Is American Rock at rock bottom?

I love musical topics… and this one might ruffle some feathers.

Listening to the radio today… painful experience. I came to wondering-- Are there any good ACTIVE American rock bands out there. When I say rock, I mean guitar/vocal/drum driven music, so let’s disqualify Beck, one of the few American acts critically judged as good. So what do we have? Matchbox 20, the Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, etc. Hardly groundbreaking. What to the Brits have? Radiohead, Blur, Pulp… these guys are making groundbreaking music, IMHO. So, are there any really good American rock bands out there that (and this is the important part) have made it big in recent years, or was REM our last gasp? I’d like to see what people think…

The thing about popular music is that it can be very difficult to tell who the great bands are until several years later. You mentioned REM. They’ve been around for a couple decades already, so the history’s verdict on them is in.

BTW, notice how long it took for REM to make it in a big way? Groundbreaking bands rarely get aknowledged right off the bat. If you want to find some current up and comers, ignore MTV, Billboard, and Top 40 radio. You’ve got to DIG for it. And remember, there’s an awful lot of crap out there that you are going to have to wade through.

I wish I could help, but I’ve been catching up on my jazz listening recently. How about Metallica? I’ve really enjoyed their stuff.

“The day after tomorrow is the third day of the rest of your life.” -George Carlin

Maybe I’m missing the point of your question - Are you looking for opinions on if there are any good (from the listener’s perspective) rock bands, or are you looking for hard, cold sales figures to determine if a recent American rock band has made it big? I think it’s two separate questions.

I noticed all the groups you talk about are ones played on the Modern Rock / Adult Contempary / “Alternative” stations. If you want numbers for popularity, you might have to look elsewhere. Sad as it is, I couldn’t argue that Hootie & the Blowfish have the sales figures to back up popularity (I’m making the assumption their a US group here). On the other hand, if you just want our gut feelings on if we like a group or not, I can give or take the Goo Goo Dolls just as easily as Radiohead and I wouldn’t bother to use a Blur CD as a coaster.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Okay, I admit my choices are all from “modern” rock, but I’m 20, cut me some slack. Besides, most active bands tend to be new as well.
What I’m looking for is an American Rock band, relatively new, that a well-versed fan of rock music would judge as good and also has had a good measure of success. So, if your favorite genre is Jazz (or rap or country), I respect your opinion but it isn’t what I’m looking for.
Jophiel, to answer your first question succinctly: both.

Sorry, tet, but I gotta take issue here. I said that I’m CURRENTLY catching up on my jazz listening, not that that is all that I listen to. I thought that my comment on Metallica would make it clear that I listen to a pretty fair amount of rock as well.

“The day after tomorrow is the third day of the rest of your life.” -George Carlin

I think the fact that there aren’t any “wide-appeal” (hence phenomenally successful $$$-wise) bands in America today is a great thing. It means that performers and record labels are no longer pandering to the lowest common denominator. There’s hundreds of great bands in America today. They just cater to smaller audiences that share their tastes in music. I can go into a record store today and choose from dozens of Rock sub-genres. How many sub-genres were there in, say 1979? Punk, oldies, and maybe one of two others. Today’s bands are taking their influences from everywhere. When people have more choices, they no longer have to share their favorite artists with the entire rock-listening public. They can go see their favorite bands in clubs and other small venues.

I have several friends in the rock concert tour business and they tell me the changes over the last 5 years are dramatic. The days of stadium concerts are all but over. There isn’t even a half dozen bands that can sell more than 5,000 tickets to a single concert. Only multiple band events like Lalapalooza and Woodstock can bring in those numbers. Elton John and Billy Joel used to fill stadiums, now the two of them on the same bill can’t even do that.

If this trend continues, you will never see the kind of fan base that was enjoyed by the Beatles, Stones, Eagles or U2. There is a thread over in the MPSIMS forum that surveyes favorite bands. It is a REALLY long list. Ten years ago that thread would have lasted about two days before all our favorite bands had been listed. That thread has been going for something like two months!

Actually, it means the audience is becoming more and more fragmented. There was a time when everyone liked the same music. Then came rock. Then came particular flavors of rock. So now every listener has a different conception of what is good music.

This is good in some ways and bad in others. The main problem is that everyone says “I love technofolk” or whatever, and then refuses to listen to anything that’s not in that particular narrow category. There’s plenty of good music around, but too many people refuse to broaden their focus.

I like a lot of music, from Beethoven to Gershwin, to Cole Porter, to the Beatles, to Led Zepplin, to Beck and the Crash Test Dummies. I refuse to get stuck in one musical genre, but many seem to think that that’s the only way to look at it.

That’s their loss.

I don’t see the ever-increasing fragmenting of the music audience as a bad thing or even contributing to people’s reluctance to experience different forms of music. My guess is that most young people always started out liking only one or two genres of music and then a smaller percentage expanded their tastes as they grew older.

I have seen older people who only like a particular kind of music from their youth. When I tried to introduce them to a newer version of “Greenback Dollar” sung and played in a traditional manner from a young musician who usually plays in punk bands they just turned their nose up.

Yep, PapaBear is right, the fragmenting of the market means that musicians don’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator. They can play to a niche market, expanding the lyrical content and musical styles available. STARS KILL ROCK!!!

Green Day.

>>The days of stadium concerts are all but over.

And good riddance! I’ve been to a bunch of stadium concerts, mostly in my early 20’s. Since then, I’ve been to smaller venues, converted movie theaters, that sort of thing. I don’t think I’d ever go to a stadium concert again. The sound sucks, you can’t see the performers, and they’re full of drunken teenagers who can’t hold their liquor. Give me a smaller place, good sound, and a place to dance anytime.

