The demise of rock as been predicted, determined and lamented ever since the days of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s easiest to do when you stop listening to new music and start focusing on the past. As the music is so closely tied to most people’s youth, age tends to fossilize the listener’s interests into that same music. Thus ears close and new artists remain unheard, unconsidered or rejected out of hand. One only has to turn on the various age-specific rock radio stations to become aware of this acute stratification.
This is a great shame because it cuts the listener off from a lot of music, much of which is just as good as whatever he or she listened to as a teenager. But there is no doubt it takes a more conscious effort of will to expose yourself to new rock when removed by age from the teenage peer-group influence that is perhaps the most powerful introductory force for new music. There is also a second issue that colors post-youth appreciation of rock; the knowledge of and familiarity with much of the music that influences later artists. It is much easier to see the roots when you know those roots – something that only the most musically inquisitive teenager is likely to be aware of. Thus an element of freshness is removed. As freshness is a prime quality of the greatest rock music, this makes it that much harder to appreciate the new music.
All of these thoughts come to mind when I listen to artists that were – and are – part of the 1990s phenomenon called ‘Brit-Pop’. Blur, Oasis, and perhaps best of all, Supergrass, have created a melodic series of well-crafted pop songs that owe much to no less than two great prior eras in rock music – the 1960s and 1970s. It impossible to listen to this music without hearing echoes of The Kinks, The Beatles, The Jam, Squeeze, The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols, The Who, The Move and many other accomplished pop-smiths. And speaking of Smiths, let’s not negate the massive artistic shadow of that mighty 1980s band.
So it requires a conscious effort of will to put these influences aside, but it’s worth it. For the best music that these 1990s bands have made appropriates in wholly fresh and exciting ways the innovations of the past. Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that those earlier bands and artists were no less accomplished borrowers and recyclers – it’s just that the music they sprang from was largely unknown to ears coming across it for the first time.
Listening now to “Supergrass”, a record not even acknowledged to be the band’s best, I am feeling the same surges of excitement and pleasure that I felt in the past with the music of the artists referred to above. That is as much as anyone can hope for, and much more than is usually delivered.