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Columns > Dan Greenhaus

Published: 2005/06/07
by Dan Greenhaus

In Defense of Popular Music; it’s Not ALL Bad

When Coldplay tickets went on sale not too long ago, I mentioned on a message board that I was able to secure floor tickets to one of their two concerts at Madison Square Garden. The discussion that ensued as a result of my post was nothing unexpected. While there were definitely people who mentioned they enjoyed Coldplay, the vast majority of people who responded did so in a clearly anti-Coldplay manner. Now, I’m not one to tell people what they should and should not like, but the tones of the ensuing posts were, at times, bordering on sheer hatred. It got me thinking; Is Coldplay that bad and I’m missing something? I went back and listened to their albums (which have sold millions of copies) and sure enough, they don’t suck. So where does this hatred come from, especially from a group of people who seemed as if they haven’t heard one song by the band except what’s been on the radio?
My best guess is actually two guesses. The first is that, simply put, fans in our scene have become music snobs. Having been moved so dramatically by one particular band, whether it’s The Dead, or Phish, or The Biscuits or Umphrey’s or whomever, those fans simply find anything they don’t connect with in similar fashion to "suck." Secondly, and I hope it’s not this, is that people are just too close minded to hear "new" or "different" music. I say I hope it’s not this because our scene really started because people were OPEN minded enough to listen to something as musically divergent as The Grateful Dead or as utterly ridiculous as Phish were in the early days. Without people willing to try something different, many of the bands we all love wouldn’t be here today.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing in defense of ALL "pop" music. The vast majority of it is absolute garbage, assembled by people in back rooms and given to, for the most part, hot chicks to sell. Really, it’s Milli Vanilli on a mass scale. BUT, there is plenty of good pop music. I won’t budge an inch in defense of Maroon 5, an extremely talented group of guys playing an interesting blend of various styles of music, fronted by a singer with a tremendous voice. The jam scene would benefit immensely having someone of the musical talent of Ben Folds, another artist blending styles and emerging with a concoction to call his own. And the recent influx of new wave bands has given pop music a much needed shot in the arm, putting several bands, from The Killers to The Bravery, on the map that otherwise would have fallen by the wayside.
But of course, Id by lying if I didn’t say that some music is going to be more "acceptable" to jamband fans than others. The Secret Machines’ Now Here is Nowhere is a stunningly good album. Moving between political and sexual imagery, the album pulses with energy evoking more than a passing similarity to Pink Floyd, both in sound and, in some cases, song length. As well, Kings of Leon’s Aha Shake Heartbreak is sure to be of interest to a vast number of people. The band is getting plenty of publicity these days (They are Rolling Stone’s current darlings) by way of opening for U2. But this summer, they are striking out on their own tour. Sure, their singer isn’t the best and their lyrics are, more often than not, nonsensical and about nothing but that has never stopped anyone in the jamband world, so why should it stop them? Beck’s new one, Guero, is a welcome return to the sounds that laced Odelay. Moving through rock (E-Pro), Spanish rap (Que Ondo Guero), beat driven hip-hop (Hell Yes) funk (Scarecrow), Guero is right on par with Beck’s best and would be a notable addition to anyone’s collection.
The Scissor Sisters put out a top notch album, blending more genre’s in a successful manner than anyone in recent memory. Granted, the album is over the top at times, but its damn fun and there isn’t enough purely fun music these days. Everyone is so serious (i.e. Green Day, System of a Down…) which makes a party album all the more appreciated, especially when it’s got a song called "Tits on the Radio." Gold Jerry, gold.
While not quite pop music and not quite new per se, The Arcade Fire’s Funeral is stellar from beginning to end, even if it is depressing and even if it technically isn’t "new" anymore. The album is a must own and if you don’t have it, you should immediately obtain it, and have The Scissor Sisters on standby to counteract.
Coldplay’s just released X&Y. While at first listen it isn’t on the level of the band’s earlier two efforts, it still contains Chris Martin’s penchant for writing, and the bands willingness to play, relatively simplistic songs, but doing it in a manner that is, and always will be, distinctively Coldplay. Soaring vocals and perfectly constructed pop songs lace the album and are sure to please fans of the band.
And lastly, on the harder side, the Foo Fighters just released a two disc album and a first listen proves what Dave Grohl has been saying; this album is light years better than One By One. The double disc is sure to be a hit, as the second disc is entirely acoustic, a welcome addition from a band that has always thrived when playing acoustic. And Audioslave’s second album is out and is quite a step up from their initial release, which sounded more like three guys from Rage and a singer, rather than a whole band. The kinks are worked out, and the second album thrives as a result, with pulsating rock riffs and more groove, both of which are sure to be a hit in the live setting.
So is all popular music good? Of course not. But the belief that a band selling lots of records, or playing huge stadiums or looking pretty inherently means they aren’t real musicians is just ignorant. Instead of thinking its cool to hate on everything popular, why not go check out some of these bands and do something that music fans are supposed to.
Listen.

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