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Sha Na Na for the Gen Y Crowd

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Dear Retro Post-Punk Thing That’s Going On For The Last Few Years:

Man, are you tiresome.

Generally I think that good music is timeless. If you want to make music that sounds like it was done 20 years ago, go for it–whatever blows your skirt up. But when all of a sudden every-fuckin’-body has decided that they wanna sound like the alternative rock that was hip when their parents got married, it’s just overkill. “Ooh! Abrasive, angular guitars and edgy lyrics! That’s so IN!” Really. I’m getting bloody sick of it.

Have you noticed how some musicians take those old influences and use them to make something new? “New” as in “original?” Yeah; you’re not really doing that. You’re just copycatting. Hey! Interpol! When every goddamned critic in the world says that you sound just like Joy Division, you might try to pick up on the hint, hey?

You there! The Rapture! Identity theft is a serious issue; let’s just hope Gang of Four never catches you.

And Radio 4. Naming yourself after a Public Image Limited song. From Metal Box, no less. How deliciously clever and not at all transparent!

(Notice I don’t mention The Strokes? They don’t concern me. Anyone who’s been on Spin‘s cover as “The World’s Most Important Band” surely understands that their career is over.)

Don’t get me wrong, Retro Post Punk Thing. I like some of your disciples. No matter how hard I try, for example, I just love Franz Ferdinand. And the reissues of old stuff is great: Wire. Crispy Ambulance. Lilliput/Kleenex. (Oh, and hey! This would be a great time to do deluxe bonus-track packagings of MX-80 Sound’s Crowd Control LP.) Can we maybe stick to that?

Bottom line, Retro Post-Punk Thing, is this: remember that scene in Napoleon Dynamite where Uncle Rico buys the time machine and tries to go back to his glory days in 1982? Pathetic, wasn’t it? Yeah, that’s you. Time to accept the present tense, kids.


P.S. I’m CCing this message to 24 Hour Party People, a movie I love but which, let’s face it, is partly to blame. Hope you don’t mind.

(Originally posted to Pop Musicology)

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About Michael J. West

  • Hmm.

    I agree with you one some levels (make that several), but I don’t really see Interpol as sounding just like Joy Division. See, I don’t really like Joy Division, but Interpol does not really piss me off — I even bought a couple of their songs on iTunes.

    So does that make me dumb, or did I happen to stumble across two passable songs?

    I suppose I can see some resemblance. This one is gonna bother me all day.

  • zingzing

    mike, mike, mike… recycling old blog articles!? i’m american, but i smell irony. and don’t you dare blame new order for anything.
    interpol’s first album is so damn good it’s ridiculious. somehow, though, their second album is pretty dull. i don’t really hear much difference between the albums, but… (and yes, alisha, they sounds a hell of a lot like joy division… go download “she’s lost control.”)
    and !!! is great. god. i’m repeating myself.

  • Like I said… I guess I’ve been listening to the wrong Interpol songs. I’ll go look at the rest of their catalogue.

  • zingzing

    oh yeah, mike, i know you’ve heard the liars. they started out all “post-punk,” “dance-punk,” “punk-funk,” whatever, but have since moved on quite nicely. they grow with each release. (their new single is available as a download on pitchfork, and is very good, especially the quiet second half. it also is being released with a cover of all three members enjoying gay sex together. nice.)

    since this is such an OLD article, i can forgive you for forgetting the liars.

    also check out your hometown boys, black eyes. their two albums show nice growth as well. just like any genre, some of it will remain stagnant, like interpol, franz ferdinand and radio 4. some of it (liars, black eyes, !!!/outhud, etc) will grow and be creative.

    so there.

  • kiesha

    hi yall i’m getting married tommrow.i am getting married to this man name greg he is so ohhhhhhhhhhhh fine

  • Umm… ‘kay?

  • zingzing

    congratulations! many happy returns! what does that mean? returns?

  • Nick

    OK, I am 44. Post-punk, brit-pop, new-wave, whatever you want to call it was and STILL IS my favorite music.

    Like every generation, the music of your teens and college years becomes very special and for me comes to define a wonderful time in my life.

    So for me this recent spate of new post punk is wonderful. It’s not “ironic” or “trendy” to me, I have LONG stopped caring about trends. Like all music there is both good and bad. Yes, the best music is NOT a copycat of something else. BUT, THERE IS A STYLE AND CERTAIN “SOUND” TO THAT MUSIC.

    Let me a give you a SPECIFIC example of that style that IS NOT just about the Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer and 808 drum machine: prior to the post-punk movement, on both sides of the Atlantic there persisted a stupid belief that rock-and-roll had to be sung with an American accent. DUMB!!!

    I recall the first time I heard bands like The Monochrome Set, Blancmange, Aztec Camera and the like that actually SANG WITH THEIR ACCENTS, AND EVEN EMPHASIZED THEIR ACCENTS!!! WONDERFUL!!

    Despite what hippies may think, an acoustic guitar does not mean you are a protest singer… SORRY!! I became distracted by The Smiths….. Despite what hippies think, everything important in music did not end in 1975. The post-punk movement introduced many new musical styles (such as techno), singing styles (crooning again, semi-operetic, different accents, ect.).

