Sunday, April 24, 2011

Insights from a Record Collection

We are very much the product of our times. Or so my record collection told me after I exhaustively cataloged it. Coming of age in the late-sixties and seventies as I did, it is not very surprising that my largest collections are from the likes of the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

What is surprising is that despite my continued interest in pop music, I have but one artist who released a debut after 1990 whose collection numbers in double figures—PJ Harvey.

In the twenty-one years since the beginning of that decade, history would suggest that I would find at least a couple of bands whose career I would follow into a double-digit CD collection. Yet it hasn’t happened.

Why? Do bands have shorter careers now? Less-frenetic recording schedules? Am I too old? This question gnaws at me because I am as enthusiastic about the New Pornographers or TV On the Radio as I am about Led Zeppelin and the Temptations.

First off, it’s an ADD world. Both fans and musicians become bored more quickly than was the case in my youth. Another reason is that record companies are not as likely to shepherd an artist through a sales or creative slump as they once were. Bands must arrive at a label fully-formed and produce immediately, which means that for bands not named U2 or REM, they must do their growing and experimenting (ahem) off-the-record, which also means fewer releases.

Number two, taking years between releases is the norm, not the exception, these days. This is especially true of established artists. To put things in perspective, consider that the Beatles dropped thirteen LPs in a little over six years. Kind of puts the three-albums-a-decade megastar aesthetic into perspective, doesn’t it?

Finally, I am old. After forty-some years of listening to pop music, it gets harder to find something that doesn’t sound derivative. Just as one generation heard diluted impressions of Elvis or Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley in everything that followed, I am likely to hear echoes of the Stooges or Nick Drake or the Velvet Underground in much of what has come since.

But harder doesn’t mean impossible.

There are fresh recombinations of elements that make for new and exciting music, and unique and original visions. And the inspired refining of existing formulas is happening every day. You’re just not likely to hear them on the radio (which for all intent and purposes is dead as an outlet for rock music).

Finally, I/we have changed. Fifty-somethings aren’t very likely to get together and talk about the new Strokes album, are they? Which sadly eliminates the biggest source of the music we enjoyed in our youth—our friends and word of mouth.

Whatever the reason, these are the post-1990 bands and artists I have collected the most releases from:

PJ Harvey

Pearl Jam

The New Pornographers

Guided By Voices
Nine Inch Nails*
TV On the Radio

Foo Fighters
Mercury Rev
St. Etienne
Lisa Stansfield
The 3Ds
The Verve

Built To Spill
Cat Power
The Chainsaw Kittens
Massive Attack
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
You Am I

* released debut album/EP in 1989

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