The Year the Earth Stood Still


I found myself at a real dumb-ass New Year party this year. Admittedly, it’s the first New Year party I’ve been to in about ten years but I do remember what parties are supposed to be like to know this one fell into the ‘below-par’ bracket. The last one I went to lasted for three days and finished 280 miles away from where it started. This one was at a neighbours house and to be fair, most of the street voluntarily turned up with the intention of a good time rather than a fist fight. After a few drinks, for once in our lives, we were all getting on swimmingly well. With the assistance of a few close Bud’s, I ‘weised up to the fact that this was a functioning microcosm of the ‘general public’ – not something that those of us in the music business experience very often. In other words, it’s the chance of a lifetime to base my 2009 predictions on what’s happening in the ‘real world’.

Firstly though, let me tell you what this microcosm had to reveal about the state of the world: ABBA will never go out of fashion. Ever. No matter what business people tell you, ABBA are without doubt the most popular band in the universe and also the best songwriters this planet has ever seen. Fact. The only reason the world thinks it is the Beatles is that Beatles fans are obsessive. (*editor: Yes, we are, and damn proud of it!)  ABBA fans run with the wind and could care less about owning “the gatefold sleeve” version. In fact most of them don’t even own CD players let alone ipods. ABBA song lyrics are culled by the masses from the combined memories of a time gone by. I’m not too proud or too ‘rock’ to say that I actually won the competition that followed by knowing all of the words to Gonna Sing You My Lovesong and Sitting in a Palm Tree – songs that all of these people had never even heard of. That would be their second album from 1974 if you’re asking. This illustrates two important points: 1) Radio made ABBA what they are – that and the almost annual release of the Greatest Hits album for the last 30 years and 2) A good song will tattoo itself indelibly on your psyche until the day you die. In another world, ghosts probably like to haunt to the sounds of Move On (ABBA – The Album, 1977). Let’s make it three points: 3) My head is full of useless information.

Anyway, much like the mythical Millennium Bug, good as it is, the leviathan of Chinese Democracy arrived without that much of a bang. Truth be told, although we’ve all been using the phrase for at least a decade, the music business really has turned into a treadmill. No matter how much the media builds Act X to be the next big thing, tomorrow will see Act Z take the belt from them and so the 24 hour cycle spins. We’ve brought it on ourselves. All that’s happening around us is a self fulfilling prophecy of ‘freedom’. I did wonder for a time if I was simply damaged goods. The days of me hunting down a copy of an album in a particular format are over and that’s really sad. Download. Done. Next. Still, this is the world we created. The ‘real people’ present at said party however will content themselves with listening to all of this on via radio.

I suspect that in 2009 glam rock will come back with a vengeance. Not the garish, lovable style of olde, or indeed the big hair variety of the late 80s/early 90s but a new harder edged version. The emo/goth fraternity have made ‘dressing up’ and make-up very acceptable so it’s only a matter of time before this genuinely has to spin off somewhere else – and there ain’t many places left to go. If I was Generation X and the proceeding posse was Generation Y, then this forthcoming/already here Generation-i (I really should copyright that), will change the future of music for the foreseeable future. We’ve had enough misery now and with pop bringing back feeling good as an acceptable way to be, it can’t help but filter back out into the system. This will be propelled in the US by a new feeling of optimism with your new Mr President coming into office, though over here in the UK, it looks like we’ll have to put up with our lovable Mr Brown for a little while longer. Even the name summons up images of monotony, so over here, we’ll have an Anglo version which will be called Glum Rock. This will be spearheaded by the dreaded Coldplay who already have a head start on making us all feel like walking the plank…

As chains of banks and well known stores hit the bricks, so there will be record company casualties. Maybe not so much at the top but certainly in the mid level arena. Only this morning I was watching an episode of TNA Impact! (the wrestling show) and saw Billy Corgan pimping his independent song to the masses. The winners? Billy Corgan and TNA who now both have something cool to peddle. The losers? Well the absence of a record company suggests artists are starting to prove they don’t need big guns in their corner. As I said in my previous post, we’re now in the hands of publicists and marketing strategies and only the very smartest free thinkers will win that war. There is a little caveat to this though. How does the artist become big enough in the first instance to pull something like this off? That is one of the questions we’ll all have to chip away at through 2009.

