Time for a breather? Girlfriends and wives the world over are suddenly breathing a sigh of relief this sunny day, as for the first time in three weeks, there isn’t a single World Cup game taking place. For me, that’s a handy opportunity to go back and pick through the wreckage of the teams who’ve already found themselves eliminated and wonder why my predictions were so woeful (considering I’ve already written about Paraguay, Ghana, and Uruguay, and they’re going strong for now). Then again, at least I’m not the only person in England who’s put in a woeful performance this summer!
Trying to pinpoint one piece of music that completely encapsulates everything about a country is impossible unless you’ve spent a significant portion of your life living there, which is why I haven’t done it yet. England, however, is another matter, so I hereby present to you the single most English piece of music in history. You want camp? You want a pompous and slightly lily-livered sense of pride? You want a romantic view of the rolling hills of the countryside painted by people who’ve never actually lived there? You want a bunch of drunken yobs chanting meaningless crap at each other in large groups? Elgar’s got the goods. Why the hell isn’t this our national anthem?!
So where do we find Englishness specifically in popular music? Well, here’s an interesting, if flawed thought; in a recent MOJO article, one of their journalists was having a ramble on how Arctic Monkeys fit into a very British lineage of rock bands, adopting the term ‘hard pop’ to describe them. The linage is probably easier to identify than define – so getting that out of the way first, it’s The Kinks, The Who, The Rolling Stones, possibly The Beatles, T-Rex, Queen, The Jam, possibly The Clash, The Blockheads, Suede, Blur, Oasis, Pulp, The Libertines, and Arctic Monkeys, and various other acts that sound like them. The general idea, so says the article, are that Britain is unmatched in world music when it comes to creating musically robust guitar bands that shy away from the more unsavoury rockist and popist conventions, always put melody first, tend to embrace a certain degree of camp or absurdity, and write songs that turn a very cynical eye toward culture without necessarily suggesting ways it could improve, or even suggesting it should improve. The article also suggested that America have never produced an answer to these bands (although surely the answer to The Libertines and The Who is ‘no’). I don’t necessarily agree with it, but there are certainly worse ways to try and sum up English rock than this. Particularly considering that, with this model, the ultimate British pop song is surely this.
There are plenty, though, that would dismiss the tired, over-worked canonism of classic rock and look instead to genres that do more to stay relevant and fresh. On that score, England can be proud of all the major cutting-edge electronic acts it’s contributed over the past 20 years, from New Order to M/A/R/R/S to Soulwax to Renegade Soundwave to Massive Attack to Leftfield to Goldie, and all points inbetween. Right now the major buzz in English dance, not just within the nation’s borders but worldwide, is dubstep, and that’s largely because it’s fucking awesome. Joker’s the man who’ll play you out right now, with “City Hopper” – neither the man nor the tune get enough love in my eyes.