Sound o' The Times
What is Rox Populi? |
Posted: November 26,
For each decade, there has been a musical identity that defined it. Not
really a theme or anthem, but an indefinable sense of sound that summed up
the times. This sound was not really limited to one group or performer:
For some, the '70s may have been about Led Zeppelin or The Eagles, or for
others even Blue Oyster Cult. None of that music could fairly be called
homogenous, but something about all of it, together, reflected the times
in which it was forged. When the '80s rolled around, one could pick from a
myriad of musical selections. A Flock Of Seagulls. The Bangles. The Art Of
Noise. Culture Club. Duran Duran. Each unique in their own regard, but all
bound by a sense of the time that bled through in their music. The '90s
had its grunge movement with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In
Chains. It was a darker, stripped-down sound with sometimes-brooding
lyrics and tones. You didn't have to like it, but when you heard the
music, it brought home the essence of the decade -- or the early-to-mid
'90s, at least.
What, then, is the sound of today? No one can deny the inroads made by
rap music, especially lately, when you can actually find rap and hip-hop
artists occupying every slot in the Top 10. We've come a long way from
Yo! MTV Raps. Hip-hop has entered the world of mainstream music and is
not likely to go away anytime soon. Is that the sound of today? Of course,
we have also seen the return of what I presume could be called "pop" music
with the likes of Britney Spears and the assorted boy bands that have come
and gone. Is this the sound of today? What about this
American Idol virus?
and Reuben have now become household names, and I must admit they are
fantastic performers, even if they fall a bit short of my shower
renditions of "It's Now Or Never" -- but hey, that's a subjective call.
Are these guys the voices of today? What about our country stars?
Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, and Tim McGraw are all bona fide superstars, but
do they define the times?
The larger question being begged here is, of course, what kind of times
these are. What is important to us? What are the biggest problems we
encounter? What events have changed our lives? There are a million
different answers to these questions, and it may be that that is why there
is no one "sound" of the day. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It may
be that now more than ever, one has a world of music to choose from. But
dammit, I want a sound! I want a feeling from music that lets me know that
I am "in the now," if you know what I mean.
Where is it? Unlike in the '80s, I can't turn to music videos to help
me with the answers, because every time I turn on MTV, all I can see is
the latest lame incarnation of the played-to-death reality show genre. VH1
is no better, especially when they start that damned "look back at the
decades" or "I love the whatever decade" show. What about now? While we
are all busy loving the '80s or '90s, who is defining this decade
musically? If we aren't careful, it could be another Ricky Martin or, dare
I say it, Clay Aiken! Worse -- and I fear this is a very real possibility
-- we have to be careful not to revel in the past at the expense of our
musical present. We're all so busy rediscovering the sounds of the past,
we're running out of past, and leaving ourselves very little present.
But all is not lost. We do have a host of artists, each, in their own
way, trying to carve out a sound of the times, whether they even know it
or not. Norah Jones.
Dave Matthews. Hell, even
Nickelback. Is it working? Well, to tell you the truth, not as well as I'd
like. But then, few things work as well as I'd like, so I'm willing to
wait and see what develops. But maybe that's the point. Maybe looking for
one definable sound is the problem. Perhaps, as previously mentioned, it
is the lack of one dominant style that defines the current times.
Maybe today is the musical "cereal aisle" of our youth, with all sorts of
flavors and rhythms from which to select. Maybe one day we'll all look
back at this decade as the time of, well, everything. A time where you
could sneak a peek at someone's CD library and find everything from
OutKast to Faith Hill,
and all points in between. And if we're lucky, that openness would mirror
the open and understanding world of the '00s, a time when barriers were
broken down and we were all invited to the same cool party. Maybe that
will be this decade's legacy. I'd really like to believe that, but as with
most things, only time will tell.
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