Wednesday, December 30, 2009

You have one decade to impress me (Part 2)

The story so far: Hounded by a nagging guilt that he shouldn't have been spending all his time over the past ten years listening to that artsy-fartsy classical music, our hero NEREFFID has resolved to build some sort of CONCEPTUAL TIME MACHINE in which he can revisit the entire decade but this time experience it through the medium of POPULAR MUSIC. He quickly assembles a team: the wise wizards of PITCHFORK and the mighty seer of YOUTUBE, plus of course SCHLEPPY the WONDERDOG. Together they venture forth into the NOUGHTIES and do battle with all manner of INDIE DARLINGS, DISCO DIVAS, and GANGSTAS...
And NOW: The devastating conclusion!

(Part 1 here)

20 The Walkmen "The Rat" (2004)
Well, at least this has some vigour in it, and a rawness, although both those qualities just serve to remind me of my age. Then again, I'm not sure I'd have been a big fan of this twenty years ago either.

19 R. Kelly "Ignition (Remix)" (2002)
First of all, wow, way to go on the post-modernism, with the words "It's the remix to Ignition". Reminds me of the theme from The Sweeney. You can sing it using the lyrics "The Sweeney! The Sweeney! This is the theme from The Sweeney!" Also, perhaps they might not have called R a child molester if they'd heard the line "It's like Murder She Wrote once I get you out of them clothes". Angela Lansbury? Really? Crikey... he's sticking his key in the ignition. Aside from all that... OK, it's catchy. But that's it.

18 Hercules and Love Affair "Blind" (2008)
Hurrah! Lisa Stansfield's back! And this time she's got Giorgio Moroder! Second reaction: Well, Antony's voice makes this more interesting than it might otherwise have been. But that's it.

17 Annie "Heartbeat" (2004)
OK, I think I'm getting the hang of it now. This song = 17th best song of the decade. This song, slightly catchier = Eurotrash. Is that how it works? Seriously. I have no idea. I don't connect with this music at all. What is it about this and the Kylie song and the one we've just listened to that makes them great songs? What do they have that other, similar, songs lack? I just don't know.

16 The Rapture "House of Jealous Lovers" (2002)
I hope this is going somewhere. Hmm... it does, kind of. This sounds like a B-side: interesting, pretty good, you're feeling pretty smug because you actually bought the single and people who taped it off the radio don't have the B-side, but then on the other hand it's obviously not as good as the A-side. But in this case: no A-side.

15 The Knife "Heartbeats" (2002)
I wouldn't have been surprised if Glenn Gregory or Philip Oakey had started singing on this one. Instead it's... oh, I don't know, some sort of Swedish Cyndi Lauper. This would have had a decent chance of making the best of the 80s list too. I also sampled the "Rex the Dog Remix", which only served to confirm my suspicions.

14 Jay-Z "99 Problems" (2003)
God I'm bored. Come on, Jay-Z! Entertain me! OK... I was prepared early on to hate this, but it grew on me. It's got some kind of substance. Unlike the other rappers we've heard so far, this one does seem like the artist might be interested in connecting with an audience other than people who want to be him or think they're like him. Which is presumably why he's higher on the list than the others.

13 LCD Soundsystem "Losing My Edge" (2002)
Oh Christ, not these people again. But this time they win, big time. Well, I think so. It seems to be a thorough demolition of hipsterism. But why do hipsters like it? Are they being ironically self-referential? Oh no... is the song ironically self-referential? Have I completely misunderstood it?

12 OutKast "Hey Ya!" (2003)
Huh. I wasn't expecting this. Cheesy retro pop! Pretty clever, actually, as far as it goes. Which isn't very far.

11 Gnarls Barkley "Crazy" (2005)
Another old-sounding one. But then, LCD Soundsystem has definitively proved that there is no longer any such thing as new music. Or something. Anyway, I quite like this.

And so we head for the top 10. Impressions of nos.20-11? Mostly not impressive. The list seems ever more arbitrary, and reliant on what strike me as tunes you "had to be there for", by which I mean music that captures the essence of the noughts for those who were paying attention all along. At least, that's how it strikes me, but then I wasn't paying attention. The actual "good music" tends to be further down the list. OK, this situation is all nice and zeitgeisty but I was hoping the list would be a little more useful than an aide-mémoire.
Onwards and upwards!

10 Arcade Fire "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" (2004)
...and having said that, here's something wonderful. Odd but smart lyrics, almost like a children's story, and music that comes from the same place. A while back I saw a feature on eMusic where the writer attempted to link Arcade Fire with Mahler. I can kind of see what he meant now, although on this evidence I wouldn't use the symphony no.2 as the exemplar. No.4, maybe.

9 Animal Collective "My Girls" (2009)
A quick glance back up the list reveals that I didn't like the first appearance by Animal Collective, so what can they conjure up this time? A nursery rhyme... a very elaborately created nursery rhyme. I do like it, but it seems to go on for ever. It really sounds like you'd have seen it on Top of the Pops circa 1983. There would have been knitted jumpers, I'm sure of it.

8. Radiohead "Idioteque" (2000)
Ahhh, I think I see what's going on here. This is the Top 10, so we're focusing on the proper stuff at last. Maybe. This one's familiar enough that I can't decide whether I'd like it if I hadn't heard it until now. I know I would be relieved that I was hearing music designed to be listened to rather than simply to lodge its chorus in your brain.