Another great band that’s been around for eons and hasn’t changed their 3 piece sound is XTC. They are fabulous.

To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.

Tet, I would have to say that my husband agrees with you. He is a musician (bass player) and everytime we turn on MTV, VH1, or MUCH music, his comment is (always) “ARe there ever going to be any more good bands!?”. I think he’s speaking of bands that exhibit good quality musicianship, thoughtful combinations of lyric and melody, and lyrics that mean something a little deeper than “Ooh baby you’re the one”. I agree with him 50%. I think the musical quality may be lacking, but I must admit I really enjoy The Offspring and think their lyrics are a hoot. Maybe the music business is too busy looking for the latest big meal ticket to really develop their artists or maybe they’re just not as picky any more. One advantage to the plethora of bands now is that my listening tastes have WIDELY expanded. I’m generally a jazz/classical person but have really gotten into Latin/SOME alternative (hence The Offspring)/dance/urban-soul-rap(TLC,Maxwell, Will Smith). Nice to have the variety available. Wish the Police were still around though; discovered them too late!

Carpe Diem!

Hey, Bunny, I play the bass also!

There are a plethora of good bands out there, but you won’t find them on those channels. Well, maybe MuchMusic–a few of the lesser-known Canadian pop (by which I mean pop in the Beatlesque sense) bands like Sloan and Jale get played there. There are soooooo many good bands out there who never get any acclaim because they don’t water down for the mass audience! (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it–I also love the Beatles, Beach Boys, Nirvana, Sarah McLachlan, Motown, etc.)

Some of the unsung bands I love–some of these you may recognize the name but know them only by one unrepresentative hit single. And many were once on big labels but got dropped, and are now on tiny labels:

The Posies, a now-defunct Seattle band who made five amazing albums of power-pop/rock music. If you are a fan of the genre, check out “Dear 23,” “Frosting on the Beater” and “Amazing Disgrace” for some jaw-dropping songwriting and vocal work.

Letters to Cleo, for whom “Here and Now” was a fluke hit. Their last album, called “Go!”, was one of my favorites of 1998. Again, modern masters of the power-pop genre.

Fuzzy, a female-fronted Boston quartet. Their album “Electric Juices” is required listening for pop fans.

Sleater-Kinney, an all-female punk-pop trio with an interesting sound.

Matthew Sweet, who has 2 or 3 gold records and still really hasn’t “made it.” Bonus points: his albums “Girlfriend,” “100% Fun” and “Altered Beast” all feature the lead guitar work of “alternative” pioneers Robert Quine (Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Lou Reed) and Richar Lloyd (Television).

The Reivers (aka Zeitgeist), a former Austin quartet with amazing male/female harmony vocals, fun songwriting, and great arrangements. If you ever see a copy of their “End of the Day” it is a must-have.

Two bands to offer up:

  • Dave Matthews Band. This one has a caveat - listen to any album up until “Before These Crowded Streets” Until then, they kept the same sound as when they played bars in Richmond.

  • Sebadoh. GREAT indie band.

“You don’t get something for nothing. You can’t have freedom for free.”
-Neil Peart, RUSH, “Something for Nothing”

This thread didn’t go in the direction I was expecting, but I like it nonetheless. And Burn, XTC is good shit, no doubt. Green Day, admittedly, isn’t bad either. But I still wonder, why are the new American rock bands that have acheived the most popularity (Matchbox 20 being the perfect example) the ones that also, in the eyes of many critics and, from what I can judge, a lot of people who REALLY get into music, so frikken’ bad? The only people I’ve met who really like these bands are the same who say “I listen to everything” sometimes with the qualifier “but rap and country.” Ironically, these are often the people, in my experience, who listen to the LEAST music

Looking at the bands I’ve seen mentioned on this thread… Posies, Sleater-Kinney, Sebadoh, Matthew Sweet, XTC, Letters to Cleo… it’s reassuring that at least the cool people on this planet are listening to good music. I just with things could be more like the 60s (or at least from what I’ve been told about the 60’s, when “good” and “popular” were nearly synonimous (yeah, I butchered the spelling… sorry)

Okay, I’ll take a stab at your question, tet. You said:

The only I can think of is that they’re popular because they’re non-threatening. The main audience for new records anymore is younger pre-teens. They’re not going to (generally) go for a group like the Posies, or XTC, or Sebadoh. Therefore, the record companies try to get what will sell.

Oh, and tet, I also agree with the comment on people who say “I listen to everything.” Usually I just nod and then ask them if they like specific groups, then I mention that those groups are in the areas they hate to piss them off. (Asking someone who hates country if they like Mary Chapin Carpenter is usually a good one.)

Anyone else’s thoughts on why all popular music is watered down now? And for that matter, why does it all sound alike, dammit?

“You don’t get something for nothing. You can’t have freedom for free.”
-Neil Peart, RUSH, “Something for Nothing”

What do you mean by good? What about Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) ?

If you talk to 20 different people you will get 20 different answers.

Most people prefer the music from their adolescence, so older people will tend to say “music ain’t what it used to.”

One of the greatest American bands is Los Lobos… I think they’re still active anyway. Also check out Paul Cebar & The Milwaukeeans.

“Anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three feet.”

In response to Jacques…
I like all the groups/artists you mentioned, except for Ani, and I think SP has gotten a little blah. But my point is that anyone who knows their music will say any of those groups are better than the Hootie’s of the world, yet are nowhere near as popular. I would go as far to say that ANY current group/artist any TRUE rock music fan likes does not have the same popularity as, say, Third Eye Blind. This didn’t seem to be the case in the 60s. Why is this the case now, and are there any groups that go against this trend, meaning are very popular with the masses and are also well-liked by critics and rock afficianatos? Dave Matthews is the only act I can think of that comes close…