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Artisic quality missing in most post-Beatles pop/rock music

Frank Zappa once remarked, ‘Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.’ I feel the same way about modern pop and rock music.

I believe, and doubt seriously I am alone, that popular music in general has suffered a sharp decline in quality, beginning roughly with the break-up of the Beatles. It has been on the ventilator ever since the popularization of arena rock, punk rock and disco. Let us not even speak, for now at least, of such atrocities as dance pop or alternative rock.

In 1966, the Beatles released the first of their masterpieces, ‘Revolver.’ The album was among the most significant events in turning pop and rock music into an art form, to be taken as seriously as any other.

Over the next five or six years, music saw several other important innovations, culminating with progressive rock. Here was popular music taken to its peak, successfully merging elements of jazz, classical, and folk music with rock tones, to varying degrees (King Crimson, for instance, incorporated much jazz, but it’s anybody’s guess where exactly the music of Yes derives from).

But then, something happened, and everything kind of died down. Good music continued to be made, and continues to be made, but there haven’t been many serious innovations in style.

Taste is certainly a factor, and being totally original is not the be-all end-all of great music. But it is one factor – one of five, in fact, as drawn up by independent music reviewer George Starostin.

Starostin’s now-defunct Web site, ‘Only Solitaire,’ features extensive reviews of nearly every major artist and album from the 60s, 70s and more. The sheer volume of material on the site is incredible, but it is his rating system which was most cleverly devised. Each album is awarded a score on a scale of 1-10, and each band is given points ranging from 1-5. The band points are added to the album points to achieve an overall score out of 15.

Bands are rated in five basic criteria: listenability, resonance, originality, adequacy and diversity. All these are features that, I would imagine, everybody looks for in their music.

Now is the time to bring up alt rock – let’s take a band whose low quality is virtually uncontested: Nickelback. Judging them on these criteria, I might score them a 2 out of 5 for listenability, a 1 for resonance, a 0 for originality (aren’t there about a million bands that sound exactly like them?), a 0 for adequacy (they’re always trying way too hard) and a 0 for diversity.

This gives them an overall, or average, score of 0.6 out of a possible 5, or 12 percent, based on criteria which are as close to objective as any reviewer is likely to come.

One argument you might have is that judging music on any rigid guidelines like these is wrong, since music is all about expression. True enough, but any band properly expressing themselves is going to earn points in at least some of these categories.

I have never been able to digest Radiohead. But even as a person who wants nothing to do with their music I can afford them points for resonance, originality and diversity. There are also several bands I thoroughly enjoy that come up short on any objective reading of this scale.

Not everybody has to take music so seriously. But far too many are simply content with what they are being offered – computer programs playing drum patterns that couldn’t swing from a rope, crystal-clear production that achieves no emotional resonance and lyrics banal enough to make ZZ Top seem like a group of poet laureates.

I am not sure what can be done to save music from complete ruin. Certainly the importance of the dollar has had a negative impact, forcing any artist who wants even a marginal degree of success to appeal to the lowest common denominators, but this cannot be the only factor.

Many, if not most of the best and most important bands of all-time have been billion dollar groups – the Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd and so on. Conversely, the exposure I have had to underground or independent bands that make no money at all has given me no reason for hope, either.

Of course, all people are entitled to their opinion. I have no interest in convincing Nickelback fans to burn their copies of ‘Silver Side Up.’ If it pleases you, that’s fine, but ask yourself whether it is truly possible to take such things as serious or even remotely artistic ‘- it’s entertainment, to be filed with reality television and horror movies.

Not everything you listen to has to be as high-minded as, say, Jethro Tull’s ‘Thick as a Brick.’ But you’re only doing yourself a disservice by rejecting music on the grounds that it isn’t immediately satisfying or clubs don’t play it.

Anybody who does regard music as a form of expression or art would do well to look at what’s being offered on the radio and MTV and question its actual value. Chances are, it has none.

Respond to Kyle by leaving a comment below or by replying to [email protected]

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