Top Ten Reasons Why Britain’s Music Critics Needed the Strokes
lmost from the moment they appeared, the Strokes were ordained as the saviors of rock. It was their mission, their duty to sweep away all those manufactured pop goons, bling-obsessed rappers, and soulless dance producers. They would then replace them with legions of kick-ass rock & roll bands…or something. Critics like grand narratives, stories to make sense of things, and for the last five years they’ve been telling ones about the Strokes. Stories about how they kicked off the garage-punk revival, the nü-rock revolution, new New York, and, yes, saved rock & roll and made the world safe for the Libertines, punk-funk, electroclash, and god knows what else. Let us then turn back the clock for a moment and consider why Britain’s rock critic fraternity were so keen on anointing a bunch of trust-fund kids playing lo-fi new wave as the messiahs of rock.
10. Gorillaz – “Tomorrow Comes Today”
Five years is a long time in pop, and the first appearances of Damon Albarn’s cartoon hip-hop crew in the winter of 2000 made the high summer of Britpop seem like something from ancient history. This dark, dubby sulk of a tune gave notice that the genre’s most gifted had abandoned the promise of boys and guitars and were heading somewhere almost frighteningly modern. It was all well and good, but not the kind of thing suited to the tour, interview, and glossy spreads in Sunday supplements that mark the circus of British music media.
09. Papa Roach – “Last Resort”
The last issue of Melody Maker had Fred Durst wearing a Santa hat in front of a cheap plastic Christmas tree on the cover. On the final page, Papa Roach were promised as the next issue’s cover stars, with the proclamation they were to be the biggest band of 2001. That a publication chronicling the British music scene on a weekly basis since 1926 could fizzle out while immersed in the indefensibly oafish belligerence of nü-metal should have made the top brass at IPC feel ashamed. Indeed as EMAP’s hard rock orientated Kerrang! soared, it can’t be too much of a push to suggest that the axe may have been swinging perilously close to IPC’s other weekly music publication.
08. Naomi Klein - No Logo / The collected works of Godspeed You Black Emperor!
In the late ‘90s we really didn’t have that much to complain about. With Clinton still on top of Capitol Hill and a Labour party of sorts lording over the UK, the left’s focus turned to the systematic abuses perpetuated by the world’s major corporations. “Globalization” was the word of the day and we all knew it was A Very Bad Thing. There was also a bunch of hip, young people making hip, young people’s music and writing hip, young people’s pop-economics books on hand to make it into something big, important, and epoch-defining. Unfortunately, pop music is dependent on big bad corporations and quite fond of tunes. The lack of photogenic frontmen and hair product tie-in opportunities afforded by the post-rock hordes must have made them a rather hard sell for your average commissioning editor.
07. Toploader – “Achilles Heel”
Now a byword for the post-Britpop drought in British guitar music, it’s strange to think that this lot were once seen, albeit begrudgingly, as genuine contenders. Though overshadowed by the clusterfuck of wrongness that is “Dancing in the Moonlight,” this lumpen dirge was their first top 10 entry. From Joe Washbourne’s sub-Michael Bolton emoting to the aimlessly fussy production, it’s a morass of cliché and AOR muck. There is nothing here to believe in, nothing to aspire to. It makes the very idea of making music seem like a bad thing.
06. Guided By Voices – “Teenage FBI”
The Strokes often spoke in interviews of their love of Robert Pollard’s muddily recorded classic rock moves; the press, as is their wont, ignored them and went down the “obvious Velvet Underground influence” route. The thing? Pollard laid down a gauntlet with this song. So perfect, so charming in its lopsided tunefulness it should have been a proper hit. Unfortunately they looked like a bunch of scaffolders with instruments. It would take leather jackets, strange surnames, and decent bone structure to take this band’s big idea into the lower reaches of the UK top 20.
05. Shanks and Bigfoot – “Sweet Like Chocolate”
While guitars were being represented by the likes of Toploader, synths were getting on very well. The late ‘90s / early ‘00s saw an explosion of dance hits. Some were gash but others, like this slither of two-step, were simply brilliant, beautiful pop. The problem, of course, was that it was kinda hard to pad out a magazine with features on ATB—especially as the super-clubs began their peak and comedown. As the dance press wavered, some saw the opportunity afforded by traditional rock line-ups. These people would become the bleeding glowsticks, and it is their world we are living in.
04. Travis – “Baby One More Time”
With their mega-selling The Man Who…, Travis accidentally became Britain’s biggest selling rock band. It was their cover of Britney Spears’ omnipresent anthem that most clearly illustrated their complete cultural irrelevance. Sucking the life, color, and dynamics out of the song, they reduced it to the kind of plodding pabulum that saw their tepid craft briefly become the aural flock wallpaper of British life. The most hideous thing about it was the toe-clenching “let’s reclaim this song for real music” vibe.
03. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “American Girl”
It took the ringing intro of Tom Petty’s 1977 hit and the drums from “You Can’t Hurry Love” to dispel the specter of hype and truly place the Strokes in the British consciousness. Petty seems a role model for how British music writers engage with American rock, generally preferring the cool jangle rather than the macho stuff. While the Strokes fit neatly with this post-Byrds lineage, it’s worth noting that Petty and the Heartbreakers have never managed to crack the top 20. Makes you think.
02. Manic Street Preachers – “So Why, So Sad” / “Found That Soul”
Unlike the aforementioned Toploader and Travis, the Manics had once been something to believe in. And, as Oasis stumbled and Radiohead floated ever further into the ether, they were the last men standing. Hyped up on hubris, they decided to trail their Know Your Enemy album by playing a gig in Cuba and releasing two singles on the same day. Unfortunately, there was less than one decent tune between the two songs, and their audience with Castro made them look a bit daft. The two singles made hit-and-run appearances in the lower reaches of the top 10, while the album was kept from the top by a woman most famous for being dead. Overweight and out of date, the Manics finally slumped into obsolescence.
01. The Strokes – “Hard to Explain”
The band came so steeped in rock lore that their mythology—with a little help from some desperate scribes—wrote itself. The song offered a collection of sweet, sweet nothings to believe in. The way Julian drawled “raised in Carolina” made all the column inches superfluous: they weren’t here to save the universe. With “Digital Love,” “Since I Left You,” “Ms. Jackson,” “Party Hard,” “Clint Eastwood,” “21 Seconds,” “Burn Baby Burn,” “Ante Up,” and numerous others in the air, they were just another band capable of producing great singles in a year full of them. They may be indirectly responsible for the careers of Hoggboy and the Arctic Monkeys and they may also have hastened the love-in between corporate giants and “indie” bands, but in the end they were just a band with some good songs and a good image. If you happen to be 17 when these things combine, it’s still a pretty fearsome combination.
By: Paul Scott
Published on: 2006-12-15