February 08, 2006

Night of the Living Indieheads

Simon's repsonse to my Pop Unlife piece is as interesting as you'd expect.

But what Simon calls 'the tiny achiles heel' of my argument is in fact the very point of it. For it to have come to this, where a band is celebrated for 'casually out-groov[ing] Franz Ferdinand' (high praise!), where it is not considered, a priori, a reason for despair and disgust that 'one of the best records of the year' - the year being 2006 - is an 'inbreeding' of The Jam, Smiths, Oasis, Libertines* (an inbreeding of the already inbred): that is a sign that something is over. Pop really is Trad.

My quarrel, after all, was less with the Arctic Monkeys per se (though Simon's right, I willl never permit myself to like them) than with the critical climate that has elevated them into the stratosphere. If the AM album were re-classified as a guilty pleasure, akin to enjoying a good quality Abba tribute band or something, I would have few problems with it. But not to challenge the NME rating - fifth best British album EVER - not to be alarmed by the audience's fervour for it, is catastrophic for two reasons. First, because it colludes in the pretence that Pop is healthy and thriving ('this is as good as it ever was!') Second, because it actively contributes to a lowering of expectations ('it won't get any better than this'). It is, exactly, a matter of principle, of refusing to give up on desire, because to accept either of these positions is to betray (Pop's) desire, to lapse in fidelity to those convulsive Events which made Pop matter, made it more than something pleasant to listen to. It is a betrayal worse than an actual renunciation of those events, since it is a forgetting that anything happened in the first place. For Pop no longer to make demands on the world but to accomodate itself to the world's 'it'll have to do' realism constitutes the very flatlining into undeath of which I wrote.

Because it is incumbent on critics as much as artists to nihilate. It is for critics to cultivate a sense of disgust, of dissatisfaction with what is being offered. It is for critics to insist that nothing less than sublimity will ever do.

Maybe it is over**. Maybe no amount of bile, no amount of vituperation, we can produce can stir the comfortable zombie from its sleepwalk. Simon's right; there are no real resources in present Pop - and I'm using Pop in the broadest sense here -, no contemporary counter-examples to which we can contemptuously compare Indie's retroism, as once we could. But that is precisely what is so distressing: can it be... that all Pop tends towards the condition of Indie - a chilling, dis-spiriting thought. (Mind you, I think Simon's overstating the case a mite: Grime and Dubstep may only be trudging forward, but they haven't yet hit rewind, aren't into their TWENTIETH GLORIOUS YEAR of inherent and constitutive Retro...) That's why the critique must change, why I now will countenance the possibility that things have reached the endzone, a negative plateau, potentially lasting forever, where nothing happens but it doesn't stop. But, if there is to be something after this undeath, what we should judge things against is not what is currently available, but what hasn't yet arrived, what could (still) happen.

* This glum quartet may be shopworn (and actually pernicious trash in the case of Oasis and the Libertines), but it's as nothing compared to the four bands Marcello mentioned in his AM piece: 'Wonder Stuff, Kingmaker, Cud and Leatherface', acts I hadn't expected to see mentioned again outside the context of a carboot sale. Scratch that, bands I would NEVER even have remembered (repression can be a wonderful thing). To be fair to Marcello, he makes a point of saying that it is 'a quadrant of music which I rarely, if ever, am tempted to sample again in the 21st century', but... come on... surely this is the most dreary array of groups ever to feature in one sentence. Picture this scene. Let's say you are at a jungle event, circa 94. Someone tells you thatin 2006 a group compared to Wonder Stuff, Kingmaker, Cud and Leatherface will have made one of the best records of the year. Think about how you would have felt. Hold onto THAT feeling, please...

** My grim story would look something like this. Mainstream Pop had its years of never-to-return vibrancy between 64 and 82. After that, the engines of innovation all come from Pop's satellite cultures (hip hop, the rave discontinuum), which occasionally impinge on a mainstream that slowly but surely becomes moribund. Gradually, the satellites too wink out, trundling around in permanently fixed orbits, maintaining themselves, but doing nothing more...

Posted by mark at February 8, 2006 01:09 AM | TrackBack