Sunday, September 9, 2007
An Indie-ocracy of Dunces
so far, i've really enjoyed watching interpol's tumble from grace. from their stupid haircuts to their stupid suits to their stupid songs, i couldn't imagine a band that deserves it more. just five years ago, their debut LP (which, at best, showed some promise) was widely hailed as the best record of 2002, topping such brilliant efforts as max tundra's "mastered by guy at the exchange", deerhoof's "reveille", and the books' first masterpiece "thought for food". what was so freaking great about interpol circa "turn on the bright lights"? according to chris ott of pitchfork fame: "these kids are lording over cool with a laundry list of influences so artfully incorporated as to dislodge any memory of their comparatively slight precursor." as everyone knows, cool influences result only in good music and bands that survive the test of time. (also, after several months of liking their first album, mr. ott was ready to declare them better than joy division -- more on that later.)
then came "antics", one of the more oppressively mediocre albums in recent memory. tepid, forgetful and almost completely lacking any characteristics that might distinguish it from its predecessor (let alone from thousands of other indie records), "antics" epitomized the sophomore slump.
this summer saw the release of "our love to admire", interpol's first "major label" effort (for some reason matador still qualifies as "independent"). the critical response was predictably negative, mostly emphasizing how un-hip the album's more complicated arrangements and longer songs are. all of a sudden, stylus was describing their music as "rumbling minor chord meaninglessness." pitchfork was telling me that "the group indulges, and the songs often suffer."
how on earth did this happen? how did the band that had made new york city cool for a whole new generation of suburbanites suddenly become so bad, so self-indulgent? emerging conventional wisdom seems to be that signing to capitol records totally ruined their hipness, which sapped away their mad creativity skilz.
what's inadequate about this explanation is that it lacks perspective, choosing to focus on the band's current follies rather than examining their previous shortcomings. cool influences are not a substitute for ingenuity. in order to outlive your hype, it's not enough to be hip; you have to actually be talented.
this is why the glowing pitchfork quote above (where interpol were praised for their "laundry list" of "artfully incorporated" influences) actually predicts the band's downfall without knowing it. as a fashion statement, "turn on the bright lights" was right for its time; as a record, it was more or less completely devoid of originality (even those who loved the album conceded this point, opting to praise it as successfully derivative). that this band's music would become stale was entirely predictable; the speed at which it did reflects only how disinterested our indie press is in sticking by their favorite bands ever.
bertrand russell once wrote (long before the internet): "the belief that fashion alone should dominate opinion has great advantages. it makes thought unnecessary and puts the highest intelligence within the reach of everyone." thus, a group of musically illiterate twenty-somethings decreed an album that sounds exactly like joy division (which just happened to be the music they liked in high school) to be the greatest shit ever. hordes of indie kids bought it because they had just invented dancing, and needed something to go with their new idea (that liars album was already getting a bit old). college radio dj's pumped it until MTV got the message, at which point they had already moved on to the next big thing (clap your hands say yeah, the rapture, dfa 1979, etc., etc., etc.). it's almost as if a money-fueled hype machine were unilaterally deciding what college-aged white kids would like. the only thing more absurd is that said white kids continue to consider themselves the sole arbiters of good taste.
oh well. add interpol to the indie scrap-heap. i wonder what i should listen to this month.