OK, you can relax. This isn’t going to be one of those “get-off-my-lawn” curmudgeonly rants. I promise, I’m not going to be complaining about how much better things were way back in the Dark Ages when I attended Walrustropolis High. (Go Pauls!) — although our football rivalry with Carpenter High was the stuff of legend.
No, this is a complaint about SOME of today’s music. The kind that’s disposable, formulaic, overproduced crap.
Now I’ll be the first to admit there was some fantastic music made in the happy corners of my youth, lots of classic stuff that still gets airplay today. And I’ll also grant that there’s good music being made today. But so much of today’s music played on commercial radio is dull, repetitive noise.
So what prompted my complaint? Two recent listening sessions on my lunch hour.
A few days ago, as I was driving to lunch, the car’s satellite radio presented me with something magical: a Bruce Springsteen concert recorded in 1976. It was vintage Springsteen, with all the passion, the fire, the wonder of youth. The music that spoke to a teen-aged Walrus in a small town in the midwest, music that showed, as Springsteen put it, “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” It was glorious, capturing all the hope and energy of life, with just a trace of the desperate suspicion that it won’t work out the way we hope..
That’s classic music that speaks to people.
Then came today’s contemporary station on the way to Subway. They were playing fun’s We Are Young. To my admittedly middle-aged ears, it sounded like a dirge. There was no joy, no celebration in the music. Even while singing “let’s set the world on fire,” the band sounded resigned, depressed.
Now I don’t expect every song to be Springsteenesque, even from Springsteen. There’s a place for downbeat quasi-ballads. There’s even plenty of room on the charts for bad music. The #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for this week in 1976 — the same week as Springsteen’s concert — was Disco Duck by Rick Dees.
Yes, the charts have always had some degree of really bad music. But there’s always been a lot of great stuff around too. The trick has been separating the rockin’ wheat from the boring chaff.
But in the last 15 years or so, the advent of the dreaded Auto-Tune and the near-takeover of pop songs by drum machines has made that sifting harder than ever. There’s just so much dreck out there.
Lana Del Rey. fun. (I’ll honor their style and not capitalize the band nane.) Justin freakin’ Bieber.
Sure, there are still great artists recording. Cee Lo Green. Pink. Lady Gaga. Mumford and Sons. Drive-By Truckers. And what do they have in common?
No obvious Auto-Tune. No drum machine. Just a good to great voice, ability (in most cases) to play their own instruments and a passion for the music.
And that’s what’s missing from the wannabes. Passion. Without that, well, sorry, fun — your music isn’t.