|VOL. 1 NO. 1 AUGUST 1999|
No Such Thing As an Urban Cowboy
Welcome to Over the Airwaves, your source for excellent picks of music that is either not super-new, or simply unheard of in the States. Being great is much more important than being the latest crap on the racks, right? Check out my picks, listen to 'em & if you agree, keep reading this column. If you don't agree, go buy Rolling Stone or something. Those are the ground rules, so on to...
This Month's Rant
You live in the city, so what are you going to listen to on the way to work, the Grateful Dead? No way. The music you listen to seeps into your life. You hum it as you walk the streets, as you sit at a 100-car deep traffic light. The only people humming "Truckin'" should be driving down a country road (never mind the whole San Francisco thing with the Dead; it is no longer the city it was when they came around). Yeah yeah, it depends on the city. Dallas requires different musical stylings than does Boston or Miami, and different people see different parts of the city. Yes yes, urban inner city living requires urban inner city music, true, BUT I must share my extremely biased position that city music should reflect the "citi-ness" of the urban environment you have selected in which to dwell. It's not about the content, but the process, a theme to which I will return in future installments of Over the Airwaves.
Lyrics about crime, violence and alienation are one thing, but music that produces the same emotions as the city is what I'm talking about here. The music should be dark and encroaching, yet offering glimmers of hope and opportunity for release. It should be inventive and ugly, while at the same time built on the foundations of what has come before with pockets of beauty that come when you least expect them. Read: the city is no place for country music. If you listen to country music and you live in the city, one of the two must change. You're missing the point. I'm not suggesting that country music has no merit, nor that you shouldn't be allowed to listen to country music. I'm simply saying that in our quest to create coherence in our lives we should strive to make our art congruent with our environment.
I believe Punk music was the perfect city music for the late 1970s. New wave was the ideal city music for the early 1980s. Good city music was hard to find in the late 80s, but that can pretty much be said of any kind of music for the late 80s. Perhaps REM can stake the claim for that era. The alternative early 90's were a grassroots movement that wasn't too city-ish, I think (more for alienated suburb kids mostly), but was necessary for what's here now--Nine Inch Nails was the city.
What's perfect today? Techno has a lot of possibility, but I believe it's still maturing. For now, I think the resurgence of the early-to-mid 70's glam-rock and smooth alienation-progressive pop (e.g., Radiohead) is perfect for today's city dwellers. With that in mind, I'll quit my yapping and move to...
This Month's Picks
In this section, I will discuss four recent or not-so-recent albums to which I think more people should be listening, each of which reflects the ideas I mentioned above. To hear clips or buy the album, just click on the album cover.
If we accept the fact that The Great Ones (Lennon & McCartney) are exceptions to nearly every rule about the history of music, I can comfortably ponder how rare and refreshing it is to find a dynamic songwriting duo who can transform themselves into equally dynamic solo artists. So it is with Suede, often referred to in the U.S. as The London Suede. Not too many years ago, singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler were being hailed as the next Morrissey/Marr (of The Smiths), an amazing team that could craft such touching tunes that you just wanted to cry, evidenced on their eponymous debut CD.
Well, like Morrissey (who went on to a great solo career) and Johnny Marr who can be found with The The, Butler and Anderson went their separate ways in 1994. Fortunately for us, they're still active and producing amazing music. Butler recently came out with People Move On (1998) , a stunning effort I can't recommend highly enough, that revealed him to be so very gifted on his own as well. Meanwhile, Michaels and Suede stayed together, and though I missed their interim albums, I must say that after listening to Head Music, their latest release, I'm happy to report that Suede is better than ever. The songs are catchy, while remaining unique and well-constructed.
Please ignore the image, fellow Americans, which you might perceive as "BritPop glamour-boy"--this is really good music. The standout track must certainly be "She's in Fashion," with its clever lyrics and groovy beat seasoned nicely with a lilting string accompaniment. "She's out shaking it up on the scene, and she's the color of a magazine; and she's about as close as you can get to the shape of a cigarette--and she's in fashion." You'd be well-advised to fashion your life with the music of Suede.
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