This morning I took my youngest to see The Pirates, which we rather enjoyed, the voice actors saving it from being a bit Aardman by numbers. As we came out I saw an advert for the rebooted Spiderman franchise and then this poster for the Top Cat movie. (My daughter, Abi, is helpfully pointing it out for you in the photo.)
This made me feel a bit low, to be honest. It’s not often I find myself quoting Bono but there is a line I like in U2’s song ‘God Pt II‘ that runs “You glorify the past/ When the future dries up”. Whatever the dictionary definition of decadence (oh, all right: “marked by decay or decline” and “characterized by or appealing to self-indulgence”) to me it always suggests a lack of forward momentum. Resting on one’s laurels seems a form of decadence to me and that is where we seem to me to be in cinema at the moment.
Of course, that may simply be symptomatic of the fact I don’t go to the cinema very much, these days. When I worked in Edinburgh, I’d go two if not three times a week, spreading the love across the Dominion, Cameo and Filmhouse. And then I did get to see films like ‘Warm Water Under A Red Bridge’ and ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’.
As ever, when thinking about the arts, my mind to turned to music. My dad played me a lot of music when I was young and I could hear the difference between, say, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Eddie Cochran, and The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Simon and Garfunkel. Some of this was, no doubt, down to the recording techniques and sound quality but also a lot of it was down to what was being done with the music. Buddy Holly was clearly ahead of his time, in this respect, but it was clear that, for example, the much (and, probably, rightly) maligned ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, was a different beast from ‘Love Me Do’. My point is that music had a strong and apparent forward momentum and an enthusiasm amongst those who were making it, resulting in some incredibly constructive competition.
In 1979 I made my first clear break from the music that I discovered through my dad when my friend Adrian Coe played me Madness’s ‘One Step Beyond’. I fell in love with the band immediately. (I did like other ska bands but The Specials were a bit too serious, Bad Manners too far the other way.) It was exciting music, clever and funny, plus there was the whole gang within the band element of The Nutty Boys.
However, 1979 was also the year I bought ‘Are Friends Electric’ and discovered electronic music. I’ve documented my love of those early electronic bands elsewhere on this blog but my point is that, actually, this was a period of amazing innovation, musically. Some of this seemed instinctive – Shriekback – some quite self-conscious – Peter Gabriel – but there were many bands in between, such as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo, Talking Heads and, of course, Simple Minds to name just a handful. To me, 1978 to 1981/2 was pretty much the best time for music but there still appeared to be a forward trend after this specific period. Even The Smiths, who always seemed to have an eye on the past, were creative in forging a new sound.
It was sampling that first struck me as indicative of a creative decline – a decadence, in fact – even if some of those tracks were very good. This phenomenon reached its nadir with the sampling of entire songs to sing over, although, again, I still found room in my heart to love Sugarbabes’ ‘Freak Like Me’ and Richard X’s ‘Finest Dreams’. But I think what really disappointed me was the arrival of Oasis who looked to The Beatles not just for inspiration but also for templates.
Since then I have enjoyed many new albums but I find myself going to gigs by bands I’ve loved for years and buying CDs by groups that already feature in my record collection (as we used to call it in olden days). I want to hear new music. I don’t just mean songs I haven’t heard before I mean styles of music that are fresh, new and different.
In the same way that the conservatism of the film industry has led to formulaic storylines, films defined clearly by genre, so the music industry repressed musical innovation. But with the advent of the web and then social media, not to mention affordable high quality home recording, so I’d hoped to hear a proliferation of new music. Maybe it’s out there and I just don’t get to hear it.
I’m always happy to take a recommendation of a great new band, album or song, but can anyone recommend to me some new music? I’m not looking for stuff that’s difficult – I’m a great lover of pop – but just music that will excite me because it’s different from what I’ve heard before.
Thanks, in anticipation.