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The Songs That Saved Your Life – The 00s: What Now?

ColdplayIn the final part of our look at decade-defining works, we shift gears slightly and look at what the current era will be remembered for musically. Frankly, we’re gutted John and Edward won’t release a record before the qualifying period ends.

So, the 00s, or the noughties, or whatever you chose to call them. What will they be remembered for? Iraq? Black President? Economic catastrophe? ‘Jenny from the Block’?

This decade has seen a massive shift in the way we consume music. The advent and subsequent saturation of the mp3 has meant that we are now able to carry our entire music collection around with us. It has meant that a song is never more than a few seconds away. There are no boundaries now, music is available and free and is consumed voraciously, although listening is a much more individual pursuit now (earphones in, head down.) This rippling spread, coupled with a growth in disposable income (remember that?) led indirectly to a huge boost to the live music scene, with concert-going reaching an all time high.

On the whole the music industry really hasn’t been sure what to do. It simply hasn’t managed to connect and certainly doesn’t know what to offer. It reacts approximately 6 months after the market has dictated what it wants. Increasingly, the music biz looks like a menswear shop trying to compete with Urban Outfitters. ‘Will this do?’ they say, while the kids – and us – sneer and say no. Amy Winehouse’s success was an organic triumph of songs and character finding an audience; Duffy’s witless copying was not.

The decade kicked off with the NME loudly proclaiming the death of guitar music, before The Strokes arrived and, erm, revitalised guitar music. Inspiring a generation of indie kids to pick up guitars – no ‘Is This It?’, no Arctic Monkeys – whilst Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party et al revisited post-punk. The Libertines seemed fair set to be the next British act to supernova, but it all collapsed in tabloid ignominy and caricature. The success they probably should have achieved was instead collected by dreary Tesco indie such as the Kaiser Chiefs and The Fratellis. The Killers and the Kings of Leon bridged the gap somewhat by showing signs of early promise they could not deliver on. Outsider bands such as Elbow and Sigur Ros hit hitherto undreamed of heights as word-of-mouth – well, cyber word-of-mouth – became almost as important as airplay.

The charts became increasingly irrelevant as a strangely soulless genre called R’n’B began to dominate, despite selling little outside London. PopStars started a trend for packaged stars which continues through to the current series of the X-Factor. Those suggesting though that this was somehow a new thing were wrong – from the Dave Clark 5 to David Cassidy to Stock, Aitken and Waterman to Westlife, it’s always been here and always will. Simply running it through a television filter does not a new genre make.

Older bands saw money in tham thar hills, specifically in ticket revenues. U2, the Rolling Stones, Oasis and Bruce Springsteen never seemed to be off the road. There were more people involed in reformations than at any time since Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. It was lucrative but it was a constant hark back to the past, not the future. It was about the night, the experience, the merchandise, the money. Creativity had taken place long ago; this was the time to collect.

A return to 70’s excess was briefly threatened by The Darkness (seems so long ago, eh?) Muse arrived from nowhere to become staggeringly massive, despite appearing only to play Queen songs in a prog style. But perhaps the single biggest success story of the decade was Coldplay. That there records were as universally loved as they are probably surprised them as much as anyone. Although mainly uninspiring, they struck an everyman chord in the way that Pink Floyd had decades before, and sold as quickly as any pop factory starlet. That they inspired a generation of solipsistic, tedious bedwetters such as Snow Patrol and Keane is not their fault. That they are indirectly responsible for the rise of the James Blunt/James Morrison school of Cat Stevens-lite songwriters isn’t either, but much harder to forgive.

So it could be a few years before the song that defined the generation is really established. Or it could be that this is the decade where the proliferation of music simply spread so wide that there was no defining song, no universal anthem that everybody heard and identified with, no epoch-making classic that changed the course of music history. Perhaps there’s simply so much out there we’ve reached the stage of individual consumerism trumping collective agreement? Only time will tell.

