighters, Blink 182, or Green Day- turning rebellion into money, creating slick product that says little or nothing about anything, the music itself full of so little musical action (it tends to lean more on volume and production than interesting bass lines, rhythmic patterns, or guitar riffs these days) or interest it makes whatever words fly past moot in reflection. The music, the tone of voice, the approach- has been so streamlined and mashed to a bland paste kids can no longer tell when good starts and bad begins- they have been brainwashed into accepting what "good" means through a media/industry apparatus solely interested in moving units and creating trends in which to frame a solid sales foundation)  They are hopelessly lost. You see it in so many underground bands attempting to perform rock n roll music. They flounder and fumble with looks and sounds and styles from eons ago, adding nothing more to the dialogue than a puff piece on their own egos. They typically say things like "bringing real rock n' roll back," or " making rock n' roll cool again," as if it needed their help whatsoever, or suggesting that anybody would even know what that is in the first place, since rock n' roll defined  breaking off the chains of oppressive fashionistas, thwarting the predetermined in favor of the new throttle hybrid (For reference, I count Roxy Music and The Damned as experts in this). Speaking to generation, Rock & Roll is a tough area to be concerned with if you are not of it's era, reeking of revival and retro fitting when you are of  an age that is more associated with EDM, Hip Hop, Tweaker Pop, Nu Metal, Pop Punk, Emo, or anything Lana Del Rey has released. Rather than be a part of your generation, you choose something shiny and safe from the past, copy it as best you can, and then say it's all YOU. Some can pull this off- Lenny Kravitz and The Black Crowes certainly had their moments- as have others, and many of us who perform rock and roll music as an art form, a love affair, a place to exist - do so knowing fully we are not reinventing the wheel- just putting our own colors and shades to it, and hoping if comes out different enough to excite a few people outside our own sense of self accomplishment.

The concept of their only being "special" talent at the TOP may be a fallacy, at best. Especially in regards to Pop Music, which simply has been full to the top with such mediocrity since the days of The Hit Parade in the 1930s, that to even suggest the only ones that are "special" make it- in any way- is a lie told to you by those who want to keep you in a box. So when Shelly Fabares hit with "Johnny Angel" did that make her better than Jackie DeShannon, whose NEVER had a hit that big, though could sing, write, and perform circles around Shelly? Just one tiny, glaring example of deficiancy in perception. Or Janet Jackson, who is a fine Pop Star, but really has no distinctive talents dozens already possess. She is not the best singer- a pretty average one to boot- her dancing is nothing any one with a sense of rhythm could not obtain- hours upon weeks of classes with the world's best choreographers will do that for you. And I am not dismissing or diminishing her presence (this is impossible, she has a large audience who loves her to death, which has nothing to do with any technique- she is star for her style, not her technique.) Rock & Roll is the flip side of Pop- it's rough, gruff, inconsistently brilliant; dirty, energetic, wild, fun, stupid- producing works that last far beyond it's Pop counter parts, as it gets rediscovered and uncovered every generation since it's inception some 60 years ago. Old stars forgotten, new stars appear, old stars reborn, new stars born from old nobodies- rock and roll does this; Pop makes no such claims, no such space exists for these archetypes. You either hit or you don't. A winner or a loser. In Rock & Roll you are Born To Lose, Live To Win.

