Saturday, December 9, 2006

Soft imperative

In popular music 1976-1984 was a period of contrast. On one side you had punk and new wave - aggressive music influenced by youth, strong emotions and rebellion. On the other side there was soft rock - a genre that more or less became the definition of everything music shouldn't be - and the complete opposite of cool. This kind of music was also certainly emotional, but on an entirely different level. These artists were typically contemplating lost love - soft men with acoustic guitars, often sporting a beard and beige velour. When the lady walks out on them, the guys rarely blame her. They understand her reasons - even though she breaks their hearts, even though they don't know how to go on. And when they're happy - when they sing about the real thing - they really do pour their hearts out.

The sound is... well, it's really just very soft. The drummer cuddles with the sharp drum and tickles the hi-hat, the bass player gently weaves a backdrop for a fuzz-free or acoustic rhythm guitar and mellow Fender Rhodes. It could be vaguely funky, jazzy - or it could be folk-inspired. It doesn't really rock, ever... The male vocals are usually high-pitched. Most songs feature some kind of solo - most often a guitar or sax solo, but every now and then there's a flute or a vibraphone.

In my humble opinion it's time for this music to be rediscovered. For all it's faults, there's a lot to admire in soft rock. There's an undeniable charming and disarming honesty to this music. The musicianship is often impeccable. And when you take a look at the guys who were performing the music, you realise that it was all about the music, certainly not about the visual...

As my previous post implies, the renaissance of classic soft rock is already in the making. On this site, I'll guide you through some of the highlights and low points of the genre. It will be subjective, it will be in poorly written English - other than that you'll just have to stay with me and see if anything of value ever pops up...


Mulberry Panda 96 said...

Did you see that article in Spin last summer about the soft rock revival? It talked about America's new album and how younger artists like Ben Kweller, James Iha, and Ryan Adams appear on it and how they truly like America's music. The article talked about "Yacht Rock" and had quotes from people like John Oates, who basically said, "Yeah, we know people like to mock [Hall & Oates], but we also know they secretly like our music because there's actual feeling behind it, not any kind of ironic detachment." Damn right!

There was also a post on last summer about which newer artists resemble the soft rockers of yore, but Swoon erased all of its old content recently, so now I can't find the post. But may I recommend the following Nashville-based pop musicians if you haven't heard of them already?

Josh Rouse (he actually lives in Spain now):

Curt Perkins:

The Bees:

All of these artists have an affection for soft rock, and it shows in their music. Plus there's the French band Phoenix, who've been called "an indie Hall & Oates," although their new album has a more Strokes-ish feel than the previous two:

Terje Fjelde said...

I didn't see that particular article in Spin, I'm not a subscriber :(

Thanks for your recommendations. I've enjoyed Phoenix' stuff (even though I must admit, I don't see the Hall & Oates connection), and I love "Subtitulo" by Rouse. Must check out Bees and Perkins, just visited the MySpace links, sounds really promising.

It's always good to be reminded of the present, I'm usually stuck somewhere in the past, pre-1982...

Mulberry Panda 96 said...

I don't see the Hall & Oates connection either except for an instrumental track called "Definitive Breaks" on 2000's "United" that sounds like it was inspired by "Maneater."

I didn't get to read all of the Spin article myself, seeing as how I was in a drugstore at the time.