Critique: Heard it All Before or Too Simplistic

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Lately, since the orange is in CD has been released, we’ve been getting reviews of the CD on different websites – GarageBand.com, etc. – and it has been a good experience.

Hearing the good and the bad is a positive thing. But, I’m always puzzled by the comments “Heard this before…” and “It’s too simple…”

Paul McCartney once said (quoting DaVinci I believe), “A good artist borrows. A great artist steals.” That is the essence of pop music.

I was out seeing Arthur Yoria the other night and the chords to the first verse of one of his songs were the same as the chords to “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the 80’s new wave song that launched MTV. When I mentioned it to him, he said, “That’s pop music.”

I often wonder what exactly people want when it comes to “new” music. Chords, voices, instruments, arrangements – for them to even work in popular music, they have to follow basic formulas. The first time I heard Jet, I thought it was a reunion of The Knack. The Killers sound TOTALLY like a new wave rock band from the 80’s with better production.

I heard chord changes like Cheap Trick and voices like Mike Patton (Faith No More). I hear guitars riffs like Zeppelin and grooves like Cream. It’s all been done before. That is how pop music works.

The only way to be unique is to be totally and utterly kitch-y or to rely on production. Nine Inch Nails did the latter expanding a sub-culture genre, but they are 1 in a million. Bands like the Dresden Dolls make odd combinations of things like Vaudeville and 80’s goth bands, but it is still just a combination. Hell, Paul McCartney did Vaudeville numerous times, so even that has some roots in pop music.

I don’t mind criticism of things like “I don’t like the singer” or “the song doesn’t really go anywhere” or constructive things that make sense either because they are legitimate or because the reviewer just doesn’t care for that style of music.

But, I’m confused by the idea that everything needs to sound new or like something else. Pop music is formula. It is repetitive. That is its very nature. All you can do is test out new combinations or try different things. Beyond that, we’re all the same.

As for simplicity, I sometimes which I could see a demographic of the people doing the reviews. When I was much younger, I could listen to a song and critique all day that the guitar player wasn’t a shredder or the bass player was boring.

As I’ve gotten older, the more any one instrument stands out in a pop song (unless it is specific to the song – Elton John’s piano, Eric Clapton’s guitar, etc), the less likely I am to actually like the song.

Whenever I hear critiques that the bass player (i.e. me) should play more to stand out, I think to myself, why? The point of a great bass player is to blend it and to support unless you are Geddy Lee in Rush.

There is a time and a place for the drummer to standout or the guitarist or the bassist or whoever. Personally, I prefer subtelty. I’d rather need to pay attention to hear the intricacies than be hit over the head with a sledgehammer.

So, I’m a little confused by reviews sometimes, particularly when they come from 20-year-old guitarists in alternative bands, but I was once in that place and I’m sure I sounded the same way. Frankly, I’m glad I’m over it.

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