Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Alabama Shakes: Postscript

It wasn't exactly a deluge, but what comments were left seem to agree that The Alabama Shakes just don't cut it.  Here's what Whattawino had to say:

I liked the first track and got mentally prepped for an experience that never manifested. The vocals are a big part of that disappointment for me. There is a strident quality that just bugs me. Sorry to say, the songs don't seem to go anywhere either. Too many "easy pickins" as to the influences attributed to the band and I disagree with all of them.

But maybe William Repsher nailed it.

I seriously think a lot of the hype has to do with writers who either have no precedents in their (relatively short, compared to ours) musical history/development, or writers who are just generally dishonest and feel the need to hype along to keep their jobs. Besides which, it spares them a few capsule reviews of pretending they like hiphop, so it must be a relief to rave about something up their alley in some sense.

Hype, for the most part, ruins most experiences for me. There is the rare occasion, like Michael Kiwanuka most recently, where something truly lives up to my expectations, or more precisely, what was said about it. I'm sure though, there are many who prefer the Shakes over Kiwanuka.

But is hype necessary? Would a simple, positive review do the trick? Was hype as prevalent "back in the day?" I'm feeling no, but that could be another example of how things always seemed better before.  Rodney Crowell found this written on a truckstop bathroom wall:

"Just because the past doesn't seem fucked up in the present, doesn't mean the present wasn't fucked up in the past."

That applies to everything, I guess.

I cherised my Circus and Creem magazines, and even with their rating systems--hearts, or lips to indicate "savory, but for special tastes"--I can't recall anything being forced down our throats.

William Repsher also pointed out how there is a lot of good music floating around these days. I don't disagree. But is it my romantic picture of the past that makes me feel that there was a lot more "great" music floating around then? Maybe this is why we need the hype today.


Jeff Matthews said...

If there seems to be more hype today, it's because of the Interweb - non-stop availability of newspaper columns, blogs, feeds fueling the echo chamber. I remember getting inundated with hype back in my DJ days - Steve Forbert, Blackjack, Fabulous Poodles etc - but it came from just a few sources.
A second question, though, is whether you can tell the difference between "hype" (feels artificial, inflated) and "buzz" (feels authentic, deserved). I think of The Black Keys as starting with well-deserved buzz who have recently crossed over into hype, although I must say their recent United Center show was fantastic and I am not disappointed to be seeing them again at Lolla.

Troy said...

Sal, gotta respectfully disagree on the statement that the old magazines never forced anything down our throats. I had a subscription to Circus magazine, probably from 75-82 or so. Sadly, I no longer have any of the old issues, but I do recall LOTS of coverage (likely very positive) of Frampton & the Bee Gee's Sgt. Pepper debacle, as well as late 70s/early 80s overexposure of less-than-inspired periods for Kiss, Aerosmith, etc. They may not have hyped up some band you never heard of (during that period, they were definitely more AOR/mainstream focused), but they didn't tell me how bad 'Draw the Line' sucked - - I had to find that out myself.

Don't get me wrong - - I loved the magazine and there was a lot of great stuff covered there. I always liked Lou O'Neill's column on the last page. Once, I even won a contest he had where the prize was a Wings 'Back to the Egg' promotional t-shirt, because I knew Paul McCartney's middle name. But in all honesty they did their part in creating hype for some real crap too.

That said, yes you are correct that there was better music floating around back then, and that Alabama Shakes are not all that & a bag of chips.

Anonymous said...

I think Jeff hit it on the head. There is just so much music related information out there now compared to the "old days". Between blogs, online sites, digital papers...there is just a flood of "news". The hype machine, which we are all a part of to varying degrees, is now part of the established digital media.

The other issue is the shear volume of music that is accessible. Back in the 70's I had limited funds to get my fix of new music. I played the hell out of those releases. You knew them inside and out, today it is much easier to move on to the next record if you are not immediately grabbed by what you are listening to. My inbox and ReviewShine account are flooded with new releases that I can't even get through, most of which are OK but rarely great.

Hype or Buzz or whatever is different from back then simply by virtue of how easy it is to build in 2012.

I'm not sure if that is good or bad.

William Repsher said...

The good thing about Creem in its prime was they'd poke fun at anyone, especially bands everyone accepted as great, and get away with it. I still recall their review of Springsteen's The River, particularly the song "Stolen Car": "So, let me guess ... this guy drives around with his little girly in stolen cars ... and he wants to get caught. Right?"

When I wrote about music for money, it was nearly impossible not to hype stuff that struck me as being a notch above ... simply because I spent so much time listening to bad new music! I recall doing this with John Southworth in the 90s, really waving the banner for him ... and look where it got us!

I listen to very little new indie music now for this very reason -- music that is hyped to me as being 4- and 5-star quality, that I know is more 2-3 star. Not bad, but passable. Shadows of stuff that came before that was better. I've seen it far too many times over the past few decade, probably starting with The Strokes. Sometiems, I'll agree (The Decemberists being a good example), most times I'll just shrug.

