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Old 04-09-2006, 10:56 PM   #1
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Guitar rock in the 90s - a revolution that stopped dead in its tracks?

I just had one of those epiphanic realizations everyone has when they think they've thought of something no one else ever has in the history of mankind but they're sorely wrong about. It came to me when I was listening to Primal Scream's XTRMNTR over the past few days. The sound of the guitar on that record (Kevin Sheilds from MBV plays a lot) is incredible - all the conventions of guitar playing are nowhere to be seen. The guitar hardly even sounds like one. Which is what a lot of people on this forum say about Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop.

Then it occured to me that bands like Sonic Youth, U2, My Bloody Valentine, The Verve, Ok Computer - Radiohead and Primal Scream were at the forefront of a movement that was trying to push this new sound into the mainstream throughout the 90s. It was a sound that had its roots in post-punk (Joy Division, Echo and The Bunnymen) but expanded on the textures and styles of that movement over the years, and it was far more original, innovative, and unique than the prevailing grunge-rock scene that dominated the early 90s. These guys - Kevin Shields, Johnny Greenwood, Nick McCabe, Thurston Moore, The Edge - they were really changing the idea of what a guitar could sound like and the role it played in the context of a four piece rock band. It was incredible. It was the sound of bullet trains and neon cities and information overload. It was the future of rock. Atleast it seemed that way.

But somehow, that movement died. Fast forward to 2006 and whats going on in rock? Almost every band that is on the radar of the mainstream is either crap (Nickelback, etc) or a thorwback, either to 60s garage rock (White Stripes), or part of the post-punk revival (Interpol, Franz, Arctice Monkeys). Mind you, I'm not saying the bands in the latter category are bad - I like and listen to all of them a lot. But they're derivative. Not one of them is trying to innovate or push boundaries. The experimentation that we saw on albums like Sergeant Pepper, Revolver, and DSOTM, and on a smaller scale Achtung Baby and Loveless is notably absent from today's rock. Sure, some people are changing sounds from album to album, but they're just switching from one established genre to another, not attempting to break new ground, and this saddens me.

What do you guys feel? I'm sure a lot of people over here have had similar 'realizations'.
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Old 04-10-2006, 12:17 AM   #2
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Very interesting write up.

I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I think many believe that the mainstream experimentation, as you spoke of in the '90's, led to the "pop explosion" of the late 90s/early 00's (boy bands, pop stars, divas, crap rock, Creed, etc). I think most labels and bands lost faith in their general fanbase (at least that's how I think U2 reacted after Zooropa/Pop, even Radiohead seemed to react this way to an extent). I'm sure that the general music industry itself is to blame in a lot of ways. Labels want big singles and hits, experimental music generally doesn't deliver those kind of results (of course these kinds of albums do seem to result in huge returns over the years, such as Dark Side of the Moon and more recently OK Computer for example). They push bands to make predictable hooky singles for the general public., and the general public unfortunately likes familiar sounds and basic hooks (listen to a country radio station for 15 minutes and you'll get what I'm talking about).

While the mainstream has shyed away from this type of experimentation in guitar music, the "underground"/indie world/whatever you want to call it has not. Bands like Sigur Ros and Mogwai, for example, have provided some very interesting sounds and uses of the standard instruments we consider normal in "rock". You could probably argue that these bands respective genres have also become somewhat stale too.

I think that in and of itself is another reason for the decline in experimentation in the mainstream. A band or genre will come up with a new idea or sound, and then countless others will exploit it until it becomes boring. You'll see the move back to standard "gimmickless" rock and roll songwriting until that also becomes stale, and then back to experimentation we go.

I personally think there are numerous sounds and ideas that can still be found in guitar based rock. As tomtom already stated, many bands are incorporating different genres and sounds together for the first time. These new mixtures of music/sounds can help make things fresh, and possibly even lead us to new types of music in the future.
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Old 04-10-2006, 08:50 AM   #3
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Good to see you back, Trev!

Anyway, I thought a lot about the post-rock movement too, but such bands (apart from Sigur Ros, perhaps) seem to remain on the fringes. Not that it matters, perhaps, but the Verve had a #1 single in the UK in 'The Drugs Don't Work' and 'Kid A' was #1 in the USA; I highly doubt the same will happen for Mogwai or GYBE!. Not that it matters, really, but it's an interesting dichotomy nonethelesss.
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Old 04-10-2006, 05:57 PM   #4
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I think there is some truth here. Live was one of my favorite bands in the 90's and now they have gottten a little mellower.
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Old 04-10-2006, 06:34 PM   #5
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Originally posted by u2valleygirl
I think there is some truth here. Live was one of my favorite bands in the 90's and now they have gottten a little mellower.
V?

birds of pray was boring as hell, and "the river" (so far that's the only thing i've heard from the new one) isn't really rocking. but V was like 15 tracks of stage. okay, i'm exaggerating, but the beginning half of that album was way more hardcore than 90% of their previous material from albums combined. mental jewelry was a far more mellow album.
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Old 04-12-2006, 02:10 AM   #6
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Maybe, as the Barenaked Ladies stated, it's all been done....

There is surely only so much you can do with guitar, and what hasn't yet been done is perhaps sheer garbage which will never sound good....
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Old 04-12-2006, 05:16 PM   #7
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Originally posted by intedomine
Maybe, as the Barenaked Ladies stated, it's all been done....

There is surely only so much you can do with guitar, and what hasn't yet been done is perhaps sheer garbage which will never sound good....

