At the turn of the millennium, few would have expected the next decade to offer another Velvet Underground. Musical revolutions can’t happen in every decade and, with the typical ‘rock band’ format inevitably being pursued relentlessly, no-one would have expected a new band, scene or singer to grab the musical world by the balls and create something to be enjoyed, studied and copied for decades to come. But the musical ‘noughties’ wasn’t thoroughly underwhelming because it didn’t offer The Beatles, Pixies or Sonic Youth, it was thoroughly underwhelming because, for the most part, it lacked any real signs of innovation, creativity or ideas.
‘Generation Envy’ is something to be avoided because, of course, someone born in 1990 finds it very easy to say that everything sucks now and everything was classic, vital and new in the 60s, 70s and 80s. When you exist in the decade you realise the flaws of it: you know that, to get to listen to the era defining bands, you need to trudge through the muck in order to find it and you need to wait around, in every decade, for the moment to come when someone picks up an instrument and shocks you.
You can try and tell the 80s kid that the his decade was awesome because it had Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Smiths and the last few moments of Ian Curtis. They will tell you about the long, arduous task of sitting around and waiting for those artists, albums and moments to arrive. Bands that shake up the musical decade to that extent are rare at any time: for every Johnny Marr, at all times, there are 1000 people with the same hair, the same guitar, smoking the same cigarettes. The only thing missing is the ability to write How Soon is Now? And being friends with Morrissey.
Moments of musical innovation – pivotal, fresh and memorable musical moments – come into existence because of numerous factors, different each time, conspiring to create something of undeniable importance and prominence. Skill, style, substance (and substances), personalities, the social and political climate, past and contemporary musical happenings, coincidence and luck: Bob Dylan’s legacy was created by these factors, and plenty more, aligning themselves into some indefinable, almost impossible formation. Music in the decade which is about to end wasn’t underwhelming because it wasn’t full of important, seminal records; it was underwhelming because it was almost completely desolate of them.
There were good times: the whole garage rock thing was alright until it ate itself (and everyone started dating supermodels who weren’t Nico) and The Arcade Fire and Deerhunter demanded repeated listens (until the ipod friendly production shone through above any real mastery of song writing and Neon Bible was released). British Sea Power did a pretty good Pixies impression and Radiohead did a satisfactory Radiohead impression (of course there was Kid A, but if the first year of the new millennium offered nothing classic then the whole musical community should have taken a long walk on a short pier). There were notable exceptions to the ‘noughties’ being a terrible decade for music but there were too few, if any, exceptions to the ‘noughties’ being a decade without real musical innovation. The good moments will be, and probably should be, forgotten by the end of the next decade at the latest.
Revolutionary moments in the progression of music are completely reliant on an almost impossible cooperation of circumstances. It is unfair to ever expect such things; they come into fruition because they aren’t expected. It is unfair on yourself to sit and wait for a Robert Zimmerman, a Miles Davis or even a Damon Albarn – a decade has no obligation to provide such people who see music as something important, something to be thought about and something to really change something. Also, you have no right to complain about a problem unless you are willing to get the neck of your guitar dirty and create an answer, a remedy to it. Perhaps then, I should pick up a guitar and attempt to find something which has longevity, individuality and that unidentifiable quality which makes it shape the musical world for ‘X’ amount of years. Or, perhaps, it is preferable to sit in a dark room, listen to Tago Mago by Can and ask for letters of resignation from Brandon Flowers, Johnny Borrell and Luke Pritchard. Remember their names because, with any luck, your children will have no idea who they are.