Part 2: Stuck Inside of Rock-Crit Discourse with the Liberal Justification Blues Again
The song that I kept on repeat on for two days was R.E.M.’s last single, “Supernatural Superserious”. As I said before, it’s not a really great song. It’s at best a good, solid seven-out-of-ten; a respectable effort for a twenty five year old band on the comeback trail. The thing is, it sound like The Best Band in the World. Or it sounds like The Best Band in the World would sound if they existed.
The song starts with a catchy little guitar part that sounds like the kind of I, IV, V thing that I could pull off. The guitar sound is great, for that part at least, all treble and bite but sort of playful. Reminds me, in a round about way, of “Jilted John”; pretend punk that’s about a thousand times better than “real punk”. I think “Jilted John” may have the best guitar sound of any record ever, produced by Martin Hannet y’know, they’ve made films about him, or at least films where he was a character. The important thing about this oh-so-throwaway guitar part is that it gives the lie to the assumption that the song could have been thrown together by a bunch of young punks in some North American garage. Ok, no one’s likely to actually assume these dudes are a garage band or something but it seems like an attempt to show that they still know where rock ‘n roll comes from. You know rock ‘n roll. Young dudes with nothing to lose; three chords and the truth. Something like that. If you’re going to be The Best Band in the World you probably should have at least some fidelity to the outlaw spirit; to be the acceptable face of what’s unacceptable.
It could be argued, and it has been argued, that rock music is the music of liberalism. Or at least the ideology that underpins rock is that of liberalism. Something like that. It’s the idea that rock music needs capitalism to y’ know exist, but has the power to make the individual who listens to it a slightly better person. Its core text must be the product; the record, the CD, the MP3 (actually, I’m not so sure about the MP3.) but the somehow has a worth beyond the quick fix. It’s the idea that this particular product is making the system that birthed it a little bit better. I think I’ve said this more eloquently before, or I’ve tried to say it in a less brain-numbing way before;
“Yet every few years some bunch takes the backbeat and the riff and, with a few well chosen ideas, makes the world look a little different for a few people. This is not the only thing popular music is good for, and to use it as a barometer for all music is a bit daft, but when popular music looks like simply another division of Bread and Circuses Inc, it’s records like “Condemned to Rock ‘n Roll” which, contrary to whatever Bono and the New Puritans think, makes the loopy idea that music alone can change lives seem thrillingly plausible.”
“This is not the only thing popular music is good for…” Glad I got that disclaimer in. I was looking through some old magazines and found a quote that quite succinctly showed where this kind of thinking can end up. Q magazine December 2003, Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame shares some advice on how to give ones offspring a balanced musical diet:
“They came from school recently asking me who Aaron Carter was. I told them that Aaron Carter’s music was shit. They listen to the same music as I do now: The Beatles, John Coltrane, free form ‘60s jazz…”
It’s no fun, huh.
“Hey Dad can we listen to the High School Musical soundtrack”
“No. That music is shit. We’re gonna listen to some Ornette Coleman. It’ll make you a better person.”
No fun, no fun at all.
R.E.M. – “Supernatural Superserious”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_We6ubpUHZs Jilted John – “Jilted John”: http://youtube.com/watch?v=dsyVtTHtA_Q&feature=related