Damien Dempsey, Stockholm Pop, and Declining Record Sales

Damien Dempsey 2-2

http://mic.com/articles/95260/the-music-industry-is-literally-brainwashing-you-to-like-bad-pop-songs-here-s-how?utm_source=policymicFB&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social

That is a link that talks about how popular music is driven by how much you hear it, and not by the quality.    The more you hear something the more you are likely to like it.  This is due to the way people’s brains function.  It compares the modern pop world to the Stockholm Syndrome.  Corporations are cramming this nonsense down people’s throats.  

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/album-sales-hit-historic-low-falling-below-four-million-units-sold-20140829

This is an article about how album sales are at an all-time low.  I realize that technology has had an effect, but if one compares todays popular music with popular music in the past, one can’t help but feel quality of the things that are getting the most exposure is also at an all-time low.  

In closing, I will quote part of Damien Dempsey’s song Patience:

Well I’ve exchanged the spear and the sword
For words and melody
Oh what a felony
How the record company pushes this McDonalds music
An aural lobotomy
For those who choose it
Corporations pumpin all this money into pop
To keep the real singers far away from the top
So folks are never told what these corporations do
Fuckin up the planet, exploiting me and you

P.S.  I love the term McDonalds music!  

Book Of Love ‎- Boy

Book Of Love ‎- Boy (1985) [HQ]: http://youtu.be/WVBbIxdCNLQ

Nicolas Winding Refn, one of my favorite directors, has stated that this is one of his favorite songs. (He has directed Drive, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Only God Forgives amongst others.)  I must admit that this is an excellent piece of pop art.  I am a sucker for synth pop, because of the combined dance rhythms and strength of the melody.  It also has a certain inclusiveness to it.  Boy or girl, gay or straight, of whatever age, all can twitch and shake like 13 year old girls when it is on.

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The Ecstatic Joy of Bizarre Love Triangle

I try to keep this blog balanced, and not in the way that Fox News means. If I post too many music blogs, I try to find something politically to talk about. If my posts seem to be filled with too much despair at the state of things I try to find something fun for a change. I know that in this day and age one is supposed to niche market, but I get bored talking about the same subject over and over. If you are passionate about something and you do it well, have at it. The world does need people that are focused and knowledgeable about certain issues. It doesn’t necessarily need scatterbrained people like myself that dip their toes in a hundred different pools. But I can’t help but feel that this world is endlessly fascinating, even if it is occasionally like George Carlin said, “when you are born in this country you get two tickets to the freak show.” The last two posts were about the Koch brothers and the sad state of music reviews. I was going jet black for a moment and it is time to temporarily take another course.

I tried to think of something that made me happy. I must admit that a song that has always picked my spirits up is New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. Although the lyrics slightly betray the music, the music and melody sound to me like pure ecstatic joy. I’ve always felt this is one of the great pop songs. Temptation might edge this out as my favorite New Order song, but this is up there.

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Give Him a Great Big Kiss

This is the forever cool Shangri-La’s who influenced many of the punk acts of the 70’s. I have an affinity for girl group music and the Shangri-La’s are one of the absolute best. Their greatest hits is simply fantastic and a must buy if you like this period of music.

The Guitar Playing of Alain Whyte

One of my favorite guitar players is Alain Whyte.  He was Morrissey’s guitar player from Your Arsenal through Ringleader of the Tormentors.  He still wrote songs with Morrissey after leaving the touring band, although I do not know yet if he wrote any songs on the new album.  Morrissey pokes some fun at him in his Autobiography, but with Morrissey it is hard to tell if he there is any real animosity or just a sort of backhanded compliments that are the result of his Northern humor. 

Alain Whyte never got the credit that he deserved, largely for the unpardonable sin of not being Johnny, even though he wrote at least 81 songs with Morrissey and contributed to some of his best works. 

I loved the guitar team of Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, but I prefer Alain’s melodic expressive playing to Boz’s more rhythmic approach out of the two.  They were perfect foils for each other.  Although the guitar playing of the two was rooted in pop and rock classicism I actually felt that especially during the 90’s they were one of the few two guitar teams that were pushing the instrument in new directions. 

They took glam, rock, pop, and rockabilly riffs, and blended them into a unique recognizable style.  Under Steve Lillywhite the pair created what to me are the two high-water marks of Morrissey’s career when it comes to guitar playing.  The albums Vauxhall and I and Southpaw Grammar both feature exceptional guitar playing though they are both very different.  Vauxhall and I is very beautiful and gentle while Southpaw Grammar explodes with volume and energy. 

One of the things that is interesting about their playing is that even when they were playing loud they were often including beautiful melodies under the noise.  Vice versa, even when they were playing beautiful gentle parts there was an emotional quality that created tension. 

Much how Paul Westerberg often updated the guitar playing of the Rolling Stones by making it more melodic, I feel that Whyte, and Boorer with him took preexisting rock n roll templates and added a new melodicism to them.  They might have only been painting new landscapes in the margins, but they were still creating their own language. 

Now that Whyte is no longer in Morrissey’s band he often co-writes pop songs with American pop stars.  However, if you like his work his work with Morrissey I would recommend checking out the album Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.  This album features Whyte’s guitar playing, writing, and singing.  Some of the songs you will recognize as songs that became Morrissey songs. 

