Was 2013 a good year for popular music? It all depends on your definition of a ‘good year’. I believe that since the end of the 90s, the decline in the quality of popular music being written and recorded has been alarming. Compared to the previous 40 years, it’s fair to say that much of the popular music that has come out of the new millennium has been – with some exceptions, of course – largely forgettable.
Seriously, can you think of any album released in 2013 (or the previous decade) that you will remember in 20 years’ time? Or for that matter, is there any band or artist that surfaced in the last 13 years that will stand the test of time? Considering the outright disappointment that greeted Arcade Fire’s latest album, there is a palpable sense that if even a band like Arcade Fire (generally known as the best new band of the last decade) has lost its luster, then what hope for anyone else?
Ironically, the most significant releases this year were somewhat backward looking. One was the comeback of the year from an artist that had not released an album in a decade and the other captured the imagination of contemporary hip kids by evoking the ghosts of a derided 70s genre.
2013 opened with the shock of a brand new Bowie single – “Where Are We Now?” that appeared totally out of the blue. Going against the grain of information overkill, there were no hints that Bowie was recording new music, let alone a full-length album. When The Next Day arrived, it fulfilled fans’ expectation as Bowie’s best album since 1980’s Scary Monsters and suddenly this 66 year old artist had trumped all the young pretenders once more!
But ultimately, it was Daft Punk’s tribute to 70s disco-rock, Random Access Memories, that illuminated a moribund popular music scene. Collaborating with names that most young music listeners would never have heard of – Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and Paul Williams – Daft Punk produced a hit record on its own terms. Certainly, there is a lesson to be learnt here for young musicians – don’t simply ape whatever is trendy but ‘borrow’ intelligently from ‘genres’ and styles that are not popular, mix and match, add a pinch of your own unique personality and VOILA!
I will post a list of recommended 2013 listening before the end of the year.
… still there’s more …