Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Don't forget the songs that made you cry/and the songs that saved your life?

Nostalgia… it ain't what it used to be. So why am I quoting a Smiths track ('Rubber Ring')? Well, it seems to be my generation's turn to revive their youths. Twitter is alive today with rumours of a Stone Roses reunion, while the release of remastered Smiths box sets has produced a wave of sentiment.

It's a bit cheeky of me to say so, having bought the Smiths CD set (I've got everything on vinyl already) despite them splitting up when I was 12, but I'd advise against returning to your salad days, because they weren't. This is especially true of the Smiths, the lyrical, elegiac sound ('I will not go, back to the old house', as Morrissey sings on 'Back to the Old House') of alienation and exclusion. (And let's not forget their attack on releases and promotion: 'Paint a Vulgar Picture').

Reunions are especially to be avoided. Jaded, faded money hounds temporarily burying the hatchet to make enough for a third house by recycling lyrics that now mean nothing to them. Part of the joy of pop music is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it quality. Bands have their moments, if they're lucky. A select few split up, broke and hungry, only to be rediscovered by later generations (Slowdive, Slint, hopefully Gorky's, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band). The last thing we want is for our idols to reform: that's when we realise that they're only human, fat mortgage-payers with thinning hair.

Harken to me, nostalgics. I've been to two horrific gigs in recent years. The first was two people from Dodgy, purveyors of a few pleasant summery singles in the mid-90s. Stripped of youthful enthusiasm, I was confronted by a posh bloke bellowing over the groaning of the synthesiser which - to him - qualified him as a member of the junglist massive. The second was Spiritualized, doing an acoustic gig. Never have the Emperor's New Clothes been so obvious. Without the usual hypnotically massive brass section drowning him out, Jason Pierce's lyrics were exposed as a tedious repetition of 'my girlfriend's left me, there's no god and I've run out of smack'. This was lost on the audience, however. They weren't interested in musical talent: they wanted a note-perfect reproduction of their collective lost youth, and woe betide anyone whose clothes rustled or breathing disturbed the act of worship. Actually, there's another gig I could cite: The Wedding Present. It was both perfect and utterly depressing at the same time. Perfect, in that all my favourite tracks were played beautifully. Depressing, in that only all my favourite 15 year old tracks were played with mechanical precision. Not a single new song, not a twitch of improvisation. There's a band which understands the deadening reactionary nature of its audience, and has decided to take the money and run.

This is the point: we're treating these bands as time machines on an impossible journey. We're expecting them to be preserved in aspic at a time of our choosing. How disheartening must it be for the presiding musical genius to realise that all the mob wants is her radio-friendly hits, rather than what she thinks is the product of her late genius. We're not treating these musicians as autonomous, living breathing people with ongoing lives of their own: we're treating them as meat-iPods, as though they should churn out the hits whenever it's convenient for us.

That's why I like my bands to split and stay split. Alternatively, there's the Scott Walker route: use the cash from his early boy-band hits to churn out an album of gut-wrenchingly unlistenable avant-jazz terror every five years.  Of course I'd like to see all those bands who split before I got a chance see them first time round: Stereolab, the Boo Radleys, Slowdive, and many many more. I could get tickets for Pavement and Pixies right now, but I won't, because watching them flog their dead horses as though they were the same people in the same context is a sterile, masturbatory pursuit. It'll make you deaf. Go and find a new band.


Anonymous said...

Scott Walker - wasn't he just gorgeous

Gill Ferrell said...

I agree for the most part but would cite Page & Plant unledded 1994 No Quarter as a brave and highly successful radical revamp of much loved classics. It can be done.

Artog said...

Your take on Jason Pierce's lyrics did make laugh, even though I think he's got a dry way with words. I saw him recently and thought the horns/orchestra/choir drowned him out, but can believe what you say about an acoustic performance.