Well, here we are. It’s 2011, and rock music sucks. You can raise up your hands and protest, you can wail and gnash your teeth, you can hold up a chart, but that won’t change a thing. Rock music is over the hill, it’s played out. It sucks. That’s not to say it’s dead; there’s some brain activity, it breathes, it still moves a little – but it’s not much of an existence. It has lain there, steadily weakening, for some twenty years now, waiting for the next big thing to appear out of nowhere and shine brightly and briefly before being swallowed, regurgitated and discarded. No dice. Yeah, rock has changed in these last two decades, but it hasn’t moved forward; like nearly every other creative field nowadays, it has merely ‘survived’ by feeding on itself. The two main developments in popular rock music to occur in the last decade – the aborted retro-rock ‘revival’ and the return of electro-rock or dance-rock or whatever you want to call it – achieved their limited success entirely through repeating what had already been done decades before, just updated with better recording technology and lyrics about how nowadays we’re all, like, cynical and jaded, or whatever. You know, cause of the internet and stuff. Rock music has stopped rocking. It has retired. It has given up on changing the culture, and is content merely to shuffle around the house, maybe catch a nap, and wait for the kids to call. Rock needs to make like Lazarus or get out of the way.

Why? Why has Rock grown so anemic, so pathetic? What has sapped its once fearsome reserve of reckless energy, and rendered it helpless against the brain-dead upstarts that are now raiding its closet and urinating on its furniture? It became too powerful. It grabbed such a firm hold of the popular culture, saturating it with its musical tropes and mythology to the extent that few musical genres remained untouched by its influence. Everybody started to rock, or thought that they did, and rock music, with its electric guitars, its backbeat and its volume, was slowly sucked dry as those who couldn’t beat it joined it. Jazz turned up the volume, lost the swing and distorted its guitars. Douches started wearing Hendrix shirts they bought on holiday in Vietnam. Scorsese claimed the Rolling Stones as his personal property (he can keep them). You might argue then that it’s stupid to say rock is dying; that as long as its pop cultural heirs go forth and multiply then the world will never be without torn jeans, tinnitus and the perpetual rape of ‘Smoke on the Water’. Or you could say that it isn’t dead, it’s just changed shape, and to a certain extent that’s true. But there is something that all rock has in common, something which will not be passed on to those who follow, no matter how much they may dress up in the dead man’s clothes. It’s too hard to describe here, but you know the feeling, even if you’re not a big rock fan. It’s when you crank the speakers just a little more than you should, and you just have to stop thinking for a second, smile, and nod your head. It makes you want to wind down the car windows, and emit strange onomatopoeic sounds, and pout your lips ever so slightly. It’s accepting that his music rocks. This is not to rubbish the other genres of music. Life’s a beautiful rainbow, or a rich tapestry, or whatever. But every genre has its own rush, and if rock wants to keep selling it needs to change the formula, not just the packaging.

So what are the rockers doing about it? Not much. Rock music today is about specialisation, not revolution. It is content to branch endlessly into ever smaller subdivisions, refining and tweaking without ever changing the rules of the game. Look at some of those big indie names of the early to mid 2000s: The Strokes, Kings Of Leon, The Vines (who?). The Strokes made two good albums with great potential, a third with none and then waited five years to join the ‘I Just Discovered The ‘80s’ club. Kings of Leon have turned into a fuzzed out amalgam of all of U2’s music circa The Joshua Tree, except less annoying and not desperately obsessed with being American. No one cares about The Vines. That’s not to say necessarily that these artists haven’t been making good rock music, and that there isn’t a whole wealth of good rock music being made. The problem is that rock artists are thinking small and looking back. They are thinking small because everything is about refinement, about getting a certain segment of rock music and splitting it even further. Look at modern metal, where everything is post-something-core or something-o, or neo-post-prog-thingumy. Rock bands are looking back because it is easy. Need a new sound for the next album? Just add some dated synth sounds, some brittle drum machines and BAM! Retro-eighties! Now try stripping the arrangements back, cranking the guitars, and ripping into those blues licks you got from that ‘learn to play guitar’ book your mum bought you when you were fourteen. Nice work, you just invented classic rock!

Perhaps that’s a bit mean. There has been and always will be boring and uninspired music, in every genre, and there will always be people who are somehow interested and inspired by it. Rock sucks in 2011 not because these big name bands are bad, but because they aren’t good enough. Yeah we got a few catchy melodies out of them, and they might be good for some Twitter-fueled feuding, but ever since Nirvana gifted us with three reasonable albums and a thousand copycats no rock artist has arrived to grab the culture by the throat, give it a good shake and say ‘this is how we do things now’. Really, rock sucks in 2011 for the same reason that jazz sucks and that classical sucks and that pop sucks more than usual. We have forsaken originality and invention in favour of the obsessive nostalgia that has gripped pop culture as this generation comes of age with the realisation that it has nothing to say. We are too busy being entertained. Why create when you could be downloading all three seasons of Arrested Development, or playing Bejeweled, or tweeting about how you’re playing Bejeweled while downloading all three seasons of Arrested Development? There’s no ambition, no desire to change things for the mere reason that we are young and we want to. Rock sucks in 2011 because no one really cares that it does, and without some serious shock therapy it will die, just as classical and jazz have before it. Hip hop had best be wary.

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