Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I have to say that after 3 chords, U2 becomes a loud tedium. They don't have songs, they have a "sound". Some find it stirring, rocking, bracing. I find it bracingly the same from tune to. It's not that they haven't written a solid rocker and a cogent ballad in that massively reverbed catalog of theirs, it's just that unlike mining the albums of the Stones or REM (among so many others), there are not that many good-to-great tunes to amuse yourself with until you come upon the choicest of the choice songs. It's an old aggravation and many bands have displayed it and kept in my decades as a music writer, but it still applies to U2 especially. It's a pose, hewed with honest emotion and genuine conviction, but it is a pose, all the same, a stylized sheen that is set to make them attractive in theory. This, for me, makes them agreeable intellectually, but it doesn't mitigate the monotony that makes their music a self-regarding drag. Missing, perhaps, is the old "hit song" aesthetic, where there was an emphasis on tunes that were differentiated stylistically, given manageable time constraints, given hooks, beginnings, middles, ends, and concerning things that are not the result of a crisis of conscious or the search for a nebulous spirituality that no one seems able to find.


There is no limit to introspection in the younger artists: mumbling heartfelt and half-baked poetry to guitar bashes, electric or unplugged, is a tradition that was strong by the time I graduated high school in '71. The melodies and the mumbling haven't improved when the Torch-of-the-Tortured-Poet was passed between generations. But even in our glory days, with our Anti-war, counter-cultural, vaguely leftist politics, what were we ever to the record companies than a demographic to be sold to, and in turn, sold to other creators of pop culture content? I think that that Hollywood and their cronies on the fabled Madison Avenue had us pegged, detailed, and enumerated as a predictable market share just as much as they had broken down the buying habits of housewives. We were ready for shipping.It seemed a matter of the snake taking on the language and lingo of the target audience. In 1967, or 68, in the midst of campus demonstrations, student riots, and so on, Columbia Records took out large ads in underground and antiwar newspapers, periodicals they virtually supported with their advertising budgets. The photo showed a multi-cultural in a holding cell--a long-haired white, blacks, Asians, men, women, a couple of old folks (I think), all with headphones on, listening to a stack of new Columbia albums, music, presumably, to smash the state by. The slogan?


Either we were too dense to think, for a second, that the ad was a cynical ploy and that, in fact, Columbia Records was "The Man", or may don't care and bought the albums anyway, but what this ad, and ads hawking different things over the years, revealed the keenest insight: instead of being so special that we would change the world with music and higher consciousness, we were just another age group with high amounts of disposable income passing through, but what made us feel special. Columbia knew what made us feel special: they knew us better than we knew each other. The truth of it was that we weren't the Hope of the Future. We were just new customers getting familiar with the kind of daily brainwashing we'll attempt to resist and eventually succumb to messages not to transform culture, ourselves and correct the course of History, but rather to buy things, nice things, ugly things, especially things we don't need.


In remarks that he finds the recreation of native African music styles on the soundtrack of" Black Panther" as unsatisfactory, Slate music critic Carl Wilson that the sound overall "... it does not slake the ears..." That usage is so bad it even sounds wrong. We can slake a thirst, but we cannot slake our ears. What Wilson means to say, in context, is that the music used sounds false, inauthentic. He should have read the sentence out loud to see if sounded right, or at least looked the word "slake" if it meant what he assumed it meant. There are, I know, ancillary definitions along the lines of "satisfy","relieve", or "assuage", but principle definition of quenching one's thirst is what reader's think of. This is awful writing that betrays the overheated praise and adoration a merely okay action motion picture is receiving.

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