Late last Friday evening, when most people have better things to do than scour the internet, I came across an interesting article on Grantland, the intriguing offshoot of ESPN launched by Bill Simmons. It asked the question “Is Anyone Willing To Defend Modern Rock?” To which I quickly blurted out, “Why the fuck would they?!”
Let’s be honest here, modern rock — which is to say mainstream radio rock — has sucked a giant cock for well over a decade now. It’s hard to say when the exact turning point was. Some would pin it on the death of Kurt Cobain, others on the rise of nu-metal acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit, while others would look to everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Nickelback — responsible for some of the blandest music ever made — as the reason why rock radio has sounded like one big endless, plodding stream of dogshit since about 2001. All of these answers would have a bit of truth to them, but they all lead us to the same conclusion, that listening to rock on the radio is a giant waste of time.
There’s been lots of talk about the possibility for a potential savior of the genre, and in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney stakes the claim that his band can enter the fray. He astutely points out that one of the biggest reasons for rock radio’s decline is that “people became ok with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world”. There’s definitely some truth to that; no one cares who the biggest band in the world is, primarily because the 2000s were the decade that indie music stopped being so damned indie. Thanks to music blogs, and mp3s, the radio stopped being an inescapable force, and people discovered new music on their own. Which leads me to ask: does it actually matter how much rock radio sucks? And does modern rock need anyone to save it?
If this was the late 80s, and everyone was stuck listening to Trixter and Warrant because they hadn’t heard about Dinosaur, Jr. and Sonic Youth, I’d say yes. That was why Nirvana breaking into the mainstream was so damn important. But these days, there’s no band you can’t discover overnight thanks to the internet. You can go from saying “who the fuck are Destroyer?” to “OMG I fucking love Destroyer” in a matter of minutes. I like the Black Keys, and I love that a band is ambitious and angry enough to want to take over the radio, but I feel that ambition is a bit misplaced. If the Black Keys break into the mainstream (and with two #1 radio hits, they really already have), it will make them popular with the same people who like Nickelback, but it won’t start a revolution.
This is fine, because we don’t need one. And thank God we don’t. Think of what happened the last time — Kurt Cobain blew his head off — and many have speculated that one of his motivations was that he couldn’t stand being listened to by the same assholes who were into Motley Crue and Bon Jovi two years earlier. In that sense, Cobain was the ultimate hipster. Thankfully, no one will need to carry that burden again.
Rather than bemoan how terrible mainstream music has gotten, let’s be glad that it’s no longer an issue. Sure, Nickelback sucks, but you can avoid them. And if you happen to like them, and think all the indie bands I listen to are pretentious dicks, that’s fine, too. We’ve finally reached an age where music fans can take a “you stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine” approach to listening, without it being a big deal. Modern rock will continue to suck, but it just doesn’t matter. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some Hungarian post-classical neo-country metalcore emo rap to listen to.