Who Killed The Zeitgeist? when will music react to what's going on?
Who Killed The Zeitgeist? when will music react to what's going on?

Who Killed The Zeitgeist? when will music react to what's going on?
Who Killed The Zeitgeist? when will music react to what's going on?

Who Killed The Zeitgeist?

”˜I killed the Zeitgeist, Switched off all the lights; Glazed like aching snow, All metaphors for love’

After the troubles of the seventies Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government rode into office like The Man With No Name, determined to implement havoc and suffering via privatisation and the destruction of working class culture.

From the moment she took centre stage the arts aligned to oppose her. Politics and ”˜pop’ went hand in hand in the UK music industry in the early 1980’s. The Jam, The Clash, Elvis Costello, and The Specials all proved to be social commentators; their music defining an era.

You could say there was nothing particularly new going on here and that the very role of an artist is to challenge and record the times they work for; yet this was the first time it had such a profound impact on an audience. Joe Strummer‘s teachings were infinitely more inspiring than anything Tony Benn could say. It really was amazing that Thatcher managed to get elected three times.

I personally believe the role of an artist to be more than an entertainer and a storyteller. They must challenge and represent the times; they must capture a mood and feeling. In short, they must present the zeitgeist. Be it Shakespeare or Dickens, Lennon or Cocker.
So in a time of financial cuts, economic meltdown, Tory leadership, fascist demonstrations, illegal wars, Nick Clegg, Palace reaching the semi-finals of the cup and the continuing existence of Louis Walsh, how come new music has become decidedly safe?

The Artist is comatose; Modern Life Is Rubbish. Keane, Coldplay, The Kaiser Chiefs, Snow Patrol, The Script and most disturbingly ”˜Mumford and Sons’ have come to represent the great British public.

Noting means anything anymore. Kitchen sink/council estate has been superseded by faux river in the garden/200 acre estate. Beige is the new black and normal life isn’t receiving coverage. For example the most recent Coldplay effort has Chris Martin declaring he’d rather be a ”˜comma than a false stop.’ Revolution Rock.

There are of course some bands still persevering in challenging the establishment and chronicling the times; but from an increasingly (and I’m loathe to say it) underground nature. Billy Bragg has just completed a tour in support of the Occupy movement. Thee Faction continue to make waves with their socialist R’n’B. Hits such as ”˜Angry’ and ”˜Conservative Friend’ have been labeled as ”˜Dr.Feelgood meets Citizen Smith’ by the BBC and described as ”˜taking down the government one song at a time’ by The Guardian.

The Manic Street Preachers have been the sole voice in penetrating the public’s conscience. To reach number two in the charts (at a time when that meant something) with an opening lyric of ”˜Libraries gave us power”¦’ is the ultimate in subversion. Sadly ”˜Design for Life’ was misinterpreted as a drinking song celebrating lad culture at the height of Britpop by the Loaded generation. The Manics have been around for 21 years now. They have just sold out the O2 arena but are down to take a hiatus, but their last album ”˜Postcards From A Youngman’ still featured topics such as the sale of Cadbury’s.

But it comes to something when middle-aged men who’ve been there before are the angriest in pop. Perhaps there just isn’t an audience for this sub-culture today (obviously I can’t speak of other genres such as Grime-step or Dub and Western).

X-Factor and manufactured music may have taken its toll. Maybe the political landscape has rendered this article irrelevant; the perceived lack of class war and partisan dealignment for example. Or is it simply the naivety and ignorance of youth that means no-one actually cares?
The likes of Coldplay, Mumford and Sons and The Vaccines, who are  ironically a terminal plague (their witty name choice suggesting a level of thought largely lacking from their ”˜art’), manage to say remarkably little in an age where there should be so much to say. How can one resist writing about Nick Clegg?

Lana Del Ray’s ”˜Video Games’ is lyrically the most meaningful song I have heard in years.

Paul Weller, former leader of the Jam and ”˜Spokesman for a Generation’, was recently quoted as saying “I was watching a couple of female artists recently and their whole albums were about splitting up with their boyfriends. For fucks sake, get over it. See what’s going on in the world. Write about God, write about love, write about death, write about war, write about people.”

His new album ”˜Sonik Kicks’ lands next month. Will we reluctantly see him re-take that mantle as he wakes up the nation? Surely someone has to? Album track ”˜Kling I Klang’ is apparently about illegal wars, whilst lead single ”˜That Dangerous Age’ mocks the media’s idea of a mid-life crisis.

”˜Ghost Town’ places you in 1980’s Britain. It would be a tragedy if in 2040 people look at ”˜Little Lion Man’ to see how we were.

