The endless plateau of guitar rock

Earlier this week, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood dropped a rather provocative quote in an interview with The NME, when he stated that, “…guitar bands forming now are often playing the instruments of their grandparents’ generation – and often in the same style…The Beatles didn’t pick up banjos when they started, after all…” While at first glance it may seem like a slam on the current generation, when you step back and consider the statement, there is an unexpected amount of truth therein.

Focusing on the crux of his statement, which is the idea that there has been very little in terms of progression of guitar-based rock bands over the past thirty years, it’s hard to say he’s not completely correct. While there are a handful of individuals who have taken new approaches, the overall culture of guitar-based rock bands is almost exactly the same as it was in the 1970’s. For those who think this is outrageously wrong, go grab a record from AC/DC, Aerosmith or any of the other mega-rock bands of the day and play it alongside a band like Foo Fighters, Kings Of Leon or their current peers. Sure, Dave Grohl doesn’t sound like Steven Tyler, but the core of the sound and their musical approach is almost identical.

Even in a genre as predictable and formulaic as pop music, the sound itself has evolved and changed over the decades, as someone like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber has a different sound than 1980’s Madonna or Boy George. Again, the underlying formula is largely the same, but the sound itself is drastically different and shows both musical change and progress.

Furthermore, countless other genres and styles have evolved over that time-span, but if you compare guitar-based rock bands to other forms of music that have existed for similar amounts of time, its lack of progression becomes all the more obvious. Whether it’s jazz music moving in countless different directions over the past few decades, new strands of folk or hip hop, the almost stagnant state of rock music is tough to argue.

On a side note, it’s amusing that Greenwood mentioned the idea of The Beatles NOT picking up banjos, when just last week Nikki Sixx said that the same instrument was part of what kept rock bands from getting radio airplay.

In the end, the almost predictable state of guitar-rock is not necessarily a bad thing, as when done properly, guitar-driven rock and roll can still rip the roof off of any venue on the planet. However, when you consider the lack of progression in the art form over the past few decades, the future survival of the sound must be called into question.

Joel Freimark hosts a daily music-related webseries HERE and you can follow his daily music musings and suggestions HERE as well.

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