“I don’t see a story unfolding with bands because it is gap year music. It seems like somebody has said, ‘I think I’ll do an album then my dad will give me a job in the accountancy firm’.” – James Dean Bradfield
I couldn’t agree more with this. I’ve argued it for a while. A lot of new bands in the UK have plenty of influences but only one really good album in them. They’re good enough to play but have no real story to tell. There was no struggle to forge their ideas or pathos and not enough depth or history to them. After all, you can’t write songs about public schools and safaris to Kenya. British guitar bands have never been more middle class and weakly post-modern.
Of course they’re highly literate and well-read after a nice education. Their parents got them for piano lessons when they were young but later they asked for a guitar or drum. With their nice childhoods, they knock out one album before they run out of ideas or have had enough fun and moving into ‘serious life’ (KMPG). Its a shame but you can see it in many bands. The second album highlights the limit of their development. The annual need for the NME to crown the next big band never helped them either.
I’m not saying there are no decent new British bands out there. Wild Beasts and The XX come to mind immediately. Its just there are few great ones that really matter, ones that last. There is always Radiohead naturally (though a friend of mine tells me Thom Yorke is a Class A snob). The great songwriter Dave Berman of the Silver Jews lamented that Radiohead only write about feelings, believing they have no real stories to tell. they remain a consilience of supreme musicianship but tend to write about abstraction rather than narratives.
Trustafarians like Frank (I like to call him Fraud) Turner and Laura Marling are different examples. At least they write catchy (Fraud) or beautifully, thoughtful (Laura) stories. I’ll also say a word for Kate Nash, God help me. She may sound deeply annoying but at least she does attempt a story no matter quirky/awkward/risible (you choose) they are. A female friend told me Kate Nash often articulates what young women think. So who am I to judge when she isn’t writing for me.
I suppose I’m asking how many new British guitar bands matter now. Musically and lyrically we seem to have lost our way. The list of American guitar bands right now is incredible from the brilliant Spoon, TV on the Radio, The Walkmen, Titus Andronicus, Girls, Ariel Pink, The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, The National, Fleet Foxes, Fu#ked Up to name a few off the top of my head. These are all bands that have had to work their way into public consciousness rather than the instant fame. They’ve had time to muse and write.
Possibly the return of Pulp this summer will inspire the story. The Libertines might find a second great album and Kate Nash writes an album based on Faust. More likely, The Libertines will become a tribute act of their former selves and fall apart, Kate will mellow and marry, releasing a lone album on being older before starting a semi-successful literary career and the NME won’t discover anything new but will tell us they have anyway.