Halfway through this decade, Marissa Dinar meditates on how bands that have been dominating the airwaves since the nineties and noughties stay relevant today.
The world of music on which we so often rely in times of sadness, joy and a myriad of emotions is a universe of its own. Countless nights have been spent head-banging to Roger Plant’s thrilling vocals front running Led Zeppelin, shower moments spent emulating Freddie Mercury’s majestic delivery of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or disco dancing to Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’. We will never be without the means to transport ourselves back and forth, transcending time to pass time with music.
Just as time does to so many things in life, it changes sound. Musicians’ muses are different. The blueprint of a successful band has altered significantly. As it happens, the influential groups mentioned above were not subjected to the dilemma of keeping up with the rapidly changing times in which we live today. However, some bands that arrived on the scene as long ago as the nineties and are still thriving today have tried to evolve their music in a way that would keep them bobbing along mainstream airwaves.
It is undeniably a commendable thing to change one’s influences to stay in the game. In order to survive in today’s charts, most of the favoured bands of decades gone by would have had to incorporate current genres such as EDM into their music. This may be a good thing, or a sad thing – it all depends on how fans view a band’s progress. Take Oasis, for example. The band of brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher dominated the British music scene in the nineties and noughties, and stayed true to their Britpop/Rock sound throughout their seven albums, but some would say that their sound never progressed, innovation was lacking and their vision was one-dimensional.
“Their musical progression made no sense; how could songs like A Sky Full of Stars which were repetitive in nature and lacking lyrical artistry, compare to Violet Hill or Clocks?”
Frontman Chris Martin and his posse collectively known as Coldplay have provided us with songs that sing to the soul. Their first four albums feature predominantly alternative rock with obvious Britpop influences. Fans were then surprised when mid 2011 brought along Mylo Xyloto. The album features songs brightly infused with electronic and acoustic elements, the band’s first test of producing music that actively takes into account what the commercialised music industry produced at that moment: upbeat and colourful tunes with infectious dance vibes. It is almost psychedelic at times – an elephant onesie with a man in it was seen running around a desert in the music video for ‘Paradise’. Some fans were disappointed with the direction that Coldplay’s music took on in Mylo Xyloto. They saw it as being too mainstream compared to its predecessors, and they wanted the familiarity of what they knew Coldplay to be. Nonetheless, songs like ‘Paradise’, ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ and ‘Hurts like Heaven’ proved that in this new artistic venture, Coldplay still had what it took to come up with brilliant songs.
Coldplay’s next full-length release was Ghost Stories in 2013, which captured the feeling of an ethereal, whimsical album. Its sound progressed further towards synth-pop, infused with heavy emotions. The songs are haunting, which makes the album title apt. However, fans yearning for the old sound of the earlier material were not won over by this album. Some said that their musical progression made no sense, and wondered how songs like ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ which were repetitive in nature and lacking lyrical artistry, could compare to ‘Violet Hill’ or ‘Clocks’. This was when Coldplay was accused of trying to emulate the dance pop culture of the current music scene, with its minimalistic take on verses and choruses.
Arctic Monkeys are another band that have been flagged as recently diverting their music from their original style. Alex Turner as principle songwriter and vocalist has possibly caved in to the demands of producers for songs that could break further into the American music market. This makes sense, since they had always a distinctive indie-rock style throughout their first four albums which all had a definitive British feel that was apparently lost on many American listeners. These albums share unifying trends: aggression and pleasantry mixed with rapid, meaningful lyrics delivered by a Sheffield accented lad.
“These songs depicted a straying away from Turner’s lyrical talents, to fall into the abyss of average songwriters writing about love and club life in the simplest way possible.”
As 2013 approached, Arctic Monkeys also decided to produce a new album which would display their attentiveness towards the masses. Their latest album, AM, appealed more than the band’s previous work to the newer generations of music fans. Stating a more hip-hop influence, Turner and his Monkeys came up with mega hits like ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ booming with an impossibly addictive beat. In the eyes of some, these songs depicted a straying away from Turner’s lyrical talents, to fall into the abyss of average songwriters writing about love and club life in the simplest way possible. But to most, this reinvention paid off, and records showed that their album hit big time.
‘Do I Wanna Know?’ was voted by fans as the best single ever produced by Arctic Monkeys. It also went up to No.1 on the US Alternative Chart. Furthermore, they played at their first sold out show in the famed New York Madison Square Gardens. Finally, Arctic Monkeys take America. It seems that progression from garage-punk and revival influences to hip-hop and R&B brought the band out of stateside obscurity and into global mainstream.
The line between staying true to one’s sound and the need to advance has always been very fine. A time comes when a band will have to decide whether floating along the music industry’s flow will pay off better than to stick to what they know they’re good at. It is a beautiful thing how tastes change, as people get older and preferences change according to personalities. Only by experimentation shall the obscure rise up, and known legends join them to celebrate music for music.