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 Kitchen sink/council estate has been superseded by faux river in the garden/200 acre estate.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?
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 in March 2012. Will we reluctantly see him re-take that mantle as he wakes up the nation? Surely someone has to?
‘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.