Back to the future
As rock enters its sixth decade, it seems that every pop star has become a musical time bandit, raiding past decades in search of treasure, bringing it back to the future and selling it at 10 times the original price. Kevin Courtney puts today’s bands in
OCK music – it’s so last century. No, really, it is. Take your pick from the crop of new bands and chances are they’re still in thrall to the sounds of the 20th century. After all, it’s the only reference point they have.
At the end of the last millennium, rock music seemed to have been hit by a collective Y2K bug and simply stopped going forward. OK, you had a few post-rock bands who remained so far outside the mainstream grid that they avoided getting zapped. But, by and large, the start of the new century saw an unseemly scramble to scavenge the remains of the old one in search of an easy hit.
Dance music producers, for example, have been scooping up bits of cheesy 1980s songs and shovelling them back onto the dancefloor to feed the hordes of trance zombies. At least rock musicians do it with more panache – we’ve moved on from Oasis’s clodhopping re-enactment of Beatlemania. Today’s popsters can really inhabit their chosen era, bringing their audience right back to CBGBs, the UFO club or Ronnie Scotts during their heyday.
In the past, bands looked forward to a brave new rock’n’roll world; futuristic sorts such as Bowie, Kraftwerk and Floyd envisaged a 21st-century pop scene peopled with guitar-strumming aliens, computer-wielding robots and vocorder-voiced lunatics.
Now that the future has arrived, we do have our fair share of the above types, but mostly everyone just wants to sound like a dead pop star from the past. We still don’t have the technology to bring these stars back to life, but we’ve got no shortage of young geniuses who can recreate their heroes’ sound with such accuracy, you hardly need listen to the originals anymore.
So throw out all your old Led Zep, Joy Division, Sinatra and Beach Boys albums and make way for the new crop of wannabe oldies. We can’t list every band who has borrowed from the past because, well, every band has. But here are some who go just that little bit further to recreate the sounds of their chosen decade. And a few of them . . . well, you just wonder if they’ve got a Tardis stashed away in the back of the rehearsal room.
The postwar years offer a wealth of ideas for those willing to delve that far back – and there are plenty of hepcats digging that era the most, daddy-o. “Pink Martini is like a romantic Hollywood musical of the 1940s or ’50s, but with a global perspective which is modern,” says pianist Thomas M Lauderdale, who formed the 11-strong lounge-swing-latin combo with singer China Forbes while both were studying at Harvard in 1994. “At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a
MR HUDSON & THE LIBRARY
Puppini Sisters Boogie woogie bugle girls keeping the Blitz spirit alive. Detroit Cobras B-movies, and pulp fiction provide raw material for Rachel Nagy and her retro rockers.
You cannot be in a band and not be influenced by the decade that saw the greatest concentration of all-time rock legends.
PETER BJORN & JOHN
With their third album, Writer’s Block, featuring the summer 2006 smash Young Folks, this Swedish trio left their hearts in Haight-Ashbury. “I suppose it was a lot of Madchester and shoegazing bands that really influenced us, but also a lot of old stuff like Beach Boys, The Byrds and Burt Bacharach,” says Peter Moren. “When I was 10 years old, I only listened to Sixties music, but then The Housemartins came along and I started listening to that.”
samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment you’re suddenly in a French music hall of the 1930s or in a palazzo in Napoli. It’s like an urban musical travelogue.” “I don’t set out to be different. It’s just that I don’t want to limit myself to any one style, any one sound,” insists Birminghamborn Ben Hudson, the literate leader of this verymulti-styled combo. Hudson’s influences run from hip-hop to reggae to Morrissey, but he has an overriding passion for jazz and swing, particularly the sounds of Cole Porter (yeah, I know, he’s pre-war) and Nat King Cole (he covers the latter’s The Street Where You Live, transposing the setting to the tower blocks of modern-day Britain). When your dad has jammed with Eddie Cochran and your mum has had a sing-song with the Everly Brothers, chances are you’re going to grow up with a few 1950s influences. After an apprenticeship in various indie bands (including Pulp), Sheffield lad Hawley decided to listen to those voices crooning in his head, and such albums as the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Coles Corner are filled with the ghosts of Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Some boys wanna be Bono. Others wanna be Bowie. The son of Loudon Wainwright III, however, always wanted to be Dorothy, but didn’t get to fulfil his dream until June 2006, when he recreated Judy Garland’s legendary 1961 concert in Carnegie Hall, complete with 40-piece orchestra. When The Beta Band broke up, two of its members, John McLean and Robin Jones, looked up old mate Gordon Anderson, who used to be in the Betas until mental problems forced him to retreat to his cottage in Fife, Scotland. Given the band’s heady blend of early Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and 13th Floor Elevators, you’d swear Anderson had been cloistered away as long as Syd Barrett, and missed out on everything that happened after 1968.
It’s the dead of night, the moon is full, and a howling can be heard on Clapham Common. Is it Christopher Lee turning into a werewolf? No, it’s Faris Rotter and his psycho-delic retro-rockers, hell-bent on reanimating the scary, Hammond organ soundtracks
to Hammer horror films.
With her debut album, Frank, the teenage Londoner was all smoky jazz. For her current biggie, Back to Black, Winehouse fastforwarded to the Motown soul of the mid-1960s, tossing some dancehall reggae and modern r’n’b into the mix.
