Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day 18: A song I wish I heard on the radio

As I said yesterday, I don't listen to a huge amount of music radio these days (I still listen to vast swathes of BBC Radio 4's output via podcasts, but that's not especially relevant here. Although I'm now totally wishing I'd chosen the theme from The Archers for yesterday's post). I go through phases where I listen to the radio avidly for months on end, really immerse myself in nothing but the music which is getting a lot of airplay right now...then drop it for just as long, relying instead on magazines, websites and blogs to alert me to any new records in which I might be interested. When it comes to finding new music I love, neither approach seems to be significantly more or less effective than the other.

But the bulk of the new music I discover from the radio tends, on the whole, to be chart pop. As I'd hope would be clear by now, I have absolutely nothing against commercial pop - quite the contrary, in fact. Lots of it is spectacularly wonderful, and the past ten years have been something of a golden era for radio-friendly unit shifters - compared with the pop radio of my middle teens, in the dishearteningly-bland days of the mid '90s, the sheer range of technological innovation, stylistic imagination and straight-up CHOON-tastic melodies which have been hitting the charts and getting widespread radio/TV attention over the past ten years has been remarkable.

A decade ago, the sort of production techniques which have become commonplace through the likes of the Neptunes and Timbaland were the stuff of cutting-edge electronic/dance music: today, they're radio fodder. Going back to yesterday's entry, just listen to some of Lady Gaga's output - a mere decade ago, you'd not have heard anything even vaguely similar to some of those beats on mainstream radio. Yes, she's just following in Madonna's footsteps - but one of the ways she's doing that is by working with the most exciting, innovative producers in the world. Same old same old, but made new and different through judicious application of technology. The world is moving faster than ever, and if you're not especially interested in keeping up - which, to be fair, many of us aren't - then you're bound to end up lost.

I've had friends suggest that the last ten years have been a wasteland so far as great music is concerned - I couldn't disagree more, but I see why they might feel that way. If your tastes veer towards the traditional, it's been a rough decade - it's not that there haven't been plenty of spectacularly-wonderful records released, but if you're not actively-engaged in the scene, you've got to look a lot harder to find them. The positive sides of an increasingly fractured, diverse music scene are myriad - it's easier than ever for an aspiring artist to produce their own work, and get it heard by a large audience without ever going near a major record label - but the downside is that if you favour a particular sound or genre, you've got to look a bit harder to find the best examples of it.

On which note, for all my love for contemporary pop, metal, electronica and hip-hop, I've still got a traditionalist, reactionary-luddite streak a mile wide. As one might reasonably have inferred from my selection of 'Johnny B. Goode' as my favourite song ever, however hard I try to pretend otherwise, my heart will probably always lie with good old-fashioned, boring, outdated rock'n'roll. With a bit of country and folk thrown in, just for the sake of variety. I'd go mad if that was all I ever listened to, but it's probably the genre I return to more often than any other, and my love for it knows few bounds.

So, on that front, the last decade has sucked. Not for the quality of music being produced - quite the contrary, it's been an amazing decade for almost any genre you care to name, trad rock very much included - but it's not been getting a lot of radio play. Ever since The Strokes made their bafflingly-inexplicable rise to fame in the early years of the decade, mainstream guitar-based rock music has been driven by the sort of angular, chiming post-punk produced by a hydra-like collective of bands called The Somethings. The definite article has been the most in-demand fashion accessory of the decade for young white men with guitars, and while I've got absolutely nothing against the sort of music they produce - some of my best friends, and all that - it just doesn't really float my boat. I liked Joy Division plenty the first time round, and don't really need to hear it again. Give me something different, any which, of course, I mean something even more outdated and retrograde. Shut up, I never pretended I was being reasonable or objective. Unoriginality and pastiche are fine, so long as they're the right sort of unoriginality and pastiche.

Which brings me, belatedly, to today's song.

I mentioned this one way back in, I think, my third '30 Days...' post - as I said then, if I didn't know better, I could fairly easily have mistaken this for a classic Rolling Stones number from the early '70s. The Truckers aren't just a nostalgia act, of course - while their sound is fairly traditional, their lyrics are both distinctive and superb, and they're one of the best live acts of the past ten years. Since they first drew major international notice with 2001's Southern Rock Opera - a hard-rockin' concept album loosely-based on the real-life rise and fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd - they've put out five consistently-superb records, blending classic hard rock'n'roll with Stax-derived soul and Chess-style country with a sharp, modern edge. They're an unusually-democratic outfit, to boot, with at least three top-notch songwriters and singers all taking turns in the spotlight, although main frontman Patterson Hood still tends to write the bulk of their recorded output. While his work is excellent, though. he's not my favourite Trucker - since the departure of former member Jason Isbell, that title would probably have to go to Mike Cooley.

'Marry Me' is one of his songs, and it's about as good an old-style rock song as you could hope for. The impeccably-arranged three-guitar howl, a tight rhythm section, set to witty, knowing lyrics (
"My daddy didn't pull out, but he never apologized / Rock 'n' Roll means well but it can't help telling young boys lies" is about as good an opening couplet as I've heard this decade). Time-worn ingredients, perhaps, but they still work - and, in the hands of a band who really know what they're doing, they've still got a freshness which blows away any notions of lazy nostalgia. And it's the sort of thing I wish I heard on the radio more often.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Mike Cooley DOES write the best DBT songs. Panties In Your Purse, Late For Church, Women Without Whiskey--definitely some of my favorites. But I haven't really listened to anything they've done in the last six or seven years, so I might be missing something. (Isbell, also good.)