Saturday, August 30, 2008

Musical Taste: It's a Matter of Opinion


I originally cross-posted this yesterday at It's a Matter of Opinion in response to a post by Patrick, one of the site hosts there, who did a great tongue-in-cheek review of the new but not yet released AC/DC album which drew so many harsh comments from the AC/DC faithful that you would think he had just re-crucified Jesus. I originally intended just to make a comment, but it took on a life of its own and morphed into this.

Music, like any art-form, is subject to both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Qualitatively, it comes down to whether you like something, or you don’t; a visceral reaction. It’s that simple. I cringe any time somebody mentions or refers to this or that band or musician as the “best”. When somebody asks me who I think is the best, I always phrase my answer in the form of who is my “favorite,” and I can explain to that person why that is so.

Quantitatively, one can analyse the complexity of the music or the intricacy of arrangements, riffs, solos, phrasing, etc. But that is only half the picture. For example, based on those criteria, it could be argued that Joe Satriani and Ingwe Malmsteen are “better” guitarists than Angus Young. Does that mean that somebody likes the music more or that the music is “better”? No. Technically proficient though they may be, much of their music feels sterile and flat and does nothing - for me, personally. Much of it seems technical and complex for its own sake - the “wow, that’s amazing” factor - but lacks “soul” and does not move me. For me, one well timed and thought-out note from Carlos Santana’s - or Angus Young’s - guitar or Miles Davis’ horn says much more than a million notes from either of those two examples. I can appreciate the talent, skill, and dexterity, but that’s about it. Of course, there are musicians who combine both great technical proficiency and soul - and write great songs. Those are the ones I like best (errr…are my favorites ).

Bottom line: We all look for different things in music, and that determines what we like.

Now, the crap my kids are into - rap (the last 3 letters, you’ll notice, in the word “crap”), hip-hop, and this caterwauling that passes for R&B these days - I don’t know. I personally think this new generation has been brainwashed and manipulated with marketing ploys based on visual imagery and has little to do with music. Blame that on MTV and the video culture. Sure, image has always been a part of pop music, but in my day, one’s exposure to image was pretty much limited to photos on album covers (for those too young to know what albums were, they’re those things we used to clean our pot on…when pot had seeds) or actually seeing bands at concerts. These days the music industry caters and panders to the lowest common denominator, being more concerned about image than music. Hence, white, middle-class, suburban, DJ Jazzy Trevor white boys walk around the mall with their pants hanging down below their butt cracks, emulating American prison culture where that look originated; and the girls walk around looking like little tramps. Most rap “music” is sampled and computer generated, looping stolen riffs from everybody from Queen to Van Halen; of course the kids have no idea (nor do they care) when I point these things out to them. It’s cheap to produce for talentless performers and easy to market to a tasteless audience. It’s all part of the “Karaoke Generation”, more concerned with 15 minutes of fame and making a quick dollar than actually making music or aspiring to raise their art-form and abilities to a higher level. But, hey, the kids like it, and I can’t tell them they don’t.

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