These polka-dotted Brighton belles want to “turn back the clock to a time before The Beatles ruined everything”. For them, the true spirit of the Sixties lies with such girl groups as The Ronettes, The Crystals and The Shangri-Las, and (close your ears,
Liam Gallagher) the Fab Four aren’t fit to lick Phil Spector’s chelsea boots.
Espers A band from Philly who sound like Pentangle, Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band – incredible!
Probably the most fertile decade in pop, embracing prog, punk, glam, heavy metal, Krautrock, disco and, of course, Abba.
In the summer of ’71, everybody sang along to Mungo Jerry’s rambunctious anthem, In the Summertime. In the summer of 2006, everybody sang along to The Fratellis’ rambunctious anthem, Chelsea Dagger. Nothing changes.
THE HOLD STEADY
Five blue-collar, beer-drinking, pool-shooting salt-of-the-earth guys from Brooklyn, The Hold Steady are the torch-bearers of passionate, old-school rock’n’roll, and their current album, Boys and Girls in America, is the true successor to Springsteen’s Born to Run.
When Jack White from The White Stripes got together with Brendan Benson and two guys out of The Greenhornes, they sounded like Led Zep, Deep Purple and, er, Joe Jackson. White’s 1970s influence even extends to British TV comedy show The Goodies – the new White Stripes album is called Icky Thump.
Wolverhampton brought us Robert Plant and Noddy Holder – and this 31-year-old singer (although his debut album, Passing Stranger, is more Led Zep III than Slade in Flame). Matthews signed to Island, because “as a label it says everything to me about what I want to do with my music. Nick Drake, John Martyn, Bob Marley – there’s just a great mix of artists who’ve been on Island.” Seventies enough for ya?
“The sound is something more related to ’70s folk rock, but not in a gimmicky way,” says Tim Smith, singer and songwriter for the Denton, Texas band, whose current album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, has become a critics’ favourite. “I have a great affinity for those bands from the ’70s, the music just seems to move me more.”
Cold War Kids Delta blues belters. Pop Levi Check the Glam slam of Sugar Assault Me Now. Wolfmother The Aussie love-children of Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath.
From Franz Ferdinand to The Bravery, the decade has spawned some of today’s most pretentious – and interesting – bands.
At first we weren’t quite sure which decade the London-Swede band belonged to, but now we’ve got them sussed: In the Morning is INXS to the max, while Ameri- ca is U2 doing Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. And don’t you think legwarmers would suit Johnny Borrell perfectly?
They saw the whole of the moon, thanks to their live-wire leader, Fyfe Dangerfield, who channels the spirits of Mike Scott, Roddy Frame and Lloyd Cole to create the Big Music for today. Debut album, Through the Windowpane, is a masterclass in making uplifting, Eighties-style pop without once sounding like Howard Jones.
NEW YOUNG PONY CLUB
“I can give youwhat you want,” intones Tahita Bulmer, the firecracker frontwoman of this London indie-electro band, on fab new single, Ice Cream. If it’s Blue Monday mixed with Heart of Glass and oodles of attitude you want, then NYPC will deliver in spades. (See Gig of the Week, page 2.)
Franz Ferdinand Glasgow’s arty gang of four. Editors Well, someone had tomake the follow-up to Joy Division’s Closer. Au Revoir Simone Depeche Mode with pretty girls instead of pretty boys.
The past decade was hardly cold in its coffin when the graverobbers started tearing off parts of it and using them to create their own heavy monster sounds.
“We’ve always been a bit of a sucker for a bit of sweet melody, but trying to offset that with a blistering wall of death noise,” says former schoolteacher Nick Peill, whose band falls neatlybetween My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream.
Take two of the more irritating sounds of the 1990s – the ravey squall of The Prodge and the nu-metal grind of Korn and Limp Bizkit – mix ’em together and you have the hybrid howl of this Hertfordshire band. The fact that they sound like cats fighting at the gates of hell hasn’t stopped a million teenagers who feel “different” flocking to their gigs to meet a million other kids who also feel “different”.
When Nirvana broke big, major labels rushed to sign watered-down grunge bands such as Bush and Nickelback. Now, this Denver, Colorado crowd are carrying on the blandness with their radio-friendly unit shifter, How to Save a Life. No wonder Kurt Cobain topped himself.
They’ve been described as “The Cocteau Twins doing Coldplay” and a modern-day At the height of rave, Klaxons were in kinPrefab Sprout. The twin vocals of Rik dergarten getting high on fizzle sticks. Flynn and Claire Szembek call to mind the “When you’re growing up you also like to blue-eyed pop of Deacon Blue. Their dego out and party a lot, and the music that but album, This Is Hazelville, is produced we would hear going out would be techno by Trevor Horn. Let’s face it, Captain and electronica,” says James Righton. couldn’t get any more Eighties if they “And earlier stuff like the Prodigy. It kind wore legwarmers, rolled up the sleeves on of stood out from everything else. Y’know, their Miami Vice jackets and got Kenny Firestarter, where did that come out of? It Loggins in to do some guest vocals. sounded alien and otherworldly.”
Tapes ’N’ Tapes Pavement sang about a “very special band”. This is not them. Brand New Nickelback stole grunge – Brand New are stealing it back.
ON COVER: 1950s – Rufus Wainwright; 1960s – Amy Winehouse; 1970s – The Raconteurs; 1980s – Franz Ferdinand; 1990s – Klaxons