Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chairs Can Smile

Hello, Kind Reader.

Apparently I come by my music snobbery quite naturally.  Here's a school essay I wrote at the tender age of seventeen:

The late Seventies ushered in a new wave of music.  Technology had a dramatic impact on our lives and, culturally speaking, music wasn't exempt from this.  The synthesizer was developed and the music we listened to entered new phase.  These devices have sparked a heated debate between those who believe it represents an innovative new sound-scape and those who are dedicated to traditional musicianship.  It is the latter opinion I strongly support: synthesizers remove the human element from music and place programming skills over instrumental talent.

Synthesizers have allowed many "artists" who are completely devoid of musical talent to enter the field.  Today the qualifications seem to lean heavily towards the style and "look" of the group as opposed to musical aptitude.  To illustrate this, let's say a fictional group (usually endowed with an infantile, pop-influenced moniker such as Chairs Can Smile, or whatever inane catch phrase comes to mind) is getting ready to show up at their local recording studio to perfect their latest opus.  They're completely up-to-date on current fashion trends and possess the ability to craft catchy, disco-influenced, formulaic music.  

These embryonic "songs" are heavily dependent on repetitive, "danceable" rhythms, melodic vocal crooning and lyrical fluff.  At the studio, they meet "Eugene", a sound engineer who has developed the band's core material after hours of programming.  His computer is connected to various synthesizers, each one representing a different canned instrument.  

Upon typing a simple "RUN" command, the synthesizers leap into a senseless mish-mash of overlapping racket.  The band's lyricist (who isn't technically a member of the band) soon appears with the album's pesky "words" in tow, a necessary evil that probably kept him busy for an entire evening.  

By now the synthesizers have cooled off and the album's musical tracks have been recorded.  The dulcet voices of our musical heroes are quickly filtered through an equalizer ("Read auto-tuner for any reader under the age of thirty," - Your Humble Narrator), twisting and contorting their harmonic warbling into the realm of annoying perfection.  Lo and behold, with a dash of vocal layering, the latest album from Chairs Can Smile is ready to hit the stands.            

Before the advent of the synthesizer, performers needed vocal and instrumental talent to succeed in the realm of music.  Music of this period is soulful, passionate and decidedly human.  Today's pop music has become the product of a robotic assembly line, mass produced without innovation, genuine skill and creativity.  

Today's groups tend to sell records with their stylish appearances and synthesized, computer-assisted sound.  It shows a severe disregard for the talent traditionally needed to succeed in the realm of music.  These interchangeable bands also tend to lean heavily on music videos to promote their careers.  Mercifully all of these videos, along with television and movie appearances, can be lip-synched with a mimed instrumental performance over a backing track.  

Since many radio stations also find this sort of product very attractive, the lead single from Cats Can Smile will soon see heavy rotation and will be instrumental (no pun intended) to both album sales as well as convincing indiscriminate music fans that what they're listening to isn't total garbage.  This will ensure that the sensitive subject of concert performances (which would surely reveal their complete absence of talent) can be overlooked.  As a result, yet another form of musical expression becomes stagnant.

In a recently released (!) song by The Pet Shop Boys (a group many consider to be a prime example of this new wave of techno-pop) the following lyrics appear: "I've got the brains./You've got the look./Let's make lots of money."  Straight from the horses mouth emerges a confession that the synthesis of sound has been reduced to an investment in illusion and trickery.  I firmly believe that technology has created many damaging effects on the music industry.  What we listen to now is less the product of creative energies and genuine skill and more the symptom of our techno-computer age.  

Perhaps the classic rock sound is unrefined but there is little doubt that it is considerably more...human.

Well, mercifully this trend has since reversed itself and the music industry now actively finds, fosters and bountifully rewards genuine musical and artistic talent.

Man, I'm so glad what I wrote about over twenty years ago didn't come to pass!  We really dodged a pop-culture bullet there, didn't we, folks?   

EPIC:  Not all pop/synth-assisted music in the Eighties was soulless shite.  Witness Nick Kershaw:

Or Soft Cell:

Or A-Ha:

Or Wang Chung ("Dance Hall Days" only, mind you):

Or The Cars:

Or the Alan Parsons Project:

Or Eddy Grant:

Or Thomas Dolby:

FAIL:  The video that inspired my teenage rage.  Now I just think it's ironic...

And here's the kind of vacant, passionless, fluff I was talking about at the time:

Billy ocean - get out of my dreams
Uploaded by kareem93. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

And who could forget this tremendous mound of poop which single-handledly killed Prince's career?

And here's the inspiration for the name "Chairs Can Smile":

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