The death of guitar music has been a hot topic in recent weeks. In this special report, UG looks at whether rock is really over and discovers that we could be on the cusp of a revolution.
Posted on Jan 13, 2012 03:20 pm
It's the kind of headline that could make you shudder, but at the dawn of 2012 there have already been more articles about the end of rock than any of us would like to see.
First, the Black KeysblamedNickelback for killing rock, with drummer Patrick Carney saying that people had become okay with the fact that "the biggest rock band in the world is s--t." Britpop legend Noel Gallagher said modern rock was rubbish, and then Lostprophets frontman Ian Watkins joined the chants to say that guitar music is over until his band releases a new album. He was never modest, mind.
It feels as if the pessimism has jumped from nowhere, but 2011 saw similar moaning. In July last year, Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate said rock would die unless artists embraced new ideas. Shortly before that, guitarist Jay Jay French from Twisted Sisterdescribed his view of rock's place in the charts:
"In the United States it's dead. There are almost no rock bands anymore on the charts if you look," he said. "Foo Fighters maybe once in a while but the fact is the heavy rock scene is completely dead from a commercial stance as the charts are all dance music."
Perhaps we're short on rock icons - God knows we need a new Slash or Jimi Hendrix - but is he right about rock losing out in the charts?
Let's take a look at the Billboard Top 10. At the time of writing on January 12th, 2012, there are three rock acts in the top 10 - Coldplay, the Black Keys and Florence + The Machine. Sure, they're fairly distant from what we might consider as traditional rock acts, but they're waving the flag.
Let's compare that to the chart five years ago on the same day. On January 12 2007, the top 10 charts just one rock album, and it's a remix compilation: "Love" by the Beatles.
How about 2006? Just Nickelback.
What is more revealing is how other genres like hip hop and country seem to dominate in the older charts, but don't take a spot in today's top 10. If anything, it suggests rock has better chart stickiness than its competing genres of the past. Notice how Jay-Z named his last album "Watch The Throne" in recognition that hip hop wouldn't wear its crown forever. A telling move.
But we can't deny that the scenery has changed. Maybe the comments above by Geoff Tate are right - keep moving and embrace new ideas, or rock really will die.
It's a tactic Korn recognize. Once a staple of nu-metal, the ageing rockers seemed past their sell-by date with declining sales over the past decade. They gambled on a dubstep collaboration with Skrillex to revive their record sales, and its success inspired a full album of electronic partnerships in "The Path To Totality." The result? 55,000 unit sales in its opening week, and a place in the coveted top 10.
At first glance, this looks marvellous. Sadly, a look at their sales history and it seems dubstep was not the saving grace they may have hoped for. Over the same period, their 2010 album "Remember Who You Are" sold 63,000. 2007's self-titled effort made 123,000 sales, and "See You On The Other Side" moved 221,000 units.
Of course, while reading Korn's sales figures, readers need to bear in mind the general decline in record sales over recent years. Some might argue that a regular rock release will have been closer to 30,000 sales if it followed the same trajectory. Further, the electronic influences may have introduced a wealth of new fans to their back catalogue, who might well secure Korn's future in the coming years.
Maybe rock doesn't need a dubstep injection to the heart to keep beating. Maybe it just needs some old-school inspiration to remind fans what great rock is all about.
That's precisely what will happen in 2012. Metal mega-gods Black Sabbath are back in town to record a new album despite guitarist Tony Iommi's newly diagnosed cancer, and even Van Halen have new releases and a world tour coming up. Classic rock is far from dead.
Hell, even post-hardcore legends Refused and At The Drive-Inreformed on the same day this week. Both bands represented a breakthrough for the alt-rock scene in the late 90s and early 2000s respectively, and are sure to spark the attention of younger rock fans who have suffered from an abundance of wildly kinetic live music in recent years.
The return of these acts are sure to inspire a new generation to shun synths for guitars and rock out like there's no tomorrow.
One musician who knows that feeling well is Dave Grohl. The Foo Fighters frontman knows more than a thing or two about independent music breaking the mainstream in two thanks to his time in Nirvana, and he says the quiet rock climate of today is not unlike it was back in 1991, right before Nirvana hit the big time.
"The late '80s was full of over-produced pop that kids had nothing to grab hold of," he told Billboard. "They had no way of connecting to this hair metal band singing about f--king strippers in a limousine on Sunset Boulevard. Who can relate to that?
"Then you had a bunch of formulaic pop songstress bulls--t, and music was boring. And then a bunch of bands with dirty kids got on MTV and rock'n'roll became huge again. And I feel like that's about to happen. Something's got to give. It can't be song contests on television for the rest of our lives."
If anything, rock is about to see its next big revolution. Better yet, we're all alive to watch it unfold before us. And while pop stars like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha seem to be making moves towards the rock world, their acknowledgment of the genre will only serve to boost the guitar loving audience and help secure its future.
Finally, it's worth noting that the concept of rock dying isn't a new one. We covered similar gloomy predictions back in 2003 and 2005 but the naysayers were proven wrong again and again.
Rock is here to stay - and for all anyone knows, it could soon prove to be better than ever.
By Tom Davenport