Britrock, meet R.E.M.

Time for another music post.

Something occured to me today: there are a few British rock bands that are really into R.E.M. A few years back, when I saw Radiohead at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver, Michael Stipe joined them on stage for a couple of songs (including an excellent version of “Karma Police”). I thought nothing of it at the time; R.E.M. played the night before and had Thom on for a few songs, so it seemed like they were just returning the favour. Then a couple of years later, on Austin City Limits, Coldplay bring in a surprise guest to accompany them, and sure enough, it’s Michael Stipe. They even played an R.E.M. song (“Nightswimming”) and another unreleased one. Now, most recently, it’s the Editors doing a cover of “Orange Crush”. Originally done live, it made its way onto The OC. R.E.M. then did an unplugged version of “Munich”.

I’m curious as to where this connection comes from. There’s no denying that R.E.M. has had a noticeable influence on many pop-rock musicians, as well as fans of the genre. What interests me is the British angle to this. There isn’t really a single R.E.M. song that comes to mind as being in a style that is typical of Britrock, or Britpop for that matter. Is it the British love for the well-made pop song?

Hmm…I have a feeling this will occupy more of my thoughts than it should over the next few days.

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Published in: on April 29, 2008 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Music Video: A Lament – Part II

Funny how once one gets going on a subject, suddenly it starts getting the thought processes going, thinking on the subject matter in new ways that weren’t realized before. That’s how it is often for me. And since I tend to write my posts here in an as-I-think-of-it matter, all sorts of ideas are bound to emerge merely as a result of writing. This is exactly what happened with me with the last post and is the whole reason why I’ve been thinking about the purpose of the music video for the last week or so! I guess the rant wasn’t finished after all…

I suppose if one goes back to the early 1980s and looks at the whole reason why MTV was created in the first place was to provide an outlet to get music exposed over TV in a way beyond just live performances. Music had been showcased as something near video format before the days of MTV by bands like the Police and even Bob Dylan, in his iconic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” montage. But now it was getting round-the-clock treatment in a way never seen before. Coupled with teen and celebrity culture to boot, it was a record label’s dream. Of course, this was back when the cable TV landscape (and I think it was the same in the US as it was here) was barely above a dozen channels. It was much easier to hold a viewer’s attention, to say nothing of the eventual emergence of the Internet.

Some interesting points were mentioned to me on this angle: if in fact this was the primary reason for the music video all along, then its decline as of late makes alot more sense. With the ascendance of other means of exposure, especially in the form of the mp3, the all-music channels were suddenly left in an untenable position. If they can’t hold the audiences like they used to, then the advertisers won’t be there like they used to either. So something’s gotta give. Ultimately, it meant that the more music-oriented programming slowly fell by the wayside to be replaced with programming that had very little to do with music at all, the wave of so-called “reality” TV. Now the networks like MTV and VH1 in the US, MuchMusic and M3 here are now shells of themselves, devoted to music in name only.

So where does that leave the music video? Despite the fact that its champion of so long has diminished a great deal, it’s not all doom-and-gloom. It just means that it’s had to adapt. DVD collections of music videos by various artists have proven popular, or even by certain directors, such as Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry. And now there’s YouTube, something that the labels have been using their advantage for awhile now.

So maybe it’s not an overall decline in the music video, it’s just that the delivery method has changed, which in itself is a major move. As Marshall McLuhan said: “The medium is the message.”

But I still think there’s room for videos on TV. After all, shouldn’t the music stations be about music?

More Favourites – I can’t believe I forgot to mention them in the last post on this topic, but Tool is another favourite maker of music videos. Adam Jones’s strange, other-worldly creations have been a favourite of mine since their beginning.

Sober (1994)

Stinkfist (1996)

And of course, there’s always the delightful weirdness of Peter Gabriel.

Sledgehammer (1986)

I give an Honourable Mention to Soundgarden’s “Burden In My Hand”. While it’s only the band walking through a desert, the cinematography is excellent.

Burden In My Hand (1996)

Published in: on March 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Music Video: A Lament

Art and the music video: can they co-exist? I’ve always thought of them as being a perfect match, a visual accompaniment that can take the music in either a whole new direction or give it

But it seems now more than ever before that the music video simply exists to showcase the musician, what they’re wearing or some other product-placed schlock that turns it into a glorified commercial. (If you’ve seen Sting’s video for “Desert Rose”, you’ll know what I mean.) And this is if you actually can see a music video on MuchMusic or M3, now that they’ve almost been totally eliminated in favour of “reality” TV programming.

Now it’s debatable as to whether or not there ever was some ideal time period for the artistic music video, but it definitely seemed like even as short a time as a decade ago, that videos were getting a much more fair deal from their TV distributors. But is this more a symptom of the bands that exist than the environment itself? Well, that’ll be another rant for another time.

But I can certainly say that there have been a few that have stuck with me well after I had seen them on TV, and were really a treat for the senses. Here are some of my favourites of all time:

Radiohead – Pyramid Song (2001)

Live – Turn My Head (1997)

Sigur Rós – Track 1 (2001)

For me, these gave the song something even more than before, a new quality that hadn’t been before realised. Now of course it would be a bit much to expect such a quality all the time, but to see the whole art form in such a state as it is right now can be tough to take at times. Is it meant to be just another tool for marketers and promoters to sell their business and affix a dollar value to yet another element of this world? It sure seems that’s what the TV programmers and record labels think.

Thus I lament. </rant>

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 10:21 pm  Comments (1)