Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Best Rock Band That Isn't The Beatles or U2 or The White Stripes

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;--
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title:--Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

O, be some other name, The New Pornographers. Doff thy name, and for that name, which is no part of thee, take all of the rock world by storm.

I hate to be all crass and commercial here, but I'm going to anyway because while I say I hate to be all crass and commercial I don't really hate it at all; I love it. It's about making money. I'm sorry to say that. Art is about making money. If you want to be an artist and support yourself doing that, you have to make money and to make money people have to buy your stuff. To have people buy your stuff, if you're a musician, they have to hear your stuff, most likely on the radio.

It's less likely that they'll hear your stuff if your name is The New Pornographers. It's a cool name and all and very edgy and in-your-face, but it also is not very radio friendly.

I will, for the sake of the "artists" out there who are against commercial success -- i.e., they are not successful and don't want others to be -- make a second argument in favor of making your art more accessible. You make "art" because you want people to experience it, right? I write this, and my short stories and my upcoming novel (that I'm shopping around and if you'd like to take a look at it, drop me a line, it's awesome) because I want people to read them. Painters paint pictures because they want people to look at them. Singers sing because they want people to listen to them. Christopher Walken does his thing because...

... well, I don't know why Christopher Walken does anything, but I'm sure glad he does...

You get the point. Your message will be more widespread if you package it in a manner that lets people see it. I could write a brilliant poem but if I then bury it in the backyard where Nixon's secret plan was hidden, how effective is it?

More people's minds have been changed by Mr. Whipple than by all the starving artists in the world combined.

That's my argument both for The New Pornographers to change their name and for people to quit accusing bands of selling out when they become popular and have their song featured in a commercial (as The New Pornographers did with "The Bleeding Heart Show," which I first heard in a University of Phoenix ad, which is evidence that my seemingly-sarcastic comment about Mr. Whipple is more right than you thought. How many people first heard of Feist because she was on an iPod commercial? I'm raising my hand.)

Also, "The Bleeding Heart Show" should have been in "The Office," as this person shows us:

It's not selling out to try to make a little money at what you do. If I could write a commercial jingle and get paid a million bucks and then spend the rest of my life doing whatever the heck I want, including learning the entire dance from "Weapon of Choice," I'd do it in a second because then not only would my music reach about a zillion people -- and sell some cheesburgers or breath mints, sure - -but I could then keep making music and having people listen to it, with complete artistic freedom, having my music say exactly what I want it to say, breaking the boundaries that hold me to this corporate earth and soaring ever higher and higher until my efforts fairly glowed with enthusiasm and enlightened the entire world ...

Sorry. I got carried away. While I typed that paragraph I was, in fact, listening to "The Bleeding Heart Show" and got to the part where they begin saying hey la hey la over and over and that song is just really really inspiring.

So enough of this high-minded stuff. The New Pornographers should change their name because their current name is keeping some people from listening to them (based on my scientific survey of getting their new CD and having both Sweetie and Middle tell me that although they like the music they don't like the name) and so they are not as well-known or famous as they deserve to be, because they are an excellent rock band.

Just listen to "Use It."

It's songs like that which make The New Pornographers The Best Rock Band That Isn't The Beatles, or U2, or The White Stripes. Their songs combine two elements that you don't see together very often but which should be combined more -- making The New Pornographers the Reese's of the rock world. But their peanut butter-and-chocolate combination is power and brains.

The New Pornographers make complicated, smart, challenging music. Their songs are layered with meaning and instrumentation and unusual beats and strange time signatures and new instruments. Every time I listen to one of their songs, it's like a new experience even though I might know the song by heart. Ever change around the furniture in a room you've lived in for a couple of years? Everytime you come home for a few days, it's like you've moved into a fresh new place. You can see the old leg-marks from the sofa, reminding you what used to be there, but the big plant is in a new corner and there's untouched carpeting just begging to be sat on, and the TV is now near the window...

That's what listening to a song from The New Pornographers is like. You might hear acoustic guitars this time, but the next time you focus on the beat. Then, one day, the lyrics pop out at you. Their songs are more than three dimensional, somehow.

But this isn't nerdy prog-rock a la Jethro Tull or Sting. There's no moody meditations on Russians here. The New Pornographers have some muscle. They may have lyrics that you don't understand but which you suspect relate, somehow, to that philosophy class you cut a lot in college, but they also have guitars and drums enough to pound you into submission. They're not so much philosopher-kings as they are philosopher-boxers.

They know how to snag you in with a right hook of a guitar solo, then keep on pummeling you with acoustic guitars and drums, and just when you can't take it anymore, they knock you to the ground with the singing, skills they highlighted on "Mass Romantic:"

Does anyone know, by the way, how long it takes to make a Sims video like that? I'm in awe of the skill and devotion demonstrated by that, because the single time that I played Sims I not only got bored but I burned down my house. I got bored because Sims is real life only with a keyboard. I had to find a place to live, furnish the house, cook breakfast, and find a job. And then I had to go do all those things in a video game, too? (Ba dum bum!) Really, though, what's the appeal? After a hard day at the office, I go home, cook dinner, help the kids with their homework, then fire up the computer so that I can make my Sim go to the office for a while and do it all over? If I hadn't accidentally burned my sim-house down, I'd have been tempted to do it on purpose.

The New Pornographers have enough instincts and creativity that they could be bigger and more influential than The Beatles; their music, like The Beatles' forty years ago, shows where rock can go from here, where it's headed. Their music is the next step forward in rock, outlining the course for other musicians to come, while still being familiar and pop-ish enough that it's likeable now.

They've got the power to outdo U2's efforts on Rattle And Hum. In fact, if there were a fight between U2 and The New Pornographers, I'd put my money on the latter because U2's gotten a little mellow since the 90's.

They, like The White Stripes, understand how to make their rock hypnotic and pull at the innermost parts of you -- their songs make you feel inspired or like dancing or just drag you into their undertow.

It's just too bad about the name. But that's why they're only The Best Rock Band That Isn't The Beatles or U2 or The White Stripes. Which still makes them very, very good.

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