Posts Tagged ‘Jack White’


January 5, 2012

Is rock dead? It is according to the Black Keys and Ke$ha.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney said “Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world”. At the same time pop singer Ke$ha told MTV News.” People say that rock and roll is dead, and it is my mission and my goal to resurrect it in the form of my pop music.”

The raw facts however suggest that rock isn’t dead, or least is breathing easier. According to Nielsen SoundScan, in America Rock was the biggest music genre of 2011. Rock music had a 1.9% sales increase during 2011 and sold almost double total R&B sales.
It comes down semantics of course. The Black Keys and Ke$ha aren’t talking about the same thing when they talk about “rock”. For Nielsen SoundScan it’s a genre rather than a musical spirit. And that’s where The Black Keys and Ke$ha are in unison. “Rock” used to be that music which had an edge, the music that pushed at the boundaries. Rap has been the new “rock”.

I’m not a fan of bands like Nickleback and Maroon 5, but it’s too easy to make them a target fore derision. There have always been bland bands– Electric Light Orchestra, Chicago – acts which radio gravitate towards because they are safe and non-confrontational. They serve a purpose. We remember them, and we’ll remember Nickelback, for their success rather than their contribution. The bands that define “rock” were more often than not NOT successful in sales terms. Their importance is measured by impact and influence. It’s hard to find that kind of artist amongst today’s “rock” fraternity. Rock doesn’t have an Eminem. I can’t think of a contemporary rocker who might inspire the future. Dave Groel and Jack White are contenders, but they’re keeping the flame alive not lighting new fires.

In those terms rock IS dead but look and listen hard enough there’s some exceptional rock music being written and recorded – The National, Cold War Kids, The Kills, Death Cab For Cutie – and while there’s a band around of the calibre of Radiohead you can’t say rock is dead.

What’s dead is rock music that’s “dangerous”.



May 10, 2010

Jack White is challenging bands to release more music. He told Britain’s The Sun, “We are living in a society that is based on instantaneous gratification. In the Sixties, bands used to do this all the time and put out two or three albums a year.”

Artists didn’t get less creative. Record companies became gatekeepers, and recording artists found themselves corralled and their output restrained by strategic marketing campaigns aimed at squeezing every possible dollar out of an album before new material would be contemplated. They were paying for the studio time after all, shipping the “product” and in most cases bank-rolling the tours which promoted the albums. The record companies had the whip hand. One way artists could keep themselves and their fans entertained between albums was with B-sides, quirky stuff that no-one minded “letting go”.

But those days are behind us aren’t they? The consumer is in charge – well sort of in charge anyway. For the sake of this particular argument we won’t go into the ways our consumption of music can still be restricted. We can’t get everything we want. But if we want to keep buying a track it can no longer be deleted.

It’s the record companies themselves who’ve encouraged us to stop buying dedicated bundles of songs – albums – so there’s no reason why artists can’t keep pumping out material on a regular basis. As consumers we don’t have to focus on one song (single) at a time at regulated periods. In theory we can decide what “singles” we want to hear, when we want to hear them.

Overexposure? Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker used to say that over-exposure is like sunburn. It hurts. But who? In truth, what had been happening is that artists were becoming underexposed. Fifteen songs – an album, singles and b-sides – every three years was never particularly satisfactory, for an artist or their fans. Deprivation may keep us thirsty but there was always the danger we’d find another drinking hole.

Artists and their fans have the chance to stay engaged with each other on a regular basis. We might be able to get excited and stay excited. As long as everyone keeps in mind that what’s important is to be able to “treasure” the music we hear and learn to love. We don’t treasure a song the way we used to, because of remixes and alternate takes – like magicians taking away the wonder by showing us how it’s done. We don’t treasure albums anymore because we can’t touch them or “see” them anymore.

So yes, let’s hear more music, but let’s not just throw it out or just gulp it down.

What I’m listening to: Gotan Project (Tango 3.0) Roky Erickson (True Love Cast Out All Evil), Billy Falcon (Pretty Blue Word)


April 20, 2010

We do live in exciting times for music.

Everyone knows the current industry “model” isn’t working. No-one really knows the definite path forward. Lots of people are looking for their version of the path forward. We may hit on THE path. We may set off on a number of paths.

On one hand the major record companies are still blaming downloading for their woes while some artists see ready access to their music as a promotional tour for live performances and the sale of merchandise. To offset their losses the record companies want a share of the live revenue and merch, as well as the music. Some artists are forming their own record companies. Everyone’s busy taking care of their own interests, some for survival, some selfishly.

