Is anti-music worthwhile, or should it be anti-listened to? I really don’t know. It’s tolerable in small doses, I suppose.
The punk bands I consider great are all faggot sellouts – Cabaret Voltaire, Killing Joke, stuff that has artistry and craft and something more than “Here’s thirty minutes of noise. Burn down the music industry. Fuck you.”
The issue is that anti-music, like anti-matter, is dangerous stuff. One slight push, and you get unlistenable self-parodic shit like the third Nirvana album, or Ministry’s Filth Pig. Music that’s all about posturing and pandering. Maybe my taste is deficient, but I don’t see the appeal of four intelligent, talented people booking studio time and trying their damndest to recreate the sound of a broken air conditioning unit.
The Sex Pistols were never that bad. They had strong songs, and strong pop sensibilities. Pop is great, guys. There’s nothing wrong with pop. What the world doesn’t need, on the other hand, is fifty thousand wannabes who think playing with your strings out of tune makes you a pioneer. That’s what everyone tried in the 90s, and we’re still feeling the aftereffects. I think the grating unmusicality of the grunge era is the time rock music really started to die.
Don’t argue. It’s undeniably happened. Let’s try an exercise: what was the defining rock album of the 60s? Sgt Pepper. The 70s? Led Zeppelin IV. The 80s? Several contenders, ranging from Black in Back to Appetite to Destruction to The Joshua Tree. The 90s? Nevermind.
The 00s? I…can’t think of any. A few albums like Hybrid Theory and The Black Parade captured a fleeting zeitgeist – a few years later everyone was embarassed to even remember them. The first half of the 2010s have proven likewise disappointing. Sometime after grunge died, we’d apparently made all the great rock albums it was possible. Or maybe great rock albums are still being made, but nobody listens to them. Albums that should make a splash now disappear without a ripple.
Is it possible that rock alienated itself from the public by being boring? Rob Zombie thinks so. “Everybody thought it was cool to be anti-rock star. But in a way they sort of anti-rock starred themselves right out the door.” Once, rock music was thrilling and visceral. But in the hands of Generation X, it became a guy in flannel staring at his shoes, whining about his feelings.
Once rock stars stopped looking and acting like rock stars, hip hop, rave, and house moved in to fill the gap. A turntable now has the same cultural cachet that a stack of Marshall amps did in 1981. The idea of dancing to a live band seems as weird as the tweed and brilliantine of the Sex Pistols interviewers, and electronic music now has a stranglehold on everything except nostalgia.
Did rock and roll really commit suicide? I think so. Suicide attempts are dramatic and powerful. They can feel enervating, and thrilling. They make a great cry for attention. But there’s a danger: you might really actually kill yourself. Sometime after 1991, rock and roll hacked too deep into its wrist, severed the ulnar artery, and let itself spill out all over the floor.