Proclaiming, or at least prophesising, rock music’s ostensible demise appears somewhat en vogue amongst a plethora of aging musicians and listeners. Gene Simmons – ever the optimist – declared it defunct in an interview with Esquire Magazine, whilst Lenny Kravitz and Marilyn Manson opted to vocalise their qualms, albeit sardonically, through the medium of song. Perhaps it was naïve to assume that the naysayers’ disapproval regarding this subject had been alleviated, for the latest despondent soul to lambaste the so-called ‘death of rock’ was none other than The Who’s Roger Daltrey. Speaking to The Times, Daltrey laments that “the sadness for me is that rock has reached a dead end,’’ and that “the only people saying things that matter are the rappers.’’ Perhaps more disheartening than rock music’s supposed plateau is the cynicism, if not the repression, emanating from a defining figurehead of the genre. By pronouncing rock dead, Daltrey and his counterparts are neither losing nor acquiring anything aside from flouting their own artistic licence, existing as an apparent dying species, the first and last of their kind.
“the only people saying things that matter are the rappers’’
Realistically, though modern rock is resoundingly dissimilar to the rock of Daltrey’s era, it still subsists and operates – to imply the contrary is to rob the emerging generation of their musical identity. However, in a culture that predominantly favours pop music along with its innumerable blends and hybrids, a myriad of modern rock musicians are almost stowed away, their discographies reduced to hidden gems that one might stumble upon in a thrift store, or on an obscure podcast. It is this concealment of one genre, and exposure (if not overexposure) of another that also differentiates modern rock to the traditional rock offered in Daltrey’s heyday – some might forget that the consumer must now scour for the music, rather than the producer scour for the customer. Garnering Instantaneous chart success in this climate was no mean feat, then, for English duo Royal Blood. Despite their sound infusing blues-rock, hard-rock and garage-rock into a tangled cocktail of debauchery and eccentricity, the band’s eponymous debut album propelled directly to the formidable summit of the UK Album Charts in 2014. Alas, Royal Blood’s mainstream success can be perceived as the exception to the rule – at this moment in time, not a single rock-orientated act can be observed on the current Billboard Top 100.
Amid the throng of underground modern rock, and the pop and rap that dominates the charts, it is rather easy to undermine the emergence of the pure, unadulterated rock that is adored by so many. Popular music’s journey from rock-and- roll’s melodically uncomplicated heavy beats to a far more versatile and expressive incarnation of rock was not necessarily a smooth nor effortless transition either. Prior to the infamously ground-breaking British Invasion, rock-and- rock appeared to reside in something of a respite period, acknowledged by some as the ‘in-between stage’ in rock’s evolution. Moreover, it is vital to appreciate that rock music’s roots were derived from an array of genres such as blues, folk, country and jazz. This meant that the music was essentially unoriginal and uninspired, but influenced, just as the music of today is. Over the years, however, rock is remembered and regarded as the indigenous pioneer of the shock-factor, ruffling the listener’s feathers with a sense of urgency and revolt (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s ‘Ohio’, released in 1971, still resonates as one of the greatest counterculture anthems of all time). Does this sound familiar?
In expressing that “the only people saying things that matter are the rappers’,’ Daltrey is, perhaps inadvertently, heralding a genre often written off as sleazy or excessively aggressive. Such judgements are prominent amongst those who simply do not, or will not, regard rap as a serious form of music. Multiple sub-genres of rock music also succumbed to this backlash in their floundering early years, a notable example being punk rock which deviated from the ideological societal norms of the era, and deliberately unsettled their audience. Rap also aims to unsettle their own audience through the explicit and unapologetic discussion of significant societal issues. Tupac Shakur, amidst the gangland folklore enveloping his legacy, often produced messages of wisdom and insight beyond his years and ahead of his time, stating in posthumous Ghetto Gospel that “it ain’t about black or white ‘cause we’re human.’’ A pioneer in the contemporary popularisation of the genre, Shakur is often ranked as one of the greatest artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide. A twenty-first century example in terms of messages and morals, by comparison, would be Kendrick Lamar, whose third studio album To Pimp a Butterfly was released last year to universal acclaim, hailed by many as the best record of the year. Spawned from his latest effort was Alright, a track of which has become something of a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
MAYBE ROCK ISN’T DEAD AFTER ALL, PERHAPS IT IS JUST ADAPTING
It would be fair to insinuate that mainstream rap has overtaken mainstream rock as the voice of reason, invigorating its audience by addressing repression and oppression alike. Unlike rock, however, rap music was not the by-product of a natural genre transition, but stemmed from a subculture galvanised by young African-Americans as they engaged in block parties, particularly in the Bronx. To suggest that these two genres, so similar yet so different, cannot coexist is ludicrous; Paul McCartney’s recent collaborations with Kanye West, and Rod Stewart’s prominence on A$AP Rocky’s Everyday demonstrate that the two can certainly mesh in cohesion, as well as generate adequate chart success amongst the masses. This incites an audience to ponder that maybe rock isn’t dead after all, perhaps it is just adapting. Musicians from both genres work so incredibly well in cooperation because they both, at some point or another, stood out to rebel against the system, what came before, and what their parents and grandparents condemned. As Neil Young whimsically warbled back in 1972: “old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.’’