Alexis Petridis: Rock and Pop Comments from Across the Pond

I am starting to read more and more articles published on Guardian Unlimited out of the UK and I am especially enjoying those by The Guardian’s rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis. His pieces are often the perfect fodder for arguments over a coffee on a Saturday morning (or a potentially more dangerous beer on Saturday nights) because he has a well articulated, and often contrary opinion. In The day the music dies Petridis comments on the creation of MUDDA (Magnificent Union of Digitally Downloading Artists) by Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno and argues that an artist with too much freedom and no producer/editor will go on to produce self-indulgent “rubbish.” He points to musicians like Prince who basically went on to produce crap when released from the “shackles” of his major label record contract (no comment on the quality of his stuff while on a major label but I digress). “The internet encourages self-indulgence in the most unassuming people, as proven by the vast number of interminable weblogs and homepages featuring gripping pictures of pets. When rock stars get involved with it, all sense of quality control goes out the window.” What he fails to take into account of course is that the Internet is also responsible for allowing tiny Indie labels access to a vast distribution network the likes of which was previously available only to the major record labels. More importantly, the Internet is allowing musicians who may not be considered “commercial” to make a living writing, recording and releasing their music for sale directly to the public while at the same time reaping more of a financial gain as well as maintaining all legal rights to their work. Lack of talent let loose on the Internet can be awful but somebody with bucket loads of talent held hostage by some record label looking for the next Justin Timberlake can be much worse. At least the Internet holds out the possibility of leveling out the playing field a little bit while enabling musicians to take better control of their own livelihoods. I’m willing to put up with Prince’s Internet noodlings if it allows me to hear and read about music that I might never have heard about before and that’s a high price to pay!

In his piece Roll over Britpop…it’s the rebirth of art rock Petridis traces what some people are calling a new renaissance in rock and roll with the emergence of “art rock” bands like Scissor Sisters and Franz Ferdinand displacing the “boring” Britpop of bands like Oasis, Blur and Coldplay. One thing I did find quite funny is the assumption that musicians that go to Art School are somehow influenced to come up with this more “intellectually challenging” form of rock and roll. What some might tend to forget is that Mr. Rock and Roll and Chuck Berry wannabe Keith Richards himself attended art school amongst many other rock and roll revolutionaries and I dare say that there is not much “Art” in his rock. But the article is great in that it makes you think. His argument that “the post-Britpop bands had entirely exhausted the possibilities of ripping off the rock canon – the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Faces – forcing new bands to look further afield for inspiration” cannot be entirely dismissed. Of course, at the end of the article he points out a couple of other current trends in rock and roll and one of them has the dreaded “retro rock” tag. Now I leave it to you to determine if bands like the Kings of Leon, Jet and The Darkness are responsible for more of a musical trend than Franz Ferdinand and friends but that is perhaps just a function of what I want to listen to since I’m far from being a hip music scenester. At the end of the day, those that listen to “retro rock” might argue with the fans of “neo prog rock” and the connoisseurs of “art rock” as to the particular merits of what they are currently listening to but the bottom line is that they will all be arguing, and listening to the same thing: rock and roll. And that is the reason that this site is not called “The Art Rock Report” or “The Garage Rock Report” since the diversity of rock and roll is what allows it to live, breath and grow. I’m just waiting for the birth of “polka rock.” Get ready, it’s gonna be big.