Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Music Snobbery Debate

The "Nickelback vs. Nickelback" mp3 that was the subject of yesterday's post seems to have generated a lot of controversy on the blogosphere (not from my posting, of course, since only four people read this site besides those listed on the sidebar). The original posting on (which I linked to because it allowed the quickest access to the mp3 itself) actually went up in April, but the controversy started after Ryan of Dead Parrot Society posted his commentary over the weekend. This generated a strong response from Chris of Signifying Nothing, who took Ryan to task for being pretentious. Other bloggers chimed in from various sides, and it got to be a pretty deep discussion of art vs. commerce. I won't even attempt to comment on every issue of this debate right now; I just wanted to post some of the links in case you're interested.

However, one thing I read did prompt me to speak up: Will of Crescat Sententia noted that "(t)he mix sounds (to my ear, and apparently others) quite good, and better than either song individually. This is supposed to prove that Nickelback sucks, and that their music is "all the same". Of course what it actually proves is that two particular Nickelback songs have some interesting harmonies, and don't sound dissonant or unpleasant when they overlap."

Yeah, but there's more to it than that. I listened to this thing over and over again through my trained musician's ears (since they're the only ears I have...and by this I'm simply stating my background and not implying that my being a trained musician makes my opinion any more vaild than someone else's), and it's more than just harmonies that overlap really is the same freaking song. If it were only the chord progressions that were the same, it might be a different story; there are, after all, entire blues CD's on which all the tunes employ the standard blues progression (which, come to think of it, is why I have difficulty sitting through an entire blues concert...but I digress). The songs in the mp3 mix are alike in nearly every way: they build and relax tension at the same time, the vocals in each speaker provide nice--even beautifully contrapuntal at times--background vocals for the ones in the other; the little breaks after the chorus happen simultaneously; everything aligns so perfectly, it's just scary. It's like the two songs are onetime Siamese twins who became reattached (don't think too hard about that in the literal sense, OK?). I'm sorry, but to me, that just shows a severe lack of creativity on the band's part.

I'll let Ryan from Dead Parrots have the last words on this: "Formulaic is just fine if it's done well, and if it at least tries to be interesting. Part of the beauty is, even when you know what to expect at most every turn, there are little bits of the unexpected to enjoy, little flourishes.
But when you're an artist who doesn't even try to do something different than you did the last time around, that's lame...(a)nd one of the things I don't like is when a band puts out a "new" song that's so similar to their last single that you can play them at the same time and everything -- timing, tone, music, everything -- blends perfectly. I don't think it's pretentious to point that out."

Of course, considering the nature of the Machine, it's possible that the band's recording label actually told them to make the same song twice...

I'm betting there will be more on this subject, from me and others; I'll post the links to the better stuff as I run across it.

Blow out the candles: Happy birthday Zack! Hope you have a great one; the burrito's on me at some point. I haven't forgotten about that awesome surprise last Christmas either, so there'll be a cool "birthdaychristmas" (Christday? Birthmas?) present in your near future.


Steven said...

For a bit, I almost considered myself a jazz snob. I'd listen to other genres, mostly pop and rap, and think, "That just isn't music." I had the same feelings with rock too, but a little less. But after all of this...I'm feeling more secure about the music I'm into as opposed to the I'm listening to true music made by true artists. Not saying some mainstream stuff isn't that pure, but MOST isn't.

Also another way to look at Nickleback is as a victim itself of the machine. It's easy to imagine the band being pushed to come up with a new single, and with a time crunch, why not just regurgitate? I'm not saying thats the definite scenario, but just a different way to look at it.

G. Travis said...

*points at Steven* Yeah.. what he said.