Jan 19, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For millions of viewers, this Wednesday and Thursday night was a second Christmas. Their most-anticipated present, a new season of “American Idol”, rolled out.
You know the drill by now. A couple of weeks of showing additions, the standouts lauded and the amateurs exposed, followed by months of whittling down the remainders until the winner is revealed, just in time for the end of May sweeps – with literally thousands of product placements along the way.
It’s been a decade since ‘Idol’ hit American shores, Simon Cowell and all, and it’s lasted long enough to outlast Simon and ingrain itself as the place where casual fans turn for their music fix.
And I’m not the least bit interested.
Aside from proving a cash cow, what ‘Idol’ (and for that matter, ‘The Voice’, ‘X Factor’ and other spin-offs and rip-offs) does is turn music one-dimensional. Bands, rhythms, grooves, melodies and instruments are immaterial. Guys and gals with a mike get the glory. Nothing else counts.
The whole irony of the ‘Idol’ era is that it coincided with my rediscovery of music, sort of a second education where learning was found not in textbooks, but in something where, like with literature, the more you study, the more you pick up.
Above all, the primary lesson I got was that, when it came to the performers I cared about, no matter the genre, those that put the music first always won out. That meant avoiding most things mass-produced, and anything ‘Idol’, and searching for something deeper.
Maybe the epitome of his mindset is a band I just recently started listening to intently. Two guys from Akron, Ohio, named Dan Auerbach (singer, guitars) and Patrick Carney (drummer) that bill themselves as the Black Keys.
For a decade, the Keys have been busy bringing back real rock and roll. It’s not about volume. It’s about killer backbeats, instantly memorable guitar riffs, droll lyrics, attitude and, best of all, a real appreciation for music’s roots, especially the blues.
Ever since they hit big, the lazy thing to do is compare Dan and Patrick to Jack and Meg White, the erstwhile partnership that, as the White Stripes, performed similar rock feats in the early 2000s before Jack went on to other projects.
To fully appreciate the Keys, you need only listen to one song from Brothers, their 2010 masterpiece. It’s called “Sinister Kid”, three minutes and 45 seconds of pure perfection, from the opening bass to the thick beat and distorted (and demented) guitar. Turn that song on, get in your car, drive real slow, and it’s so bad that cops will pull you over, even if you have no criminal intent.
But hey, not all of you might want to rock. I get that. So if you need a fix of pop heaven, snatch either of the first two records by the indomitable London force known as Florence and the Machine.
Built around vocalist Florence Welch, the group takes the multilayered dramas built by the likes of Arcade Fire, mixes it with the natural drama in Florence’s powerful voice, and offers something that gets you closer to heaven. Yes, harps are involved, but just go with it. It’s not as corny as you think.
As with Adele, another British lady, Florence’s first record, Lungs, has great moments, but only hints at her full talent. That is unleashed on the follow-up, Ceremonials, which is an instant classic. Pick a song – “Only If For A Night”, “Shake It Out”, “Lover to Lover”, “Leave My Body” – and it will affect you, guaranteed.
These are (and this is going to sound like a K-Tel jingle) just two examples of the amazing music you can find if you search beyond TV singing contests.
To answer your next question, yes, “Glee” puts out a lot of music per episode, but it’s all covers and, worse yet, Auto-Tune. It’s troubling that young performers think that, talented or not, they have to correct their pitch to sound perfect for an audience. Technology can never be a substitute for pure human emotion and feeling.
The massive sales of Adele’s 21 in the past year prove, yet again, that listeners are not entirely stupid. They will embrace anyone who puts the music first, respects it and doesn’t see it as disposable product.
So you have a choice. Either subject yourself to five more months of ‘Idol’ nonsense, where success depends on shallow popularity and the ability to text, or seek something more out of music – like, say, actual musical ability. The difference, you’ll find out, is profound.