When you’ve heard it all before
Shane, our former colleague on the ever-growing Irish Times blogging bench and a fellow Bruce fan, is in a bit of pickle. He wrote a piece in the paper on Saturday giving out about the lack of new music which …
Shane, our former colleague on the ever-growing Irish Times blogging bench and a fellow Bruce fan, is in a bit of pickle. He wrote a piece in the paper on Saturday giving out about the lack of new music which has got him jumping up and down with joy. He’s tried all the new acts for size – Bon Iver, Santogold and Fleet Foxes were mentioned – but they’re just not working. “The truth is that little sounds fresh”, says Shane. “I feel that I have heard it all before.”
Shane attributes this to “that zone of unshakeable ennui that creeps up on many people as they zip into their 30s and beyond”, when he may have reached “that horrible moment when nothing seemed new to me because nothing was new to me”.
“What struck me most when listening to Nu-Wave or Nu-Gaze bands is that they didn’t just bore me, they irritated me, antagonised me, brought out the cranky middle-aged scorn that I always disdained in others but now find myself identifying with.”
Of course, just to keep with the theme, there is nothing new about this notion. Many, many people feel this way about pop music as they get older – they feel that they’ve heard it all before because, well, they probably have. Pop borrows, pinches and steals. It has always been the way. You don’t really think Elvis was just making it up when he walked into Sam Phillips’s place in Memphis, do you?
It’s something which comes up again and again. In fact, there was a lengthy On The Record discussion a few months ago, provoked by reviews of the Crystal Castles gig, about the age divide at live shows and how some people just stop going to the smaller shows as they get older.
“There’s a definite cut-off point when some people just stop going to smaller gigs on a regular basis and it usually occurs in a person’s late twenties. Around about then, they see a big flashing neon stop sign which signals the end of the road and they take heed of it. Sure, they’ll go to shows now and then in the Olympia or Vicar Street and they’ll be out in force for the summer event gigs. But mostly, they’ll stay at home, look after the nippers and keep their money for their mortgages. Sometimes, their musical tastes also stagnate leading to a generation of people who venerate acts who were big when they were still regular gig-goers”
Aside from the age thing, I’m intrigued about why the notion that you’ve heard it all before is only ever applied to pop music. You don’t find literary critics sighing that they’ve read it all before or film critics whinging that they’ve seen it all before or ballet critics grumbling that they’ve experienced it all before. All these forms borrow from what has gone before them – oh yes, they do – yet it is never remarked upon good, bad or indifferent, but accepted as part of the gameplan.
Of course, there is the fact that pop music is the only art form that is supposed to be in a state of perpetual motion, constantly creating new sounds and generating new genres. Pop just doesn’t seem right if it’s not restless and fidgeting. Indeed, there is probably someone somewhere attempting to reinvent the pop wheel to come up with a sound which is going to cause us all to go wow in six months or a year. More than likely, this could simply be a mating of existing styles (that was where rock’n'roll came into the equation in the first place), but it could also be a daft flight of fancy or imagination that conjures up something truly awesome.
That’s what makes pop so thrilling, so daft and so wonderful, that feeling of anticipation that something truly new or extraordinary is just around the corner. And that’s a feeling you just can’t explain to those who’re prepared to believe that pop has already reached its pinnacle.