Maybe it will come in the shape of bands contributing free slices of their music to independent movies in exchange for exposure. It will also come from authors, comedians and other public figures who freely pimp their favourites to an otherwise uneducated audience. Just take a look at what Neil Gaiman achieved by working with Amanda Palmer. Wise musicians will be gearing up for this – to churn up an example, there must be a rock band out there who are prepared to write a worthy theme tune to the re-imagining of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser – and for those who see what I’m talking about, there are hundreds – even thousands of indie movies made every year who normally have to pay for soundtrack songs without the budget to do so. It may be nothing, it may be something, but one thing is clear – you now have to think outside the box. The plus side of this of course is that these type of escapades give you some collateral as an artist, so if you really do want a good record deal, you have something to bring to the table as opposed to being just another band who thinks they can.

Inside of this new world order that we have created, I also predict the return of the ‘celebrity journalist’ and ‘celebrity

photographer’. Actually, I think the photographers pretty much kept that mantle sacred anyway, but there’s certainly room for new blood to make their mark on the world. The writers however, are so out of vogue it’s untrue. Cast your mind back to the ”70s and ’80s. I could name a phone book full of writers whose names were known and even respected from back then, but as we moved into the ’90s there was suddenly a flood of ‘taught’ writers, all as nameless and faceless as each other. Come full circle, there are now so many magazines and websites – all featuring the same bands/movies/books/shows* (*delete as applicable) – that the only way to rise above is by building up the writer again. Writers with a little flair, writers not afraid to piss off the editor now and again, writers who write like they are alive not report. It will come. I know this because there is no other answer to the problem. My sweeping statement is a tiny little bit unfair as Chuck Klosterman is rocking the house down wherever he goes. Lucky is the publication that has his name onside. Kudos Sir.

It’s no stretch of the imagination at all to know that downloads are the new base commodity. Over here, our (very worthy) X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke hit the Christmas number one slot with a version of Cohen’s Hallelujah. Scarily, fans of Jeff Buckley rose up behind this and instigated a rebel uprising, pushing his version of the song to number two based on downloads and fan fury alone! That my friends is how the future will work – it’s amazing what people do in the name of ‘justice’ so long as it costs less than a dollar. As the Amazing Digital Man®, I think this is fantastic but I still hanker for something extra and I’m not the only one. Thus I also predict that bands will start putting out ‘extras’. Great looking hardback tour books, spin-off non-music related projects and killer merch will all play their part in the new world. Sometimes, these things will become more essential than the music itself. Take a look at Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy and tell me that doesn’t boost MCR’s profile during their album downtime.

I’m probably at the limit of my word count here (see above about pissing editors off), so I’ll wrap up with the following five predictions;

1. Due to the advent of RockBand, Guitar Hero and SingStar, there will be less new bands on the block this year. Is there a way of measuring this? This will pay off sometime in the future by keeping the talentless busy in the evening instead of wasting all our precious time. I also predict that somebody will have the idea of televising such games. At this point, the world will truly end.

2. Leona Lewis will become the biggest star on the face of the planet by releasing a song that will make every human being cry.

3. Rolling Stone and/or Spin magazine will suffer a huge blow and find itself having to publish exclusively digitally to save the brand. This will set a precedent in which we will see the western world following suit with more products than they ever believed possible.

4. Season five of Lost will be the best show there has ever been on TV although 24 will give it a good run for its money, but Californication will still be my favourite.

5. Somewhere in the world, a bell will fall from a clock tower and injure exactly one person who thoroughly deserves it. (I’ll be in serious demand if that one comes off.)

Until next time – be cool to each other.

Sion Smith
Sion Smith is the founder and editor of BURN magazine. He is also the writer/creator of the comic book series Too Hot For Dogs and some other inane fiction. He can be contacted through the new Burn website at www.burnmagazine.co.uk or, if you’re in the mood to follow the daily ramblings of a man with too much information in his head, check in with his personal blog at http://zodiaclung.blogspot.com/.

Every Sunday he spends some time in Kiss or Alice Cooper make-up to remember why this journey was started in the first place.