I'm just glad other types of music I love (celtic, blues, Brazilian, African, country, etc.) aren't used as avatars of hipness. Makes it a lot easier to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Sal Nunziato said...

All good points, yes.

Troy, I think I had subscriptions to those magazines the same years you did. I clearly remember reading horrid and hilarious reviews of records we now know to be legendary. William points out "The River" as an example. I know, that's one example, but there are days when I can listen to a mediocre Frampton album like "I'm In You," and think, "Well the title songs sucks, but there are 5 great songs that are better anything on (insert hype band dujour's) album."

As OldRockr said, the sheer volume these days is a huge problem. At least Frampton, Aerosmith and the Bee Gees were established, even if you didn't care for "Draw The Line." (I happen to think it's a great record.)

It's too long ago for me to have first hand experience, so I'll just ask this rather than assume...

Do you think The Bee Gees, Aerosmith or Humble Pie...or anyone but The Beatles for that matter, received the hype and coverage that every Tom, Dick & Fleet Foxes gets today?

Dave Lifton said...

I don't think this is the case for all hyped bands, but as I see it, the hype on Alabama Shakes came from their live shows. I've seen some clips on YouTube and they definitely deliver. Some friends have seen them live and have also mentioned them to me.

The problem is that when you see a live act that you don't know anything about, you don't really get to bond with the songs. You're more drawn in by the energy or the musicianship. It's only when you can sit down with the album that you can determine if there's anything there.

Sadly, that seems to be the case with Alabama Shakes. I think it's a promising debut, and probably where they should be in their career if not for the hype. I think if they got their songwriting problems worked out they could be a lot better.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Face it, Music is over.
Back in the '70's when we harbored the fantasy that the Beatles would reunite and make our world whole again there was plenty of good music to keep us occupied. We thought it would never end.
Punk came along and put a pistol to it's temple and that was that, although we didn't want to believe it.
According to what I read, Electric Dance Music is what the kids are listening to today.
From what I've heard it is only nominally music.
I keep thinking of what John said, back in 1970.
"The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
I was the dream weaver
But now I'm reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I'm John
And so dear friends
You just have to carry on
The dream is over"
And John himself went on to become a bitter disappointment. Did anyone like "Double Fantasy"?
This doesn't mean that people won't continue to make music, it's just that it doesn't matter anymore.
I guess we'll just have to carry on, by looking backwards, and that's ok, too. There's plenty of good stuff you missed first time around.

Noam Sane said...

Don't have much to add to this very interesting discussion, but bbj - you should check out the stripped-down version of Double Fantasy that came out a while back. It's so much better without all the polish - I never liked it until now.

kevin m said...

Wow Sal, for whatever reason these days I'm digging music you don't like (Shakes & Haertless Bastards) and bored by stuff you love (Soul Rebels).

At least we have World Party & Bruce to enjoy.

And I still hate Todd Rundgren (although my wife has asked me to download a few of his songs)!

Sal Nunziato said...


You know, different strokes...BUT...

Nobody's calling the Soul Rebels the next Alabama Shakes.


Big Jim Slade said...

I like the album, but I'm not raving and hyping it. It seems kind of like a 2-person album, singer + guitarist. I kind of like that they mix a bit of that Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings bit with some alt-Arcade Fire-style anthemic eighth notes. It's enjoyable and a bit different. Not amazing or anything, but that's ok.

Ken D said...

A week or 2 ago, I stumbled on a link to an Alabama Shakes concert stream. I guess I'm not paying enough attention because I'd never heard of them before. I listened and liked it. A good groove I thought, for lack of a better word. (Oddly, I might be one of the few who likes the band maybe more than the lead singer.) They're not life-changing but much better than a lot of stuff I'd been hearing. I forwarded the link to Sal thinking it'd be something he like as well. We know now how that turned out...
Sal was already thinking how the music didn't match up to the expectations generated by the hype. I can't help wonder how our reactions might have been influenced by advanced expectations; me, zero, Sal, overload. I don't doubt Sal's sincerity for a moment but I think it's inevitable that our reactions to any music are affected by the anticipations we walk in with. In this case I was pleasantly surprised and Sal decidely unimpressed.

And re the discussion of hype, it isn't just the sheer amount of talk but the volume level. Like political discourse, or sports talk radio, it's all gotten so much more extreme. As the reviewers/bloggers/bloviators strive to be heard they have to get louder and louder. So much now seems to be either "FIVE STARS!!!" or "THE BIGGEST PIECE OF CRAP EVER!!" They know that nobody is going to quote or retweet "pretty good stuff" or "I think this band has potential to do some interesting things."

Have to disagree with buzzbabyjesus that "music is over." What's over is the type of music we appreciate being dominant in the conversation. So what's new? It happened to the big bands, it happened to doo-wop, it'll happen to Lil' Wayne and Lady Gaga and this week's dance music "revolutionary new sound." There's a lot still to listen to. It'll be over when the bands we love are doing one of those all-star PBS pledge drive specials...