    It WAS an important time for music and if style sees fit to re-visit it, there is much substance to explore.

    Anyway, enough from the “old guy”….


  • Nick

    Hi, me again. A couple more thoughts….

    Congrats to Kiesha!

    Regarding British bands singing with an American accent….I have loved rock my entire life, but I was not the sort who bought “fan-beat” mags and did any research regarding bands I liked. If I liked the music, THAT WAS ENOUGH for me. So I actually DID NOT KNOW The Rolling Stones were from England until I was 20. I did not know Pink Floyd was English until MY WIFE TOLD ME TEN YEARS AGO (I’m 44). Now before you call me stupid,think beyond the accent; these bands sing about AMERICAN THINGS like NY. And even when they mucked-up their American accents, as Elton John often did, “..back to the horny-back ‘TAED?'”, I didn’t know what the heck they were saying anyway so it didn’t occur to me they were British.

    Anyway, the point is this stupid “Brit-rock-rule”, a throw-back to the Beatles, made almost no sense in the early 60’s (sound like their American Blues idols…), and made EVEN LESS after that. I mean, in the late 60’s during the Carnaby-street-Mod-period, I always supposed the Brits were PROUD of their music, heritage, style, Union-Jack, accent, Rolls-Royce, Queen, ALL THINGS BRITISH, ect. HOWEVER, DESPITE ALL THIS, the ONLY REASON I knew The Who were British was the Film Quadrophenia. Roger Dalhtry had a PERFECT American accent (I even thought he sort of “looked” American). THIS MADE NO SENSE TO ME AS A KID. The original author of this post makes several slights suggesting that perhaps the very notion of making music in the post-punk style will ALWAYS sound like a rip-off. I can think of no bigger “follow-the-leader” rip-off than the idea that ALL British rock must be sung with an American accent. HEY MIKE, YOU KNOW WHAT? From MY perspective, all bands that did this sound like the God-damn Beatles! Where’s your scathing attack against ALL of those CLASSIC British artists in the 60’s and 70’s who used a very cheesy and transparent gimmick to sound more like the Beatles.

    The point I am making is that I sense in your post that all-too-familiar criticism I hear, and have heard my WHOLE LIFE, from Baby-boomers (those folks generally 20 years older than myself, a Gen-X), that Post-Punk or New Wave as it was called in the US, had little musical substance and that it was THEIR generation’s music that contained what was truly both artistically significant AND socially significant. And that after DISCO NO NEW ROCK-AND-ROLL of any import was ever made.

    By suggesting that it is IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO COPY other songs and bands by taking style cues from the post-punk movement seems to suggest to me that the initial movement itself had little musical substance to draw upon AND offer the world in the first place at the time. How close you sound to the hippies…

    Again, recall what I said about American accents and you will see that “classic Rock” has it’s share of banalities, copy-cats, and dogmatic “rules”.

    Also, you made fun of how a couple bands derived their names. Please recall Duran Duran likewise derived it’s name from Barbarella (a VERY stupid movie) and Heaven 17 from A Clockwork Orange. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH A NAME FROM A FAVORITE MOVIE, SONG, TV SHOW, ECT. Band names have frankly always been pretty silly and without much relevance to ANYTHING! Attacking a band’s name, no matter HOW they derived it, seems a little below the belt, IMHO.

    But for the record I totally agree that blatant copying of a song or band is NEVER good music. I can think of COUNTLESS examples recently of good new-post-punk, but I will give you one, Muse’s “Violet Hour” on the surface has many Smiths (one of my all time favorite bands, first heard on the radio in 1983 and like COUNTLESS others I was IMMEDIATELY moved on first hearing, as if feeling like: HEAR IT IS, THE MUSIC I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR!!) references but it is definately NOT a copy of anything and has wonderful, UNIQUE vocal and musical elements. THIS is the kind of music that is fun for me now. It is TRULY like new, unique bands picking up where they left off in ’88. I love it, and I hope it continues.

    Part of my feelings regarding this (and all this stuff I have said) relates to a belief I have had that post-punk has NEVER gotten it’s due. EVERYTHING Gen-X does, creates, and believes is, has, and will be overshadowed by the damn baby-boomers. Every aspect of my generation has always been marginalized by the baby-boomers. It is easy to see why, first, there are FIVE TO SEVEN TIMES as many of them as us. The defining events of their lives (Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, great social changes like equality for blacks and women, Woodstock, the Summer of Love, the acceptance of drugs, the birth control pill and sexual freedom, I could go on and on…..) had such great import and those great changes are still felt today. Members of this generation believe they are the Alpha and Omega, that anything creatively or socially that followed is insignificant. Music just gets tied up in this whole belief system.

    Look at the US’s Rock-and-Roll hall of fame. You will find no post-punk.

    Anyway, the point of all this is that I believe IT’S ABOUT TIME this great music was brought out, dusted off, and re-examined both the original post-punk artists AS WELL AS the new post-punk. This was not “bubble-gum” or “throw-away” music as the baby-boom controlled musical press at the time (Rolling Stone and others) tried to portray it. This WAS music of substance and deserves it’s place in musical history.