Ross Keen ///

11 COMMENTS

  1. “Or is it simply the naivety and ignorance of youth that means no-one actually cares?” – I would go with that one. I think alternative music (or young people that are into it nowadays) are primarily middle-class and seem to pick up on the image/fashion side of it a lot more than changing ways of thinking and questioning government and society. And as for the ‘working class’ and the ‘left’ – it’s completely splintered and difficult to define. I’m also inclined to think that England is basically a really right-wing country. But these are of course just my opinions which I’ve made through observing such things for years.

    Also another important point I feel needs to be made is that a lot of young people are into revivalist trends (is this how it’s always been though I wonder, or is it more-so today)? So even if they do pick up on politics in the music, it’s largely irrelevant to current events.

  2. Excellent piece Ross. If Paul Weller is the answer to modern musics lack of balls then we are all in more trouble than we think. I am beginning to believe that the current generation of musicians have so little to say, so little grasp of ‘the issues’, such lack of chutzpah that they might as well all go and audition for X-Factor and have done with it.

  3. Holy shit, if Lana Del Rey’s Video Games is the most meaningful song you’ve heard in years, we are indeed fucked.

    I know what you mean though, this morning I heard the new Dr John song (produced by The Blacks Keys’ Dan Auerbach. You might have heard some of his Budweiser-Blues stylings on a ton of commercials last year, but not Spotify). It was the most politically motivated song I’ve heard since PJ Harvey a year ago.

    Dumb days we’re living in.

  4. There is stuff out there – just don’t look to the charts and expect to find it..

    Take Coupe De Ville new single Viva L’America for example (shameless plug).

  5. In the late 60s it was ‘trendy’ for pop stars to be into social or political issues; it matched the mood of the times (Vietnam, Paris, segregation). In the 70s it was regarded as a necessary prerequisite to be ‘aware’ to be taken ‘seriously’ as a musician. In that context, it would have been surprising if British punk bands hadn’t been ‘political’.

    By the early 80s this notion of ‘seriousness’ had developed, out of necessity, into anger, even desperation.

    By the late 80s, early 90s, anger had been channeled into hedonism. Hedonism begat apathy, which begat ignorance, which subsequently begat antipathy to anything serious. This mood has stayed with us ever since, not surprising really when the national mood is one of antipathy to politics (especially ‘organised’ politics) which the right have benefited from by claiming to be ‘common sense’ , ‘anti-government’ and ‘non-ideological’.

    When I was getting into music in the late 70s/ early 80s, there had been 10 years of regarding it as a soundtrack to the riot/ the strike / the end of the world etc. Our ‘heroes’ were expected to have something to say.

    Young music fans now look to the past for musical inspiration and as a source of fashion ideas (so did I!). I suspect that, after 15 years of music seen as an antidote to seriousness and boring old social issues, they don’t expect their stars to have anything to say and haven’t, as yet, made the link between a rollicking good tune and the world around them.

    Of course, this is an old man’s generalisation. And anyway, who’s to say that your modern popster will automatically be some progressive/liberal/lefty/anarcho ranter? The first raucous punk tune advocating Tory outsourcing of the public sector to giant conglomerates and the inevitable privatisation of the NHS and state education could be on YouTube by tomorrow!

  6. Paul Weller is a fuckin wanker:
    I was recently reading a couple of interviews with guys in bands and their whole interview was ‘really’ about them splitting up with their girlfriends.
    It will all change when people, especially spokesmen stop talking in such a retarded, linear, fashion. Manic Street Preachers can suck my fuckin dirty, grubby feet then meticulously sand the dry skin off them.
    DONT CLAIM ZEITGIEST WITH THIS TEDIOUS FUCKIN BULLSHIT- BUT THANKS FOR MAKING IT SO FUCKIN CLEAR.

    P.S When Fidel Castro said The Manics were louder than war – did you not see the smile on his face ?

  7. It seems perfectly clear to me that the industry has made a decision that politics and music are not to mix. Do you not see that Tipper Gore’s old prude network went far deeper than the surface appeared to? The main goal was to eliminate the culture of political movements that characterized the 60’s, because the business community was frightened out of their wits in the 60’s, when it was actually considered cool to be involved. All you have to do is look at the underground. The very best bands tend to often be very political, and they are seldom, almost never signed. Statistically, this is nearly impossible that it is random…

  8. We dont have free speech any more…so we can’t put it in a song, a novel, a poem… As a result there is an underground-hatred which simmers into violence. Hate-crime is born from this lack of free speech…what cannot be said, sung, read or thought, makes its way into a kick, a rape, a stamp on the head of a girl who “looks a bit different.”
    Anyhoo…
    Have a nice day everyone.

    • Robin, what will become of the boy who see’s it that way ? What kick, rape or stamp on the head will make its way to him ?

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