CTV.ca | Year in music: The good, the bad, the ugly
When music historians look back at 2008, they may not see much to set it apart from previous years. Besides TV on the Radio's "Dear Science" and the debut album from Fleet Foxes there wasn't much in the way of consensus of an album of the year from critics. On the Billboard charts, the best-selling albums came not from newcomers but from industry veterans like Alicia Keys, Lil Wayne, AC/DC, The Eagles and Josh Groban.
But that aside, 2008 represented the culmination of a number of trends that started earlier this decade.
Indie rock continued to get more pretentious but a few new bands like Los Campesinos! added an absolutely necessary shot of fun to the genre. Classic rock also had a big comeback year with Metallica and AC/DC launching new albums and massive tours. 2008 was also the year that Axl Rose finally decided to release the 14-years-in-the-making "Chinese Democracy."
Hip-hop, the dominant music genre in the U.S. (though not to same extent in Canada or Europe), saw some development as artists started pushing away from rap. This was most obvious on Kanye West's "808s and Heartbreak" in which the outspoken rapper turned to actual singing (computer-assisted, however) and added a personal dimension to his lyrics not seen before from the mega-star.
Also, rapper Kid Cudi's "Day and Nite" was a huge crossover hit in the electro world, thanks to a remix by Italian producers Crookers.
These are just a few of the trends seen in the increasingly-splintered music world. Read on to see what 2008 will be remembered for:
The bad trend: The album is dead
iTunes announced in April of 2008 that it was now the biggest music retailer in the United States. This is not a bad thing in itself, as being able to download music directly to your computer and MP3 player without a) feeling guilty for stealing it or B) leaving your chair, is inherently awesome.
But the side effect is that the single is king again. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins declared his band would not be making albums anymore (alas, there's a catch. . .) but said he would continue releasing singles because that's what the industry wants.
The trend here is that artists are going to increasingly spend their efforts on making three-minute songs that taste like candy, but ignore delivering an entire meal. Although, this is not a bad thing for pop music, as albums from Britney Spears and her ilk, generally have a 75 to 25 per cent filler to decent ratio. But serious music fans want albums, with deep cuts that are not necessarily aiming for the Billboard Top 40. As a result, many new artists are starting careers by posting two songs to their Myspace page and are quickly swallowed up by the music industry before they are ready for the big stage (see indie band Black Kids.)
Good Trend: The fan is king
There's more music out there than even the most obsessed Pitchfork music editor can listen to. You are no longer be forced to listen to whatever labels make music video and radio channels play and most of that music can be found somewhere for free. Even major artists are increasingly putting out free music, such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead.
Bands now have to work for your valuable time, and are touring longer and harder, not to mention communicating better with their fans via the 'net. With online services such as Last.fm that suggest music you might like based on your playlists, there's never been a better time to find something new to listen to.
Good Trend: Fake Plastic Guitars
At first the Rock Band/Guitar Hero series were merely seen as interesting diversion for kids and their silly plastic guitars, but the music industry realized in 2008 that these two video game series were actually a desperately needed new source of revenue. As a result, MTV Game's Rock Band is now releasing usually more than five downloadable songs (at $2 bucks a piece) every week, introducing a new generation to forgotten oldies like The Cars, indie bands like The Replacements and new music from both major bands and indie upstarts alike. This is one music trend that's bucking two unfortunate decade-long trends, by helping the industry actually make money by selling music and helping make rock music cool again to boot
The ugly trend: Hilariously terrible lyrics
Some of this year's "winners":
Nickelback's 'Something in Your Mouth' "You look so much cuter with something in your mouth."
Weezer - "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived "You try to play it cool like you just don't care / But soon I'll be playin' in your underwear.
The Killers - Human - "Are we human/or are we dancer?"
Hip-hop lyrics would dominate this least, unfortunately, many of the "best of the worst" are unfit for print, but do yourself a favour and google "Lil Wayne" and "Geese."
A mixed trend: Artists blogging
In 2008, musicians took to blogging like they used to take to cocaine. Kanye West was a major leader in this category, revealing that he is (spoiler alert!) just as narcissistic as we suspected he was but still entertaining. For some homegrown content, Canadian Matthew Good has an extensive blog that is updated constantly, and unlike most musicians, is written with solid grammar skills.
Artists also used blogging to skip over the media and speak right to the fans. Axl Rose refused to do a single interview with the media for Chinese Democracy's release, only to break his silence a few weeks later, with a nearly 4,500 word post/rant on a fan website. Here he made a surprisingly strong case for why he kept the Guns N' Roses name and why the album was not a solo album, but a band effort. Also, Rose has an impressively foul mouth, even by Internet standards.
The Freaky Good: Opera singer Michael Maniaci
Even if you don't like opera, you'd be fascinated by Michael Maniaci. He's an American male soprano - yes, he's male, and a soprano -- a rising star in the opera world who can sing effortlessly in the upper registers without the aid of an Axl Rose-like falsetto. He's like an 18th Century castrati, except he's got all his equipment. For reasons unknown, Maniaci's larynx never developed through puberty, and his voice never 'broke'. So he can sing really high, and freakily well. In Opera Atelier's production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" this year in Toronto, Canadian darling and international soprano sensation Measha Brueggergosman was supposed to be the star attraction. But Maniaci stole the show with his portrayal of Idamante, his at-first strange but compelling voice layered with darkness, depth and nuance. Look him up on YouTube. He's quite the thing.
The British trend: Fighting
Liam and Noel Gallagher insulted everyone this year: Coldplay, Jay-z, Radiohead fans (for being ugly), Manchester City fans . . . but it came back to roost when Noel Gallagher was attacked on stage in Toronto by a 47-year-old man from Pickering, ON. Strangely, the man was actually one of only 16 people on Earth not personally insulted by the Gallaghers in 2008 and was upset at the slight.
Also see: Briton Lily Allen insulting Briton Sir Elton John. John returns the insult by declaring his intent to sing "Candle in the Wind" at her funeral.
The bad: Unnecessary Comebacks
The following bands either made a comeback or contemplated reforming in 2008. New Kids on the Block, Stone Temple Pilots, No Doubt, Blur, Creed . . . Creed, I say! Yucky.
Britney Spears made her second or third comeback (is anyone really counting?) with the release of 2008's "Circus." It moved big numbers in stores, once again putting the American public's taste into question.
The Good: Semi-awesome comebacks
At the end of 2008, it's possible AC/DC was the year's most profitable band, with a hit album and gigantic tour (they sold out Toronto's Rogers Centre . . . twice!). This suggests there is a great chasm in the meat and potatoes misogynist rock market out there. Take note wannabe rock stars.
Led Zeppelin played a one-time show in London, but that comeback quickly went sour as singer/Lord of the Rings fan Robert Plant said that was it and guitarist Jimmy Page threatened to tour under the Led Zeppelin name with another singer. Sacrilege!
My Bloody Valentine reformed and toured. Ears bled, literally. Imagine putting your ear next to a rocket booster during launch and you have an idea what their live show is about.
Worst combination of all the worst trends of the year: Brokencyde - Freaxxx
This New Mexico outfit manages to combine the three worst things in music in this video - autotune (for those too old to know, it's a digital program that helps you sing on tune, but sound like a robot), screamo (um, you scream) and boring club beats.
Add SUVs, some man-on-woman violence and a dancing pig and you have the most unpleasant music experience this decade. I'd rather listen to fingers on a chalkboard while being waterboarded than hear this again. Go to YouTube and write something insulting under this video. It's cathartic.
Do you think they got some things wrong?
Have your own two cents to throw in in regards to some of the above or any other bands/music from 2008?