I was listening to Nick Lowe's 2011 release "The Old Magic," a favorite of that year and a record that sounds even better now. I was reminded of a few conversations had that year, regarding this record. Most were about how wonderful it was, but a handful were very critical of Lowe and how he has become this sad man, writing nothing but melancholy tunes about aging, lost love and acceptance. Where were the rockers?
One of my favorite records of last year was Robert Plant's "lullaby...And The Ceaseless Roar," and criticisms were somewhat similar, how he has toned down his act and basically whispers his songs, abandoning forever his trademark howl. "What an idiot, turning down a gazillion dollars for a Led Zep reunion!"
Both of these records, as well as many of the previous records released by both Nick Lowe and Robert Plant, have songs. Beautiful songs. Meaningful songs. Upbeat songs. Perfectly structured songs. We can relate to some and some we cannot. But they are there. Songs.
I know this is a tired, old rant. I've been there and done this before. Several times, too. But, I'm moved to rant this time by the current hype of D'Angelo's new release "Black Messiah," a record that is so desperate to be radical, it ends up being anything but.
Here is a brief e-mail volley with my pal BuzzBabyJesus:
BBJ: After the mention the other day I noticed I'd downloaded it. I guess I didn't want to miss out on the hype. Anyway I think the opener is pretty cool and it has fooled everyone into thinking what follows is more of the same, but I don't hear it. It's more of the same sounds, but I don't hear any more songs.
SN: Exactly. I actually dug the opener, like Electric Ladyland meets good, weird 80's Prince. Then it just unfolded into a mess of unfinished ideas. This seems to be the way to go these days. No one cares about songs anymore.
BBJ: It's like a really extended single with a bunch of superfluous dub remixes. D'Angelo is like Radiohead. The potential for stadium greatness avoided for obscure reasons.
Songs don't seem to matter much anymore. That is a broad statement, I know, and if I had the time and patience, I would compile a list of critically acclaimed records and chart hits of the last 10 years to illustrate my point. But I don't, and really, it's all subjective. I know this. I can listen to Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" everyday and that's not a song. Is it? But even a band with such a wide divide like Kiss, a band I happen to love by the way, knows how to structure a tune. It can be any rock and roll band from Deep Purple to Nirvana. But let's go with Kiss.
A song as basic as "Rock & Roll All Nite" which is about rocking and rolling all night, while also boasting about partying everyday, may not be Woody Guthrie-caliber. But man, what a chorus and what a hook. And we all know, not every song has to be "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." But I'll remember that Kiss tune for the rest of my life and yet I can't recall a single note of "Black Messiah," and I played it twice just yesterday.
This may seem like a good time to bring up horrible songs with nothing but earworms that pass for songs, in an attempt to prove my Kiss argument weak, so I'll save you the trouble and do it myself. I get it. But "Black Messiah" doesn't even have an annoying earworm. It's a slogfest, dozens of ideas all done better by the artists D'Angelo is trying to be. His first single, "Brown Sugar" was pretty great, though.