“They don’t make ‘em like they used to”, a phrase that’s become intertwined with the tumultuous fabric of rock ‘n’ roll; a phrase bathed in elitism that does nothing but withhold a genre that’s always thrived on change.
Published Monday, 22 February 2021 08:29
Semantically the phrase makes sense. Apart from the odd nostalgia act – which we’ll get to later – 21st-century rock bands have largely shunned traditional conventions in favour of unapologetic self-expression.
But to bemoan change doesn’t only deny humanity’s inherent need to develop and experiment but also the entire history of rock music. The genre has always been defined by its surrounding zeitgeist and the way it reacts to that - which more often than not includes pissing off middle-aged white men.
However, as times have changed so too has the face of musical rebellion. Horribly overt and ultimately self-defeating acts of angst have been replaced by acts of pragmatism that seek to find and create Utopia in measured in sustainable ways.
Last century’s rock gods were shaped by an entirely different world with an entirely original set of struggles. Just about the whole of the second half of the 20th century was defined by seemingly ever-present political strife as well as the constant threat of instant nuclear annihilation but, as we’ve seen over the last year, the 21st century has come with a cluster-fuck of challenges.
As much as rock’s mission statement remains unchanged, the world around it is completely different. The last 20-odd years have seen globalisation come into its own, which has, in turn, made us increasingly and often overwhelmingly aware of the problems facing humanity.
Combine that with widely experienced personal trauma and you’ll find a generation of artists more inclined to introspection and a more thoughtful approach to engaging with the horrors of the modern world which means that, as beautiful as a soaring guitar solo is and as powerful as guttural primal screaming can be it’s no longer enough to shake society’s foundations.
This brings me to The Compulsions and their latest album Ferocious. The Compulsions are a New York-based super-group fronted by Rob Carlyle who has made a name of sourcing some of the finest rock ‘n’ roll talent money can buy with members from Guns N’ Roses and The New York Dolls as well as musicians who have worked with David Bowie, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters.
Naturally, when the album came across my desk towards the end of last year and I saw who was involved, the part of me that grew up on good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll and that bought into the genre’s nostalgic elitism jumped for joy. However, the more I listened to this celebration of an era long-gone the more I realised that it was bringing very little, if anything, to the table.
That’s not to say I think it’s a bad album. I could go on about how the cover of The Rolling Stones’ 'Dead Flowers' gives the song a manic bite or how the industrial strains of 'Band of Thieves' are as addictive as the substances that formed rock ‘n’ roll. I could riff about how the decades of experience in the band shine through because, purely as a collection of songs, Ferocious does little wrong.
The problem is that it appeals to a zeitgeist that disappeared long before I was born and rather than push the limits of what they know to be rock ‘n’ roll The Compulsions chose to give in to the desires of a fan-base so stuck in their ways they refuse to see the good in anything except the exhausted conventions of yesteryear.
From the tired hetero-normative sleaze of 'Ferocious' to the predictable 'Born On A Landfill', never mind the oh-so-tired rock-star life-cycle that makes up 'Dirtbag Blues', there’s nothing exciting or daring to the album which, it seems to me, relies on the ever-waning rock ‘n’ roll aura to give it any kind of edge.
The point is this: In a world that has changed a mind-boggling amount and with the vast amount of time-appropriate guitar-rock that already exists – a lot of which is much better – is there really a need to try and revive a sound that’s already had more than its fair share of the spotlight?
Rock has always been a genre that moves with the world around it which means that the music, the lyrics, and the very ideas that form its core will be forever changing. To cry out against that and bemoan a perceived lack of integrity and talent is to restrict and ultimately kill a genre that’s as important as it ever was and that will forever be fertile ground for experimentation and development.
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