The Lunchtime Take-Out: How I Would Fix Music

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled “I’m Sorry, But Your Album Sucks“, which, incidentally, marked the second time I’ve managed to work the word “suck” into the title of a post. Alas, there probably won’t be a “suck” trilogy, mainly because I feel a slight tinge of guilt every time I use the word. Technically it’s not a profanity, but it is kind of a harsh word, particularly when you’re discussing something objective like music. So I will now try to keep the remainder of this post “suck”-free.

However I choose to frame my words, there are things about music which bother me, though, and they don’t really bother me so much by the fact that I don’t like them as they do in my belief that they are actually harmful for music itself. To put it another way, I’m worried the things that are turning me off to certain types of music are possibly turning other people off, too.

Keep in mind here when I say “music,” I’m referring primarily to pop/rock and country music. I listen to a lot of different things, but those are the two primary categories I seem to go back to more than any other. I’ve never been a fan of classical music, which, according to the most intellectual and discerning of minds, makes me some type of knuckle-dragging cave dweller, but I contend the people who take that stance just do it to make themselves seem smarter than they actually are. I graduated from college with a 3.5 GPA after doing most of my studying listening to Wilco albums, so suck it, Beethoven (Whoops, I violated my own promise there. Sorry.).

After much pondering and listening and analyzing, I have come up with a list of musical annoyances that, while they might be restricted to my own personal tastes, need to be eliminated immediately. So, now, for the benefit of music lovers everywhere, I present to you my list…

  1. Learn How To Sing – This may seem like a fairly elementary bit of advice, but I’m commonly shocked these days by how many aspiring artists are terrible singers. Now, I realize there are probably some songs in my iPod which would make me seem like a hypocrite on this point. For example, there are a couple of old Bob Dylan songs on there. I would contend, however, that Dylan’s voice on his early recordings is really not that bad. His voice has declined dramatically since then, to the point I believe he may have damaged his vocal chords somehow. If you listen to a song like “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, you can hear he’s actually hitting the notes. There are too many vocalists now who are struggling to even do that.
  2. Lose The String Section – This may harken back to the opinion I mentioned earlier concerning classical music. I remember seeing Aerosmith perform on television years ago with an orchestra conducted by the late Michael Kamen, and I remember thinking, “Wow, this is pretty high-brow stuff for Aerosmith. They’re, like, real musicians now.” I don’t have a problem so much with strings being used in a sweeping ballad or a classical type of song. What I don’t like is when an artist decides to use a string section on every song. Rock songs need to rock; they don’t need to prove their intelligence with a classical interlude. Contemporary Christian music seems to be especially guilty of this. I know string players have to make a living just like I do. I just wish they’d stay out of my rock songs.
  3. Don’t Penalize People Who Can Actually Play Their Instruments – I very plainly remember watching MTV during my senior year of high school at a friend’s house and seeing two videos play back-to-back – Skid Row’s “Wasted Time” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – and thinking, “Oh, crap. Metal’s dead.” It wasn’t because “Teen Spirit” just blew me away (In fact, I still think it’s highly overrated.); it was the attitude of the “veejays.” They were tired of the metal attitude, which was actually understandable. There’s hardly anything about that era of music that looks or sounds “cool” anymore, but one thing must not be forgotten: Those guys could flat-out play. Unfortunately, when everyone threw out the attitude, they also decided it was trendy to mock really talented musicians and celebrate the sloppier ones who had “feel.” I’ve grown weary of “feel”; I want to hear people who can play, and I believe great music and great musicianship can co-exist.
  4. Speed Up Already – There are four words which will make me run from any project today: Sounds like Sufjan Stephens. I’m not saying Stephens makes bad music. It’s just that, well, it’s all so slow. And if you look at many critics’ “best of” lists at the end of the year, you’ll find most of the projects on there feature primarily mid- to slow-tempo music. Somewhere down the line “slow” came to mean “serious” and “artsy.” There’s nothing wrong with slow songs, but they need to be mixed in with some up-tempo stuff, too, so we don’t all fall asleep.
  5. Fans, Stop Trying To Be So Cool – There are umpteen blogs on the Internet where people have written about how Contemporary Christian music is no good. While these opinions generally all begin to sound the same after a while, the comments at the end of such posts are even more wearisome to read, mainly because every commenter attempts to throw in the name of every hip and trendy artist out there and then claim that’s all they listen to. “I don’t have time for music like that because I’m too busy listening to the new Coldplay album, which is nearly as good as the last Adele CD.” I guarantee half of those people are driving around in the cars listening to Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” – and that’s perfectly fine! Enjoy what you enjoy. This isn’t high school anymore. Quit trying to be so cool.

Those are just a few things I was able to think of. Please feel free to add more in the comments section. Well, as long as you promise not to mention Sufjan Stephens or the word “suck.”

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