I haven't read his article yet, but I'm feeling chastened, because lately, I've had a crush on XMU, channel 43 on the XM Satelliite Radio dial. I know it's utterly cheesy and lightweight, but it's so damned pleasant.
So let's see what Pareles is dogging us about:
Compare 2005 with 2004, which yielded albums like U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" - full of compassionate songs that grappled with faith and science, fame and family - and Green Day's "American Idiot," which was nothing less than a rock opera about 21st-century alienation. Those albums continued to sell through 2005 because there was little to supplant them.Oh, so it's the lyrics? Singing about private lives... yeah, no path to greatness there. Just the same old drivel that was spooned out 80 years ago.
A war is still on, but mass-market pop is steadfastly ignoring it. ...
There are ample reasons for pop's narrowed ambitions in 2005. For one thing, 2004 was an election year in the United States, which clearly prompted some thoughts about the wider political and social situation, while 2005 was its aftermath, full of unhealed divisions. Singing about private lives - love affairs, individual longings or the local beefs and exploits of hip-hop - was the safest route to a mass audience.
But Pareles sees other problems. Record companies are losing money, so they're afraid to take chances. And:
Popular music now competes in a digital din of cable television, DVD's, video games and Web surfing. Separate songs, not sweeping album statements, are the currency of radio, MTV, iTunes, self-promotional sites like Myspace and the shuffled playlists of countless portable MP3 gizmos. Why devote attention to a big statement when there's another great groove just a click away?But if these tech-y things are the problem, they are also the solution:
Independent companies, small and large, are claiming an ever larger part of the music market, bypassing radio to apply the old do-it-yourself strategies of touring and noncommercial media, and the newer ones of file-sharing and word-of-blog.Back to the plea for more opinions from musicians about the war and how "George Bush doesn't care about black people." It's okay with me if the vocal sounds they make to go along with the instrumental notes are words about petty concerns. Go ahead and tell us something about your love affairs, individual longings and local beefs and exploits. You don't have to freight your songs with political opinions.
Paradoxically, though, far-reaching ambitions are re-emerging on the do-it-yourself scale. Where indie-rock was once a realm of self-conscious modesty - a refuge from the arrogant blare of Top 10 rock - acts like Bright Eyes, Animal Collective and Sufjan Stevens used their 2005 albums to make the kind of grand statements that bigger stars shied away from. They orchestrated elaborate sound worlds and grappled with big ideas rather than petty concerns, and they found audiences that made up in devotion what they lack in numbers.