Friday 25 December 2009

The Golden Age of Grotesque

You may not believe it, but I've just realized we're approaching the end of the year and decade.

No, I don't live in a cave in the middle of the bush. Intellectually, I had already grasped the idea; it just did not "strike an emotional cord", if you like.

This epiphany came to me while reading Rortybomb's end-of-the-year posts.

Rortybomb is a blog I recommend, but not without a warning: it's a Yank blog. And Rortybomb's tastes in music are, well, Yank musical tastes. No offence meant.

Anyway, Rortybomb was exploring the question: did the 00s suck? He pointed to a Russian techno-dance duo as an example of dubious music; no problem here.

Not so sure with his choices, though.

Let's face it, I'm no expert, but for me, music, art in fact, is an image of its time. As I see it, it doesn't need to be "pretty" or pleasant.

Say, Baroque music still had religious overtones, inherited from the Renaissance, but it valued musical complexity and performer's technical ability.

Classical music, on the other hand, reflects the spirit of the mid and late Enlightenment. Its greatest values were melody, harmony, order. Think of Beethoven or Mozart.

Romanticism, on the other hand, was the embodiment of feeling, tragedy, and in the specific German case, heroism. And those are the values of Wagner.

The Golden Age of Grotesque

But ours is neither a time of harmony, nor of heroism; quite to the contrary. Instead, I believe our music should be monstrous, and dissonant.

In this spirit, I find that Marilyn Manson has done good things. You've gotta give credit to a band that says:

"This isn't music and we're not a band
We're five middle fingers on a motherfucking hand" (Vodevil, John 5 and Skold)

But my kudos don't go to Marilyn Manson...

Without further ado, the winners of the Golden Age of Grotesque nomination are: Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails.

Rammstein for diverse tracks, which reflect the mood of the 00s, often with a dose of black humour: Amerika, Mein Teil, Moskau, Benzin and Zerstoeren, in particular.

Mein Teil, for those not familiar, is inspired by the "German cannibal" case (Armin Meiwes and Bernd Brandes) and it gives a whole new meaning to "my bit" (as the chorus and title translate).

Amerika, on the other hand, isn't nearly as dark, as can be seen:

"We're all living in Amerika
Amerika ist wunderbar" (Amerika, collectively attributed to the band)

Nine Inch Nails for their consistently aggressive and haunting music, which for me reaches its apex in Year Zero:

"I should have listened to her, so hard to keep control
We kept on eating but our bloated belly's still not full
She gave us all she had but we went and took some more
Can't seem to shut her legs, our mother nature is a whore." (Survivalism, Trent Reznor)

Now, my WTF nomination goes to a young fellow, who composes nice, catchy songs, but whose lyrics I find peculiar: Ben Lee, for I Love Pop Music:

"I love pop music, this is how we do it
It's politics you can romance to
I love pop music, sprinkle sugar through it;
Philosophy that you can dance to".

On second thoughts, the idea of the cave in the middle of the bush doesn't sound that absurd.

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