“That rock ‘n’ roll, eh?” declared Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner in his now infamous BRITs acceptance speech in 2014. “That rock ‘n’ roll, it just won’t go away.” The problem, though, is that it has. Turner’s ramblings were prompted by the band winning Album of the Year for AM, their fifth record, which was later crowned the best album of the decade so far by NME at the end of 2015, despite arguably only being the band’s third best. This produces an issue: AM is a great album, but if rock ‘n’ roll was as present as Turner made it out to be in his speech, then regardless of the band you wouldn’t expect a third-best album to top such a list.
You may say that since this was NME it’s hardly a surprise that AM topped the list given that the magazine has supported them from the very beginning – and you would certainly be right if this discussion was taking place a year ago – but NME has changed now. You’re just as likely to see Wiz Khalifa or Taylor Swift on the cover as you are Turner and co., and it’s the same story for Xfm, the London and Manchester radio station that once put music before personalities. Today, the recently-rebranded Radio X is the home of Chris Moyles.
Perhaps we’ve just had a bad 2016. Last year there was “rock ‘n’ roll” to be excited about with the likes of Wolf Alice and Slaves breaking through, both producing excellent debut albums and proving themselves as more than capable live acts too. There were bands releasing the best records of their careers, like Foals, Everything Everything, and The Maccabees, who recently announced their split. This year just hasn’t been the same – Catfish And The Bottlemen‘s album did nothing but stir nostalgia of being 16, Blossoms failed to excite, and let’s not even waste our time talking about Rat Boy.
Is a lack of talent the cause? Is that why there’s an apparent lack of strong, new guitar bands? It would explain a lot, but it’s just not the case. If you switch on any BBC Introducing show on a Saturday night, you’ll hear an abundance of talent from your local area. So why isn’t that talent coming through?
Again, it is easy to blame the music industry, but ultimately that is where a lot of the blame lies. The pattern of recent years is to find one successful act and simply promote those who are similar, because you know that if artist A is successful, the chances are artist B, C, and D will be too, even if only in the short term. Take the rise of the man and the guitar triggered by Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard in 2011. Both of their debut albums were hugely successful, and since then we’ve had James Bay, who is different because he wears a hat; Tom Odell, who is different because he plays the piano; and Jack Garratt, who is different because he has a beard and plays lots of instruments. All of those artists create the same radio-friendly, easy listening music, differing only through their little twists.
“Have you heard the new Calvin Harris track?” “You mean the new David Guetta one?” “Maybe, it sounds a bit like Sigma.” “Aren’t they the guys from Norwich?” “No that’s Sigala. Or maybe Disclosure.”
Of course this is not a new tactic from record labels – far from it, in fact – but in recent times they appear to have eliminated any form of risk, which ultimately leads to the same music being reproduced over and over again until something new breaks out and the cycle starts from the beginning once again.
Yet even that doesn’t explain it all. I am part of the problem, being more than happy to flick on Radio 1 and listen to those artists and sing along to every pop/dance track that seems to dominate the charts at the moment. In fact, I quite enjoy it. It’s happy, it’s upbeat, and it’s almost lazy. And until I stop enjoying it and make a point of not listening, it’s not going to end.
Alex Turner wasn’t completely wrong. Rock ‘n’ roll hasn’t gone forever, but for now we just have to wait for its return.