How Rock Fought For Its Survival
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Rock and roll is a dying breed. There’s no sidestepping that uncomfortably disheartening reality. Record stores are all but missing from both small towns and major cities. Albums aren’t selling like they used to, and touring acts are playing to half-full rooms—bygone conclusions, we know, but important to note nonetheless.
However, it’s impossible to notice a rise of rock in recent weeks. Records by influential 21st century bands stand alongside releases by resurfaced classic rockers and a new breed of indie musicians. No Doubt and Green Day both had prominent spots at the otherwise pop-dominated iHeart Radio Music Festival last weekend, and yesterday Billboard announced that Mumford & Sons is on track to sell the most copies of an album in its first week in 2012—topping Justin Bieber’s previously held record. New York radio station 101.9RXP, the last rock station in the city that shut down in 2011 due to budgetary concerns with its parent company, has resurfaced this month as 101.9 New Rock. With that, we look as cautious optimists at what we think may be rock’s last stand.
Pop Rock - Boasting some of the genre’s most popular musicians, pop rock is appealing to the general populace due to its frequent airplay on Top 40 radio stations and boasts some of the most widely celebrated rock bands of our time. It bridges the gap between mainstream audiences and niche rock lovers adeptly and promisingly.
While some may not categorize them as such, The Killers have undoubtedly become a pop rock sensation. The band first achieved mega-success with 2004’s Hot Fuss, which put the group on the map as one of our generation’s most notable, true rock bands. Although the release of their new album Battle Born, released on Sept. 17—after the group’s extended hiatus—has received mixed reviews, it proves that the now somewhat seasoned group still has their eye on the ball and intend to make their mark once more.
Muse, another widely celebrated pop rock band, is set to release its sixth studio album The 2nd Law this October, and buzz surrounding the album has been overwhelmingly positive, a good sign for both sales and an inevitably healthy tour to follow. Several days ago, Muse released a free advance stream of the album, which has been embraced by fans of the band as both innovative and mature, a forward-sounding piece that manages to advance the genre while grounding it in rock history.
Few bands, however, can match the popularity of Coldplay within the pop rock genre, or rock as a whole. The band has released hit singles and albums year after year for close to 10 years now, and the release of its fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto, exactly this time last year (October of 2011) solidified its position as rock royalty, debuting at number one its first week. Coldplay is known for over-the-top, confetti-and-balloon-clad, borderline rock-opera style concerts that fans, old and young, flock to by the thousands—Rolling Stone predicts the group will chart in the top five highest grossing tours of the year following its arena-wide jaunt around the United States this summer. Last week the group announced the release of its impending live album and concert movie (filmed in Paris). It is new means like this that show a strong push for rock’s staying power.
Indie Rock - While pop rock has certainly been at the forefront of the genre’s resurgence, there’s something to be said about the relatively rapid rise of indie rock as a popular genre. Although indie sounds like it might denote a lack of general attention, acts like The xx and Mumford & Sons have launched the movement of indie as potential chart smashes.
One important thing to consider in rock’s last stand is the big bucks that bands stand to make while touring the States, a musical mecca for travelling acts. Mumford brought its Gentlemen of the Road Stopover festivals to the U.S. this summer, rallying the troops—like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros—to play at unconventional, often far-flung locations in an effort to reintroduce rock to the everyday folk. The xx has expanded its touring plan to include traditional venues—like Boston’s House of Blues, a must-stop for bands on the road—while also branching out
to boroughs and neighborhoods unbeknownst to the musical scene. Staten Island and the Bronx in New York City have recently experienced quite the cultural rejuvenation in terms of rock music, with acts like The Killers making stops there rather than in Manhattan.
Similarly, the indie rockers are all but assured to hit the festival circuit when it’s in full swing. Fitz and the Tantrums, whose untitled follow-up to the wonderfully received Pickin’ Up The Pieces is set for release on Oct. 9, pulled out the big guns this summer, visiting Bonnaroo, The Great GoogaMooga, and Coachella on their tour. The funky rock group clearly understands the importance of these sweeping events—while some core fans might make the trek, it’s all about winning over new people who may be trapped between sets, or who heard about the band and wanted to check it out while they had the chance. Jack White recently commented on his disdain for festivals, but for rock ‘n’ roll to financially survive as a genre, indie bands have to grind in the hot sun for a buck.
It’s telling that these indie rock bands have their albums clumped together in terms of release dates—clearly the labels know how to play the game. September and October are prime music dropping dates, due to back-to-school purchases and a sense of musical starvation after the somewhat vapid months of summer releases. This month alone saw the release of indie rock albums by Mumford, Stars, The xx, The Avett Brothers, and Grizzly Bear—all of which received stellar reviews. Next month, A.C. Newman (of The New Pornographers) launches an eagerly awaited solo album. Whether or not their banding together is purely coincidental, indie rockers like these know the industry is a dying game, and this fall seems to be a last stand of sorts.