Which brings me to the calamity that is Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift's 1989 in it's entirety. Adams, who through sheer force of personality, as well as the luck required to make a career in the music industry (and some say the prickly personality it takes in getting there), seems to have always attempted straddling both worlds, in addition to proclaiming himself some sort of country artist- or "alternative country" artist- the genre he began his career in. What Adams appears to be, in my estimation, is a Pop Singer. His middling music- a sort of ambling country rock that references John Cougar Mellencamp and Bryan Adams as much as The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen- is perfectly middle of the road. His first band, Whiskeytown, was a well regarded alternative country unit loved by those who feel Wilco a centerpiece in their lives, and his subsequent solo turn "Heartbreaker" contained some lovely melodies that let the world know he had at least as much talent as Duncan Shiek or Donnie Iris ("When the Stars Go Blue" is his "Ah, Leah") I would possibly put him nowhere past Steve Forbert or Willie Nile historically, though Adams gets the love he deserves in an era in which there is no competition for that corner of the block, as there was when the aforementioned existed. His popularity didn't truly reach it's apex until the mid to late naughts, when record sales of any kind became welcome in the face of a dying pop scene, and downloading free music turned those away from the more incidental stars of the day.

The original 1989 record by Taylor Swift I found a difficult listen. It reminds me of sitting at a random bus stop near a high school and listening to 16 year old girls in conversation. I found it insipid, narrow, annoying, bitchy, hollow, and uninspired. I could toss in glib, smug, and grating. However, this record was probably not made for a guy like me. I am most likely aged out of this music. It seems targeted for someone much younger and less experienced, or possibly those older just needing some aural wall paper to make them feel young and energetic, and Taylor is good enough for them- makes them feel as if they belong to the popular dialogue, and not old and out of touch- which socially tends to scare a lot of people.) And all of that is fine, I don't have to like it, I don't have to understand it. The problem becomes when you DO understand it, are inundated with it everywhere you go, and forced to comment on these things in your daily life due to it's ubiquity. Ryan Adams latest LP- a self titled affair that echos Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and his own measured flair for the fake ache- contained a few numbers worth repeat listen, which is why I thought it an idea to listen to his interpretation of Taylor's 1989 LP. As a songwriter- and one of distinction to the Billboard Chart/Rolling Stone/Grammy community- I felt maybe he would reveal something in her work I may have missed, something he heard that pricked his ears and made him feel he could wring something out of it in the same way i feel I reinvent my love of Bill Anderson's songwriting through my own work.

The answer I received was dismal. Not only did the material render itself worse in his hands, it proved that her songs are only exciting when dressed up in the kitchen sink production of her 1989 record. That she is INDEED a Pop Star, that her brand of sonic hard sell is just that- a slab of commercial goo to grab dollars and celebrity. In and of itself that is fine- Pop Music is meant to be that great, silly nothing we rally around for the moment in which it gets us and is then gone. Sometimes it lasts longer, but is not required to do so for full enjoyment. But her product is an indication that had she become that well known through any other medium, she would have been just as happy. Which I do not think is the case with Mr. Adams. I do believe, quite sincerely, that he is a rock star through and through, that is his vocation and he made it. I also feel that way about Mike Reno from Loverboy. However, I find Adams- like Reno, good for a few minutes of pleasure, and wanting the rest of the time. Adams artistic temperament and impulses certainly lean more towards what I may aesthetically behold than Reno's, but juts as frustratingly lackluster when the filler cuts arrive- Reno's are cliche driven, Adams' seem simply repetitive. Either way, his recording of Taylor Swift's 1989 reveals why both artists I feel are a reflection of today's most mediocre Pop Music. With all of that talent out there in the world, these two seem to occupy spaces that could be better filled. That would take a paradigm shift- or simply, a gamble- too many industry wags are either to frightened or too clueless to makes- so you are stuck within a time in which the MOST middling (not the worst, not the best) are on Top- be it Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Pharell Williams, Drake, The Weeknd, Travis Scott- it's a pretty average bunch of anything anyone could do and be given the right apparatus in getting you there. Exploitation and marketing is all that matters now, anyhow. I would challenge any one anywhere in any position of power in the music industry to take one single, solitary song I have written, put it on brainwash radio rotation,a nd watch it becomes the hit of the season. You can call that arrogance if you must, but if you are actually reading this, you know better.

SONG #266 of 365 Demos In 365 Days, September 23rd, 2015: FRANKIE DELMANE- Storybook Children