If you are unfamiliar with his playing I would recommend checking out both of the above mentioned Morrissey records.  Although I think Vauxhall and I is the pinnacle of Morrissey’s solo career, Southpaw Grammar may interest you more if you are buying a record for purely the guitar playing aspect if you happen to be a rock n roll fan. Both records feature glorious guitar playing that in and of itself has unfortunately been overlooked for too long.   

More Thoughts On the Golden Age of Music

I’m always wondering why the 60’s and 70’s were such a golden age of music.  I was born in 1978 so I am not clouded by nostalgic feelings.  I don’t mean that good music stopped being made after the 70’s, only that across the board quality was higher then that it has been since.  Even many banal pop songs of that time feature some great musicianship.

I think a lot of it has to do with money.  Artists were allowed to indulge then.  Kevin Russell always talks about how the music industry from that time was decadent.  A lot of those artists were allowed to live in a drug fueled world of fantasy and wealth.  I remember reading that Pink Floyd sent a photographer to capture pictures of the great pyramids for Dark Side of the Moon.  Just those pictures cost more than most people spend to make the actual album these days!

I also think that the record business was in the hands of people that knew how to exploit it for money, but not control it.  By that I mean they knew how to use artists and their talents to make money, but now it just seems like they stick a pretty face and digitally do whatever needs to be done to make the music sellable.  Real artists do things like challenge corporations politically on occasion.  You don’t want too many of those kinds of people running around with too much money.

There were also a lot less distractions.  Lord knows how many people are fucking around on the internet when they could be writing a song.  Look at me right now!

Technological limitations of the time also required that people really be able to perform and play in the studio.  When you have some limitations on what you can do, technology wise, you have to be creative.  You have to find some way to make the sounds in your head without just pushing a button.  When they used to create the sound of echo in the studio they actually had a box called an echo chamber that created real echoes!  Digital effects are getting better, but nothing substitutes for a real echo.

Getting back to distraction, there was also some kind of artistic community, especially if you look towards the 60’s.  It seems like so many people are off on their own trip now.

There was also the antiwar movement, civil rights, and so many great political struggles that people that were college age were participating in, which is precisely the age when people begin to really come of age with their personal stamp on art.

I think drugs played a big part too.  It was the kinds of drugs that people are on.  A great deal of psychedelics will inspire some weird shit to be cranked out!  I just read this morning that most of one of Funkadelic’s albums was recorded in one day and they were all tripping!  I’m also reading Neil Young’s autobiography right now.  He basically says he was high from 18 to 65.  That will definitely move the mind in new directions.

This is a topic that I have talked about before.  I am always curious about why certain things in the culture lead to creative high points in some field.  Look at TV right now.  Everyone is calling it the golden age of television.  There are several cultural and economic reasons why this is so.  But that, my friends, is for another day.

Young the Giant and the Importance of Singing in Pop Music

I’m looking forward to hearing the new Young the Giant album Mind Over Matter.  I enjoyed their first album for its California sound and most of all because of their singer Sameer Gadhia.  Even though his singing accent is more modern, there is something about his effortless voice that reminds me of an early 60’s soul singer.  To compare anyone to Sam Cooke is insane, but there is something in Gadhia’s voice that hits a similar pleasure spot in my brain. Listen to the track I Got from their first album to understand what I mean.   I feel as if that song were arranged differently it could have again taken place in that early 1960’s pop music period.  Also, for reasons that I can’t explain their first album just reminds me of Northern California beaches.  I was in Northern Cali on route right before I got their album, but it is more than that.  It has the same sort of beauty and lonesomeness that one feels on those beaches.

Their first album is not incredibly deep in any way.  They are young though and I will give them the benefit of the doubt.  That’s not to say that their lyrics are dumb or embarrassing.  There are definitely moments of intelligence.  It’s just that their lyrics neither add nor detract for the most part in your enjoyment of their music.

The music is also well played indie rock, and the seemingly direct recording of it lets you know that the band can definitely play.  I hear that they have changed production approaches on this second record and I am curious as to how this affects my opinion of the band.

However, what really separates this band to me from countless other indie bands is not the music or the lyrics, but it is again the fact that they have a singer with a unique voice that has an effortless charm.    I read an interview with Gadhia and it seems as if he has been reading a good bit.  I am hoping that this willingness to challange himself will take his lyrics to deeper places in the future.  At some point a band must have something to say, not necessarily that they need to say something meaningful from a sociopolitical standpoint, but they just must have a lyrical identity and point of view for me to become long term invested in them.

But they have the most important part of the pop music equation down.  I can basically listen to any offshoot of pop and rock music as long as the singer of a band has some kind of individual presence in their voice.  Good singers have their own voice.  This is usually derived from them incorporating a lot of singers into their own style, or in being completely unlearned to as where they don’t know any better.  The worst singers are just pale imitations of other singers that have gone before them.  You can see this in many of the bands that came about after the initial grunge movement.  Many people after the wake of that initial movement just sounded like pale imitations of Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder, as if they were the only singers that they had ever heard in their lives.

I am rooting for Young the Giant as they seem one of the only bands that has cracked the pop music world recently.  They also seem intelligent and willing to learn.  They clearly want their music to mean something beyond just serving their own fame and fortune.  I hope their early promise is not the end of their story.