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Thursday, August 14, 2003
  Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the fuzzbox on the top...

Tangential though it is to the main discussion here about the achievements of Punk and post-Punk, I'd like to address a pretty nifty point Mark makes about the failure of modern indie. He says that its great collapse has been to return to musicianship at the expense of vision, alertness and rage... to have sheltered from the admittedly dangerous squall of experimentation in the cozy harbour of musical competence. This is in part a solid analysis: many bands like the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen who prospered briefly in the post-punk fall-out owed more to the chiming arpeggios and suspended chords of bands like the Byrds than they did to the sharp gravelly assault of punk... to me these bands are redeemed by the combination of edgeless music, arranged with contempt for straight lines and sharp edges, and arch elliptical lyrics, every bit as deflecting as the solid 4/4 guitar/bass/drums underpinning of every single song. (If you want an architectural comparison, think NY Guggenheim as opposed to Bilbao Getty)

No, to me the failure of modern indie is in a sense the bastard child of the attitude of punk, and the shiny artistry of that brief Byzantine age of British guitar pop. Modern indie stinks not because it has returned to musicianship, but because it pretends it has returned to musicianship without any of its major proponents actually being any good. Reverence for the masters of old is chanted, sloganed, in the same way that aggression and progress were once proclaimed... but as before it is proclamation without action - empty, for show. The plodding one-handed piano accompaniments of Starsailor, Coldplay... the restrung guitars of Turin Brakes or whoever else has done well enough with their breakthrough and broken-down single this week - these are all mirages of ability, promised oases of well-constructed middle-eights and acutely layered harmony, but get up close to them and there is nothing there, still three chords and no truth.

Maybe it is the critical poverty of the majority of listeners that enables this confidence trick to be perpetrated so effectively, but let us make no mistake, there has been no return to musicianship, just a proliferation in sales of the Emperor's New Guitar.

What I can't disagree with though is that on occasion the sheer enthusiastic abrasiveness of punk et al did create a new way of listening, of being involved. I'm not familiar with the Pop Group (embarrassing admissions ahoy m'hearties) but Mark's vivid description of their soul-thumping noise fair convinces me that there's something there, and it's something worth taking note of. But are they exception or rule? Is it not the case that Three Chord Thrash (trademark that now) is the accepted norm, the blue striped economy brand, found on every shelf, in every store... For every sincere band, there were countless posers for whom shock and controversy were product, rather than by-product... just as slick urban grooves sell khaki pants, didn't crackling guitars and whelped lyrics sell bondage tops?

He's absolutely right, its not about style or template or how many guitarists you have in your band. It's not necessarily even about how well you play (sorry anyone who read this far), after all the funk ruckus of 'To Hell With Poverty' is so tight you couldn't shove a needle between the snaking bass and the tongue-flicking guitar... it is about vision, expression, balls, guts, blood and ouns etc etc etc But a final thought... when everyone around you is wallowing in luddite self-satisfaction at how easy it has all become, isn't it perhaps the most radical thing of all to step up and embrace the infinite potential that technique has to articulate those new worlds of sound?
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