Thursday, September 7, 2023

Good Citations (a syndrome identified)



I believe this singles review of Chapterhouse, from September 8th 1990, is when I more or less formulate the idea of "record collection rock". There had been earlier intimations I should imagine, when pondering Creation Records and Primal Scream, or when confronted with a Lenny Kravitz single in the heap each time it was my turn to do the Singles Page. But here I'm identifying it as a syndrome and an affliction that's a hallmark of the age. Records that are just "good bits" from an individual's vinyl archive. (Typo alert - "funny wah wah riffs" should be "funky wah wah riffs", although I quite like the idea of "funny wah wah riffs" now I think about it).

Then right below it I take issue with another kind of bittiness - sampling when it's just a patchwork as opposed to an uncanny entity.  The postmodern emptiness of good bits that don't add up to more-than-the-sum, let alone something new-under-the-sun. 

Norman Cook would go on to build a career on teetering to one side or other of this divide between collage-as-bits-and-pieces versus collage-as-new-thing-in-itself.


Stylo said...

How much of record collection rock is attributable to critics? On an economic level, one way for bands to obtain critics' favour is to cite acceptable influences, even though logically, a band mentioning their fondness for the Velvet Underground should have no impact on the assessment of their music. Along with this, critics saying they recognise allusions to other artists has always been a standard way of boosting the word count. Why shouldn't a band make the obvious step and directly demonstrate the vinyl they possess in their music? I guess I'm arguing that record collection rock is a phenomenon of the ecosystem, not a specific genus.


Yes there was a point when reviewing started to enumerate the obvious influences, but it's a bit chicken-and-egg - did they do that because it was becoming so blatantly integral to the music and the enjoyment / processing of it, that it was inevitable?

For sure, the breaking-it-down-constituents type review can be just lazy - an old zine friend of mine Chris Scott said something like "rather than saying that Jesus and Mary Chain sound like Velvet Underground, it's more interesting and relevant to talk about the ways in which they are unalike Velvet Underground.

When I went through the postpunk music press for Rip It Up, I did notice that this kind of influence-spotting type writing didn't exist then - you would get the odd reference to PiL bein fans of Can or whatever. But journos didn't do it in reviews, and in interviews, bands didn't talk about their influences much either.

So I think it was a simultaneous process in the music-making and the reviewing that started to take hold in the post-postpunk era (mid-80s) and really became entrenched by the early '90s.

Stylo said...

What's the most record-collection-rock band? The obvious answer is Primal Scream, but with thought, I'd suggest Nirvana. How impeccably was their Unplugged in New York curated? This is not meant as a criticism; I'll happily say Nirvana's back catalogue contains no duffers.But one of the terrible legacies of Nirvana has been the legion of terrible bands who think a nod to Kurt excuses them for their musical atrocity exhibitions.

Ed said...

100% agree on Nirvana. Cobain is a great example of fan-turned-performer, who was invariably articulate and perceptive about the music he loved.

His Rebellious Jukebox for MM in August 1992 is fantastic: his enthusiasm leaps off the page.

His list of his top 50 albums, written for his own benefit, is a great, if incomplete - no Sabbath, no Meat Puppets - snapshot of his taste.

His liner notes for the CD of the first Raincoats album are terrific.

And as you say, that Unplugged show is an act of curation as much as anything.

Even his final note referenced another rock star.

I wonder how different this is for fans and performers in the YouTube / streaming era. Cobain had to track down, or stumble across, that scratchy copy of The Raincoats. Now all you need to know is what to search for.

Is record collection rock even possible any more, if everyone has the same record collection?

Phil Knight said...

The answer to "most record collection band" is obviously Spacemen 3, who were at it even before Primal Scream. Their entire recorded output was an extended exercise in hagiography.

I think the Spacemen were quietly the most influential band of their era, for both good and ill. Immersion in the past, physical stasis while performing, monotone walls of distortion, weak drowned-out vocals, and love-as-a drug themes were all initially constellated by them.


Except the Jesus and Mary Chain were doing all that at the same time, or slightly earlier - and quite independently of Spacemen 3. I should imagine they were heading down the same path, unawares of each other, initially.

Which goes to show how even groups that seem to invent or pioneer something, they are actually products of an emerging Zeitgeist - they are just the first to get there, to anticipate the common desire, the nascent structure of feeling.

(there are plenty of groups who are "first" to do something - except there's no second or third group)

Ed said...

Yes I think that’s right. As you say, the Spacemen were completely unabashed about their debts to the greats of the past - “Ode to Street Hassle”, indeed! But that said, they did also manage to mould their influences into new shapes. I don’t think there was anything in the catalogue quite like Suicide (the song) or Big City until the Spacemen recorded them.

My judgment may be not entirely reliable, though, because they were an important band for me, and I heard and loved them long before I discovered Neu or Suicide (the band).

To be fair to the poor old Primals, too, there is no clear precedent for Screamadelica. The influences may be pretty easily identifiable, but no-one had ever put them together in that way before.


Cobain was a fan of stuff obviously, had good and interesting taste - but I think there's an expressive urgency cutting through Nirvana's music, it's about stuff, what's going on in the world, his demons, etc

True "record collection rock" has a kind of hollowness to it - it really just an expression of music fandom and refined taste.

Phil Knight said...

I remember the first band I saw J&MC being compared to was Einsturzende Neubauten, as they were initially seen as something disturbingly, shockingly new. I think it was only with Darklands that everyone realised that they were basically harmless re-enactors.

Thinking about it, I would term the likes of Spacemen 3 and J&MC as "lineage rock" rather than "record collection rock", because they aren't just fans emulating and recapitulating their heroes, they are also attempting to perpetuate a particular musical lineage. They want to pass the experience of smack addiction and distorted avant-rock on to their grandchildren.

In this sense, they are a bit like the owners of classic Triumph or Harley-Davidson motorbikes who still support the company because they want to keep the brand, and all it stands for, going in perpetuity.


Lineage rock is good

It's also a bit like the monks of Lindisfarne, preserving scriptural knowledge through the Dark Ages of Plastic Pop, painstakingly copying the illuminated manuscripts laid down by the Apostles Reed & Cale, Iggy & Ashetons, etc

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