I surely hope not, because rock and roll is as good as dead if that's true.


I still have hope, there are plenty of new sounds and ideas still being created. Whether or not these sounds or ideas will reach the mainstream or cause some kind of "revolution in music" is yet to be seen.
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Old 04-12-2006, 05:40 PM   #8
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i've come to the conclusion that i don't give a flying fuck if the sounds i like come to the mainstream. i don't really care if it's all been done before, just as long as there's still stuff out there that i think sounds good. with the amount of money i've spent on cds recently (which goes for rediscovering old stuff just as much as buying new things), and the fact that most of what i listen to is guitar-based rock, i don't see the death of anything as being imminent or already happened.
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Old 04-12-2006, 06:19 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by yertle-the-turtle
Good to see you back, Trev!

Anyway, I thought a lot about the post-rock movement too, but such bands (apart from Sigur Ros, perhaps) seem to remain on the fringes. Not that it matters, perhaps, but the Verve had a #1 single in the UK in 'The Drugs Don't Work' and 'Kid A' was #1 in the USA; I highly doubt the same will happen for Mogwai or GYBE!. Not that it matters, really, but it's an interesting dichotomy nonethelesss.
Thanks, Y-man.

I think you hit it on the head with your examples, bands have to still maintain some type of "accessability" in their music to push the parameters of experimentation on the general public. Rage Against the Machine quite possibly had the most success of any of these types of bands. While their guitar & instrumentation were radically different and new, they still provided hooks and sounds that were familiar. It's unlikely that your average music listener is ever going to have the same reaction to Jonsi's made up language being repeated over a nose flute.

IWB, I think you may be misinterpreting what I'm saying (or I'm misinterpreting what you're saying). You know as well as anyone that I obviously dont give much of a crap about what does or doesn't end up hitting it big on the radio, but I was just referring back to the orginal post about bands attempting to push new sounds on the mainstream in the '90's. My "rock is as good as dead" comment was referring to the idea that there are possibly no new pathways to tread. If that's true, then rock and roll will certainly go the way of jazz, big band, etc. etc. Yes, people still listen to those genres, but they're far from being important, popular, relevant, or having any new ideas what so ever. I obviously dont think this is true or that it will happen any time soon. If I did, you could count on me crying like a sissy for years.
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Old 04-12-2006, 06:46 PM   #10
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IWB, I think you may be misinterpreting what I'm saying (or I'm misinterpreting what you're saying)
no, it's totally me. i think i've had this thread all wrong from the beginning. 10000s of mindless threads, and i've lost the ability to follow an actual discussion - and since there are only 5 of you in this thread, it can't be your typical b&c thread.
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Old 04-12-2006, 10:11 PM   #11
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Great topic! I miss that experimental 90s sound too!
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Old 04-14-2006, 12:53 AM   #12
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I totally agree too. Bands like Franz Ferdinand, the White Stripes, or the Killers or whoever can be quite good, but there is no sense of adventure. There's no uncertainty! It's all a rehash of older bands who they admire. They may be good rehashes, but it is still a rehash.

Let's hope Radiohead can still manage to pull something wildly creative out of their hat this summer.
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Old 04-14-2006, 07:40 AM   #13
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I seriously think Radiohead is the only band that can push the pop guitar (and by pop I just mean non classical or avante-garde) forwards into previously undiscovered territory - they still have some hold over the mass population, although it has been slipping with every release since Kid A. The problem is, very rarely does a single band or artist successfully give rise to a new movement or style - it takes a scene, usually based in a city (mostly London or New York), or a number of scenes in parallel in several places around the world (examples of such 'movements' would be psychedelia, punk, post-punk, grunge, noise rock, etc). The problem may be that todays music market is too fractured thanks to the internet for such a homogenous 'scene' to exist. On the other hand, maybe such a scene would actually be enhanced because of the connectivity that the internet provides. I dont know. But I think the last album that completely captured the world of rock by storm was OK Computer (and to a lesser extent Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), and that was 1997.

The other problem is, I dont know if Radiohead are even interested in having any mass impact anymore. By this I dont mean selling out stadiums, but harboring artistic ambitions of making a sort of culture bearing record like OK Computer or Joshua Tree. They seem to be quite happy at the moment to make music for themselves. I also fear that they have run out of creative steam, given their work of late, but I'm desperate to be proven wrong.
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Old 04-14-2006, 08:11 AM   #14
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okay, now we're talking about the masses again? my sleep-deprived brain will definitely take leave of this thread again.
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Old 04-14-2006, 10:44 AM   #15
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I sometimes wonder if the electric guitar has been pushed to the limit of what can be done with it. Were the 90's generally the ultimate limit of what can be done with a guitar? Maybe there is nowhere further to go with it in terms of inventive new sounds.

So what I really wonder is if some new musical instrument will come along which will revolutionize music. I mean, without the electric guitar, rock music would not have happened. It has pretty much been then key instrument of popular music for the past 5 or 6 decades. Hip-hop is a significant exception, but still. I wonder if a new musical instrument could come along which could take the music world by storm and define a new genre of music like the electric guitar did. Synthesizers can theoretically produce any sound under the sun, but in the end i think it is more difficult to use synths to produce the range of emotion which is possible with electric guitar. Synths lack the physical, tactile feedback of a guitar I think, which is key.

I think that would be so cool if some incredible new instrument could reinvigorate the inventiveness of pop music.

What do you think?
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