 When Madonna got into bed (not literally) with events company Live Nation she potentially sidelined the careers of future Madonnas. The way things “used” to work (in theory anyway) was that when a label landed a superstar like Madonna, that allowed them to invest in new talent. Madonna’s action took away that revenue stream from her connections.

I must admit, the “business” probably hasn’t operated that way for some time. Now when a label finds itself with a major artist the money seems to go into that artist – money begets more money. Every high profile video is potentially another artist’s album. Money spent demands more money to be earned. Tomorrow’s artists are left waiting on the doorstep.

Instead of waiting for their turn, they’re starting to take matters into their own hands. Perhaps they’re in the process of creating a new model and the major record companies will lose their control.

 The old A&R (Artist and Repertoire) function at the major record companies isn’t what it used to be. Independent labels are left to make the discoveries and take the risks. Then the major labels step in and offer their services to take those artists to the next level. What happens to the original risk-takers? Some of the major record companies in America have rewarded major artists by allowing THEM to discover, nurture and sign new artists. It becomes a case of who you know.

Conversely the Jack Whites of the world find themselves in a position to make the best of both worlds, major and indie. Jack’s formed his own label, Third Man Records, where he records his sideline acts like The Dead Weather, gives a chance to new artists (The Black Belles) and furthers the careers of a legend in Wanda Jackson. And he’s got White Stripes. Hopefully Jack’s Third Man activities are profitable, but in effect he’s doing what the major record companies used to do but don’t do any more, using success to invest in the careers of others.

The danger is that we lose a structure, a logical ladder artists climb. At the moment some of the rungs of that ladder are broken. Some go nowhere. We need to ensure that whoever starts the climb can go as high as they possibly can.

What’s been missing in all of this is the end product. We’ve been encouraged to consume music rather than “own” it. We download because CDs largely aren’t worth having. They just occupy space. Since the advent of the CD we’ve been given little to “treasure”. Physical releases are just carriers of music, not part of the experience.

Times have changed, and you can’t hold back the tide of time, but for a moment let me take you back to the experience that was The Beatles’ “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

 There were no singles. The title of the album was part of a concept which extended to the cover art. Inside the packaging were “cut-outs” to enable you to become part of the “Sgt.Pepper” band. The album opened with the song “Sgt.Pepper” and closed with “A Day In The Life”, which itself ended with that famous extended piano note .. and then as the needle ran off into the end groove some sound “junk” repeated over and over until you lifted the needle off.

Download that!

What I’m Listening to: The Tallest Man On Earth (The Wild Hunt), Celibate Rifles (Sideroxylon), The Killers (Hot Fuss)


January 10, 2010

Michael Jackson and the Beatles were America’s biggest selling artists of 2009 – Michael because he died, the Beatles because they just refuse to.

Let’s draw the line right there. It’s a new year, it’s a new decade. Where are we going? There’s four artists I can think of who will provide us with the answer, if they haven’t already. Jack White and Dave Grohl are exactly what the times call for, busy making music for the sake of it, both with several projects going at the one time, both in love with music’s past, encouraging us to be excited thought their enthusiasm. Both could sit back. Neither does. While the rest of music worries itself silly they’ll just have a good time. Dave’s already promised another Them Crooked Vultures album. Jack White is hinting at a solo album, alongside all his other activities.

Will I Am is hop hop’s equivalent to Grohl and White. If the Black Eyed Peas hadn’t been so goddam successful this year, Will I Am would be doing what Dave and Jack are doing, working with all manner of other artists. He’s done some of that already, but I’m sure he’d like to do what those other two have managed, remembering people who used to excite them to work with and finding other newer people too.

The Black Eyed Peas are the latest big turning point for music. They are the Elvis and Beatles of our age. Hip hop has been divisive. The Black Eyed Peas have found a way to make it inclusive. The rap establishment  won’t like it. They run the American music industry to serve their own ends and we’ll see them try to brush aside the Black Eyed Peas as happened previously to  ‘alternate’  hip hoppers like Arrested Development and De La Soul, but the Black Eyed Peas have proved themselves to be a much more immovable force.

The fourth artist guaranteed to take us into the future is Lady Gaga. She’s Elton John and Madonna. And so so much more.  Even if she stopped now she’s already defined the time, but she’s only just started. How long has it been since a music artist promised so much entertainment?

Welcome to 2010!

What I’m listening to:

Dirty Projectors (Bittre Orca); Christina Courtin (Christina Courtin); Iggy Pop (Lust For Life)