January 23, 2004
ARE WE LIVING THROUGH ANOTHER 1985?
A few remarks prompted by Marcello's memories of 1985: the worst year for music ever. 1985, so bad it could almost be ..... now? Worth reflecting that in 1985 those who pointed to the obvious poverty of pop in would inevitably have been accused of nostalgia. The tragic fate that awaits such cheerleading should serve as a warning to our current Poptimists. Didn't they know? Couldn't they see they were in a time of privation, of drought?
Ask yourself this: is the choice between British Sea Power and Justin Timberlake really that much better than the choice between the Loft and Go West? Is Beyonce much of an improvement on 85's Whitney?
Newness and nowness lends successful Pop a (con)temporary sheen that is quickly tarnished. A year or so down the track, when the gleam of success and publicity and shiny contemporaneity has left the records, when Time performs a reverse alchemy, transforming commercial dominance into unsaleable carboot sale fodder, that is when the error of our ways is revealed. And come 2005, no self-respecting car boot will be complete without the Beyonce album in it, mark my words. Like much, if not most of today's Pop, it is a carboot-sale record in waiting. You can already detect that fate, you can see the skull beneath the skin, the shadow on the lung.
I suppose all of this is like the anti-dote to SFJ's by now legendary piece on Justin T (a flagwaving exemplar of Poptism if ever there was one) and no doubt my setting Old Father Time on Little Girl Pop sounds like Rockist bullying, a scattering of Pop's starlight by a maudlin Monday morning Real. Pop is about the glorious effusive, delusive Now, isn't it? About losing yourself in the Moment, not about long-term investment?
But this begs the question: does it ever rain in Popistville? Does being a Popist mean never having to admit that there any down periods?
Further note, prompted by Marcello's rundown. The word 'big': doesn't this connote everything crap about that mid-eighties period? Big Country, Big Audio Dynamite, the pitiful Big Sound Authority. As a word, 'big' is, ironically, horribly squat, isn't it? 'Bigness': doesn't that capture the oxymoronic stadium-filling emptiness of the mid-eighties? Eurythmics, Live Aid, Tears for Fears' 'Everyone wants to Rule the World.' They were all Big events. (I hold the first TFF album in high esteem: and their decline, their massification and blusterization is symptomatic of everything that went wrong in the Eighties.)
Posted by mark at January 23, 2004 09:49 PM
Yeah, I know exactly what you mean about now...looking back through CoM for book editing purposes, I'm quite embarrassed that much of the then-current music I was raving about at the time just doesn't get listened to now (not by me at any rate). I've just had it up to saturation/strangulation point with Justin T and faux-Bollywood beats and Timbaland and even the Neptunes - again, "bigness" of a different order seems to be the point here. But I saw an awful lot of parallels between '85 and '03, including the ones you've drawn. Maybe these days I just prefer to hear whispers of doubt in music rather than roaring assertions of whatever bigness they're asserting.
I've been listening to some new SACD-remastered ZTT reissues - Propaganda, Art of Noise, Act - and was reminded that virtually NONE of this music did anything commercially at time of original release, for reasons well described in my piece. So we got "We Close Our Eyes" rather than "Snobbery And Decay," and are probably still paying the price for it...which also explains why Pluramon and Vive La Fete aren't selling, I guess.
Totally agree about the Neptunes --- bought the album to review for New York Press, never listened to it since. cf my hip hop post. There's a weariness about the Neptunes and Timbaland, even when they are being 'innovative.' Producing Justin may have been a threshold moment: a signal of total assimilation. There's something about blogs which tends towards a micro-analysis of the minutiae of Now which, however brilliant, and it often is, has the danger of missing the wood for the trees. Junior Boys' Jeremy has said that never has there been a time when the amount and quality of Pop discourse has so overwhelmed the quality of the music. For me, the litmus test is Pop: the charts and TOTP do remain important, if only as sepulchres to what Pop once was. Micro-genres, micro-analyses, it's here that we are forced to find our pleasures, with the macro so evidently impoverished.
"Does being a Popist mean never having to admit there are any down periods?"
I would say yes, and that 'we' are right. Evidence A: the series of gargantuan CD700MBs being produced by eager beavers on ILM, one for each year since 1960 or so, yes, even 1985; each of them a convincing argument for that year's joys (retrospective and otherwise). And each of them massively incomplete - most people stick to a one-track-per-artist rule.
The notion of good times and bad times works for individual artists, and it works for particular styles and movements, and on a wider scale it works for whole genres. But the thing is that I don't think *anyone's* experience of pop in its widest sense is big enough to apply this sort of analysis to everything that happens in a year: technological limitations used to give you the illusion that your perspective was complete but for the moment at least that doesn't apply.
(You can ask the question - do Popists *always* like the music in the charts? I can't speak for all of them but this one certainly doesn't. '92-'93 were pretty bad, '96-'98 were worse, and things didn't really start getting enjoyable until '01 or so. I think there's a type of person who pays attention to the charts as a kind of duty, and I think I'm one of them, but I don't always like them.)