All entries for Wednesday 02 August 2006

August 02, 2006

1990s Most Influential Music?

Whilst browsing the big black CDs in my parents' house (I think they call them 'vinyl') a thought crept up on me from behind and stole my socks – the 1990s, eh? Who was the most influential band?

Yeah, it's been six and a half years since it ended, possibly a little too early to assess its influence, but I think the 1990s might be turning out differently than those who lived through it thought it would. I wondered, amongst those big black CDs and missing socks, who were the most influential British bands of the decade? The conclusion was a little surprising. To my mind, looking at music today, it looks like being a competition between Radiohead, the Spice Girls and Pulp.

Firstly let me explain why other major bands are absent. Oasis and Blur hold the iconic status for the decade. But who did they really influence? Many bands talk of their love for Oasis but very few sound anything like them, those that do are the likes of Proud Mary or Hurricane #1… who? Exactly! Those bands now who remind me of Oasis aren't all that inspiring – Kasabian lack their wit and diversity (yeah, I know I'm using "diversity" to describe Oasis) but have the attitude, others claim to love Oasis but sound nothing like them. Blur have also got very few real groupies. The Dears and Kaiser Chiefs are the only two I can think of, taking very different parts of Blur's catalogue as their touchstones ('This Is A Low' and 'Parklife' respectively). But who is today's most Blur–like act? Graham Coxon probably. Mmm.

It's the same with a lot of 1990s bands, loved but it's hard to hear their influence in bands at the moment – The Verve, Catatonia, Super Furry Animals, Manic Street Preachers, none have had succesful followers, merely bands who say they liked them who sounds very little like them (would you ever guess that The Automatic are big Manics fans?).

It's broadly true in pop as well. Cheesy dance music, rave and techno don't sound much like the dance music we have today. The charts just lack the identikit trance songs which flooded the late 1990s. And don't say Take That to me. Boy bands are not a 1990s creation, New Kids On The Block were definitely late 1980s.

So, Radiohead, the Spice Girls and Pulp… the UK's most influential?

Radiohead

It's actually Coldplay's fault. But they did take advantage of Radiohead forcing open the door to sensitively voiced boys with guitars to sing about feelings. The Bends is responsible. In itself this is not bad thing, The Bends is great and so is some of Coldplay's better stuff. But Coldplay showed record companies that this sort of music could sell and sell without turning the band into paranoid electronica freaks. Look at what record companies throw at us now. It's not hard to see how you can get from 'Fake Plastic Trees' to James Blunt. All it requires is all enigma, originality and sharp edges being removed, which is what big record companies do. They declaw innovation to make it safe for the mass markets and a hell of a lot of music in the supermarkets today is declawed Radiohead.

The Spice Girls

Doesn't it say a lot that Girls Aloud not One True Voice are the Popstars: The Rivals survivors? It's not really about gender. It's the style of music, where boybands spewed ballady bollocks all over the charts, the Spice Girls usually opted fot the more upbeat music. Sound like anyone in the charts? Girls Aloud? Sugababes? It was a natural response to indie going pop with Britpop that pop had to raise its game, be more upfront and interesting.

If those lessons were partially forgotten in the late 1990s/early 2000s it was because indie lost its poppy edge. Since indie got back into the charts we've seen the rise of Girls Aloud and Sugababes, as well as increased interest in American versions like Destiny's Child/Beyonce and Gwen Stefani's solo career. Yes, American music tastes do impact over here but there are a lot of American bands and pop acts which succeed over there and fail to get big here (Dave Matthews Band, 98 Degrees, All American Rejects) most likely because they just fail to suit the mood of the British markets.

Pulp

They're getting a lot of attention at the moment as a couple of their albums are being reissued, and the music scene in Sheffield has woken up. Less influential than Radiohead and the Spive Girls, but Pulp seem to share a lot of modern indie's main features – a late 1970s/early 1980s indebted music, regional accents, lyrical astuteness, and an increasing disregard about what's cool and who's an outsider. Whilst Maximo Park are the closest to Pulp, you can hear obvious influence in The Futureheads, Arctic Monkeys, Young Knives, Franz Ferdinand. And whilst Liam Gallagher seems more a parody of himself each day, Jarvis Cocker is still lucid and relevant in interviews.

So that's my thoughts. I'd like to know what others think, of course.


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