7 Missy Elliott "Get Ur Freak On" (2001)
Yeah, I spoke too soon. From a technical point of view, fine, but take out that 6-note bhangra riff and there's nothing much there to interest me, aside maybe from the intriguing jerky rhythms of the rapping. Seriously, two minutes after listening to this I know I'll have that riff about for me days but already I've actually forgotten the chorus.

6 Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Maps" (2003)
Weird. Sounds like classic early-nineties girl-singer indie pop/rock, but there's this veneer of commerciality over it all, like it's specially designed not to frighten the horses. It's OK, but I can't see what it's doing here. As an aside, Wikipedia has categorized Sleeper's 1994 song "Swallow" under "Songs about birds". It really isn't.

5 Daft Punk "One More Time" (2000)
Oh shit. Really? I have to listen to another Daft Punk tune? Jesus. I confess that I took a bathroom break during this one. And then went to the fridge to get some salami. Then ate the salami. These things were all more entertaining and, arguably, more musical than this rubbish I'm listening to. And there's STILL another fucking minute on the song. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhhhhhhhh. I'm getting more salami.

4 Beyoncé [ft. Jay-Z] "Crazy in Love" (2003)
Like the Missy Elliott song, this one's a fine illustration of how to snatch one little musical notion and use it to highly memorable effect. But at least here they hold the horn motif back for special occasions. Another one of those irresistible songs. Is it good, is it bad? Who cares. You remember it, and that's what matters.

3 M.I.A. [ft. Bun B and Rich Boy] "Paper Planes (Diplo Remix)" (2007)
M.I.A. shows the gangstas how it's done. Fascinating how just a slight change in attitude can make such a difference - something like Clipse's "Grindin'" is just "look at me" but M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" is "look at the world". So it's a shame that Pitchfork went with the remixed version, which distracts from that vision.

2 LCD Soundsystem "All My Friends" (2007)
Again? Pretty good, this one. It's got a relentless forward drive that matches the gist of the lyrics. I have a quick listen again to the first LCD Soundsystem song, and admit I dismissed it too readily. But the band - well, the guy, really - is one I can admire and respect rather than really liking.

And, finally, number one. I am agog.

1 OutKast "B.O.B." (2000)
Certainly one of the most energetic things on this list, but I'm underwhelmed. It does nothing for me, again. What an anticlimax!

So, what have we learned? Essentially, that I found about a third of this music to be worth listening to more than once. But what was I hoping to achieve? At heart, I wanted to answer the question Was it a good idea to deliberately ignore popular music for the last decade? And I think the answer is, if this is the best it had to offer, then yes. I was hoping - wondering, is probably a better word - that I might discover that the best hip-hop is light-years from the grandstanding bullshit I thought it was, or that electronic music is the new classical music, or that there were all these indie-rock or alt-rock or whatever they're called bands that I'd love. But none of these things happened. Most of the music made me just shrug and move on.
Can we blame Pitchfork? Maybe. I chose Pitchfork on reputation rather than for any particular knowledge of what I might find there, but it seems from what I've seen here that their focus is too narrow, or rather that they have a set of parallel narrow focuses. Of the 50 tracks here, only 14 make it into the Observer Music Monthly top 75 of the decade, which on first glance I'd say presents a wider view of the decade and is closer to my conception of popular music (which also presumably reflects some sort of US/UK divide on the matter). Oh no! Am I going to have to do another one of these?!
And I don't want to get all nostalgic about how pop music used to be so much better fadó fadó. Things enter your brain differently when you're young, and over time you forget about all the stuff you hated back then. Most of this music is supposed to be pointless and ephemeral, anyway. One third isn't too bad a success rate, really, and if you take out the hip-hop and dance, which I've never had an interest in, the score is probably pretty good. But ultimately I find I don't need this music any more. My tastes have changed too much.
So, farewell then, Music of the Noughts. We hardly knew ye.


jacked UP jazz said...

Interesting concept. Classical music enthusiast/expert takes on the popular crap of the day. I like it.

However, I would like to point out one minor shortcoming. There is no context. What is it that you classical music folks are always saying about context. You cannot simply isolate a single movement and fully comprehend what that music is trying to communicate to you. Outkast's Bombs over Bagdad cannot be fully appreciated unless one takes on the entire Stankonia CD. I suspect some of the other music in your sample also has the same issue. Also, IMHO, Stankonia was a little uneven for a two disc CD, and is not representative of their best work.

Nonetheless, I was very curious to read your take on the items you selected. I kind of agree with you on some of it and I knew what your response would be on others. For example, I knew you would give Arcade Fire high marks. And I am pleased to say we agree on Gnarls Barkley.

Anyway, I thought this was very interesting. Nice post. Oh, and where is part 1.

Nereffid said...

Fair point about context, but then again it was Pitchfork's selection, and to me "best track" implies it doesn't need a context. It's either a good song or it isn't (or, more correctly, I either like it or I don't). Although a symphony's movements are best heard together, I can't think of any individual movement that, if separated from its context, would sound significantly poorer while still being touted as a great movement.

I've added a link to Part 1 at the start of the post. Happy new year!