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14 Responses

  1. Interesting.

    My worry about downloading remains that music is not ‘free’ and so shouldn’t be consumed as such. How can bands possibly sustain any sort of career if they are unpaid? It also destroys albums as a concept.

    On the other hand it opens artists to people who maybe wouldn’t have bought an album in the same way ‘mix tapes’ once did…they didn’t kill music and neither will downloads but it must be more strictly policed to ensure people are recognised as the writers and performers.

  2. I think it’s passed that now Bert. It is what it is.

    I think the genie is out of the bottle with it.

  3. That’s a shame as 99% of song writers would forego income for recognition and songs simply popping out of the ether is morally wrong and a real shame. But how to do anything about it is a mystery…..one idea might be to imbed songwriting details in files so that they come up along with artist/title/album on ipods and MP3 players….as a songwriter myself I deeply resent the idea that ‘songs just exist and are really owned by all of us’ but what to do about is indeed the problem….

  4. Erm, I’m not sure that’s really what anyone gives a fuck about, to be honest. Do you think the wee dude that helped write all the good Lemonheads songs gives a fuck that no-one knows his name? Naw, because he got a big fat fuck-off cheque.

    I am a bit tired of the whole “downloaders are screwing artists” argument. Two fundamental truths:

    Artists have been getting bent over one way or another since time began, so no big shakes there. At least it’s not by a record company now.

    In consuming the music, whether downloaded for free, bought once and passed around, or taped off the fucking radio, a market for all the actual revenue making channels is being created. I’ve seen 4 bands this month, and I bet they made more off these gigs than they ever did off of the music bought by the audience that attended, before or after downloading took over the distribution market. And they get to see Glasgow on a rainy Tuesday in November. See? everyone wins.

  5. Facile.

    Clearly you’ve never written a song.

    But hey…..

  6. Writing songs isn’t really the issue, Bert, it’s having them recorded, widely distributed , and actually in demand that is the crux of your point. Until that happens, who wrote it is a bit of a moot point, surely?

  7. If that appeared rude it through frustration at seeing this ‘everyone is a winner’ comment….lots of smaller performers and artists are open to file sharing but not one article or any anecdotal evidence I have heard points to artists liking or supporting the attitude amongst some younger music fans where music ‘appears’ as if by magic and ‘belongs to everyone’. All artists want their name by their song.

  8. The “everyone’s a winner” comment was a leetle joke, aimed more at the fact they’ve got to tour their arses off to make money, thus spend rainy cold nights in Glasgow.

    My main point is really that the “music belongs to everyone” attitude is not that new (home taping with ruin the world! and so on and so forth), and it smacks a wee bit too much of record company propaganda for my liking.

  9. Basically file sharing is indeed a wonderful tool for bands…and is here to stay. But as a songwriter I am dead against a further drift to songs becoming ‘anonymous’ and open to be grabbed, mixed, stolen and reworked. Would it be so hard to build credits into the shared file as I described above? That way every file of every song would have in its directory details of who wrote it and the copywrite they own. Sound fair enough?

  10. Not to be too Lib Dem here, but I agree with both of you.

  11. Copyright is implicit – technically, by the terms of the law it needs no formal declaration, as by publishing, the author effectively states copyright. In practice, I sort of see your point, but I do think it’s the least of the owner’s worries.

    I’m not even going to start on the literary theory of death of the author (mostly because it’s dead boring and pretentious).

  12. Oh fucking Hell…………………please!

  13. NEWS FLASH. Just saw the (possibly) future of Glasgow rock and roll. A teenage band called The Celestians just blew away the (admittedly pish) competition at Ivory Blacks tonight. Great songs, terrific and totally Gleswegian gallus-ness and a wonderfully don’t give a fuck attitude. They’ve got a myspace with some poorly recorded versions of Russell Ferguson’s songs on, but trust me, if you can bear going to an “unders” gig, these guys (who have, incidentally, a big following) are well worth checking out.

  14. They all sound very young. And we all seem very old.

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