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After I wrote my Top 10 list focusing on music in commercials, along came another series that would have placed high in my ranking: the Fruit of the Loom commercials that parody music videos. There’s an R&B/hip-hop one that’s amusing, and a country one that’s heavily featured on the company website, but my favorite is Blue, in the moody ballad style the Brits have been cranking out in recent years.
COLDPLAY’s made a fortune off this genre, and Coldplay was already a dumbing-down of RADIOHEAD. The latter has much more imagination and variety, needless to say, but THOM YORKE’s not what you’d call good-looking, and CHRIS MARTIN is, I suppose—in an aptly generic way. But even schlubby guys like KEANE singer TOM CHAPLIN can get over in this format. Actually, though the lyrics of “Somewhere Only We Know” are muddle-headed if you’re feeling charitable and moronic if you’re not, I’ll take it over anything I’ve heard Coldplay do. I recently called MUSE “an evil scientist crossing Radiohead with Coldplay” because they take the generic balladry of the latter and muck it up with hideous keyboard timbres—another point in Keane’s favor (not to say I’m a fan) [With all these points in its favor, why not? -ed. (and Keane fan)] is that TIM RICE-OXLEY sticks with the simple but elegant piano sound.
Anyway, getting back to “Blue,” the Fruit of the Loom parody is so dead-on that it reveals the utterly formulaic nature of the style, capturing especially well the necessity for a high, plaintive, angst-ridden, frankly wimpy vocal. In terms of production, it’s actually better than Coldplay because it avoids conspicuous excess.
This started me thinking about the lack of respect critics and serious music lovers have for this quite popular sound. Could it be the production? For awhile now, I’ve felt that musical taste is largely based on production sound. How often have you heard a song by a group you dislike covered by a band with a different sound and enjoyed that song more? Or take the LIZ PHAIR example: Her songwriting style didn’t change, just her production. The switch helped her sell vastly more records, but turned off lots of her old fans, and I don’t think that was all due to the familiar indie phenomenon of “if you’re not a cult secret anymore then I won’t like you because then liking you doesn’t make me cool.” If Radiohead played Coldplay songs, would they sound better? If Coldplay played Radiohead songs, would that ruin them? For a lot of people, the answer is probably “a little” to the first question and “definitely” to the second.
But I have a pretty open mind about production (Liz Phair is my second-favorite album of hers, after Exile in Guyville of course), so that doesn’t explain it all for me. I think it’s also that it just seems like these ballads are so formulaic that anybody with a modicum of musical talent could write one. Is this true? I sat down at my piano this afternoon and in slightly under an hour wrote the music for a generic ballad. I could be fooling myself, obviously, but I think it’s as good as, or better than, most of the ones I’ve heard. Will I ever attempt to prove this by recording it and putting it on the market? Doubtful; now that I’ve done a little soundtrack work with my classical composing, I don’t want to find myself not being taken seriously because something I wrote as an experiment to prove a point, but also as sort of a joke, warps my reputation. Then again, I’m on record here declaring it a joke, so that could save me.
Knowing me, I’ll be too lazy to do anything with it, even fitting lyrics to it. But it’s getting so easy, between home studios and MySpace, to make music and get it out to the public, that even laziness may not be a valid excuse anymore. So I promise that if I do anything further with my little musical poop other than flush it, you’ll read about it here.
The last step so far was that, feeling the need to musically cleanse myself, I put on MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA’s Birds of Fire. You know what? It’s kind of formulaic too. Meanwhile, I eagerly await a Fruit of the Loom album, or at least an expanded “Blue.” C’mon guys, put this one on your website too. Don’t let someone on YouTube beat you to it.
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