As I sit here and listen to another highly disappointing “rock” release from a newly signed band, I wonder, “When did rock music die?” When did music become strictly about the business of selling records? Seriously? This trend is, and has been, occurring in both the Christian and secular music arenas for a while now. When I review an album that is mediocre at best, I almost feel that I need to rate it higher just make others happy. I try my best to stick to my guns and write what I truly think about the release, but it’s difficult sometimes. I completely understand that I am not the ultimate authority on music and I strictly represent one man’s opinion, but I am appalled by what some folks consider to be a great release.
iTunes and similar sites are a perfect example of why I feel I need to rate albums higher than they should be; pretty much every album has a 4 to 5 star rating, no matter how poor the production, vocals, or musicianship may be, they all have nearly perfect ratings and every band is someone’s favorite. As you read reviews that you may agree or disagree with, keep in mind all of these factors.
I personally upset many people by my subpar rating of Jeremy Camp’s latest worship album, We Cry Out, and the average rating I gave to Christian rap heavyweight Tedashii’s newest release, Blacklight. Neither of these albums really fit into the rock arena, but I’m using them to make my point. Though I have gotten emails and Facebook posts stating how far off base I am, it is refreshing to get an email or two thanking me for not backing down from my opinion. However, I digress.
This is another issue within the Christian market. It is not wrong to say that a band’s music is not good regardless of their message. This website is dedicated to Christian entertainment and music. While lyrical content is obviously important in Christian, as well as secular, music, it isn’t necessarily the end all be all. An artist can bring a very good and powerful message in a very poorly written and played song. Perhaps they are just better poets. In addition, just because the lyrics are highly spiritual and praise God, does not mean that they are well written; case in point with the album I am reviewing now. Song writing is a particular craft and art. Some have it and some do not.
I have no problem whatsoever with a band whose sound is influenced by another, but I take serious issue with a band that sounds like a carbon copy of someone else. In the world of literature, that is known as plagiarism. As I recently stated on a Facebook post about an album, it drives me crazy when I hear a song by one artist and can sing the lyrics from a different artist’s song over the music; unless it’s a “Weird Al” song, or on an extremely rare occasion, an Apologetix song, it is not a good quality to find in music. Yet it seems like every day the radio, both Christian and secular, keeps pumping out so-called music that sounds exactly the same song after song. The labels are after the next band that sounds exactly like the previous band because the previous band sold some records; originality is a thing of the past.
The Beatles influenced hundreds, probably thousands, of bands, but there isn’t another band out there that sounds exactly like The Beatles. Music didn’t work that way near as much back then. Trust me, I don’t believe that every band that comes out will be or should be as groundbreaking or as trend setting as The Beatles. That would be entirely too much to ask for or expect, but shouldn’t being unique be something that a band strives for? Just as in our Christian walk, we will never be perfect like Christ, but we should strive for it on a daily basis. Bands should also strive to be the best versions of themselves, not the band that currently has the number one Billboard spot. A few more bands to ponder on that I believe are/were more trendsetters and less copycats are ZZ Top, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, Family Force 5, Showbread, and A Hope For the Dying. What made these guys different?
The fact that I can probably name 20 different bands that play modern rock music that sounds exactly the same is discouraging, especially when most of them are coming out of the Christian market. Seventh Day Slumber, Kutless, Red, Skillet, Ashes Remain, Since October, and on and on (I won’t even go into the secular bands who not only sound the same musically, but all seem to fight to see who can make their next song more sexually explicit than the previous group’s song). Don’t take it the wrong way; I enjoy some of these “same sounding” bands, but how many drop-D guitar playing, post-grunge, hard rock bands can a person stand before you just want something different?
Looking back on history, I guess I would say that rock ‘n’ roll took a huge step towards the grave with the birth of nu metal. While it was fun and different on arrival, the barrage of bands labels signed that sounded like one another was staggering and only a handful of them made it on to second and third albums. Who would have thought that the explosion of bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Staind would have eventually led to this? These guys couldn’t even spell! (Ha!) Maybe I just missed the point of how cool it was to “purposely” misspell your band’s name.
This brings me to the final reason why I believe rock ‘n’ roll could be dying or already dead. What is up with band names today? I spend more time telling my computer that I actually spelled the misspelled word correctly, than I do typing the name in. Another issue I have is numbers. Take for instance BEC Records new rock act 7eventh Time Down (I see “Seveneventh Time Down”), or a band that I actually somewhat like, Se7enth Seal. No matter how cool you think it is, it’s not good to insert numbers in place of letters, especially when the number doesn’t really resemble the letter. I will let Deliriou5 have it without too much argument because there are no five references in their name, and a 5 actually looks like an S. It seems like bands spend more time trying to find a “creative” way to spell their name and less time coming up with a more creative sound. Whatever happened to the days when all bands were “The insert any word here”? It is quite frankly just flat out discouraging.
Rock music, if you can hear me, I hope you survive. I hope that there is a great revival of music that comes in to save you. I hope there is a band on the horizon that can be the defibrillator that you need so desperately. The only bright spot in you heading in this downward spiral is that I will start saving a lot of money on buying music. If you are with me on this matter I recommend checking out The Choir’s Burning Like the Midnight Sun, Regie Hamm’s Set it On Fire, or if you like your music on the heavier side, A Hope For the Dying’s Dissimulation. These are just a couple of albums that made me smile and spent time in heavy rotation in my CD player this past year.
My final thought is to the readers and listeners. You do not have to be content with the same ole same ole. It is perfectly ok and well within your rights to want something better than “Check these guys out, they sound just like Kutless!” If Band B sounds just like Band A who has been around five years longer, why not just listen to Band A? Chances are Band A is going to offer a much more polished and better overall product.
— Michael Weaver, JFH Writer