More so than any other art form, pop music loves to look back. There's nothing wrong with reminiscing per se, as great innovators and iconoclasts should rightfully be celebrated. I am a fan of retro-rock monthlies such as MOJO, Word and Uncut, and I continually indulge myself in excellent BBC Four music documentaries. But has pop finally eaten itself?
Even the continual hamster-wheel of emergent, skinny-jeaned hopefuls hark back to the sounds and textures from yesteryear. As a champion of new music, I am often dismayed at how many new bands seem desperate to imitate the past and mine the well-worn rock'n'roll seams, with little of their own personality added to the cannon. And don't kid yourself, urban and electronic styles are repeating themselves as well. Grime, dubstep and UK funky all heavily nod to their influences and pay homage to recent fore-runners.
Is it any surprise when the nostalgia circuit is so lucrative and high-profile? Last weekend's mud-splattered T in the Park was festooned with R'n'B acts, TV pop stars, MOR indie plodders and a sparse handful of genuinely exciting new underground bands. The names on everyone's lips, however, were New Order, Happy Mondays, Simple Minds and most importantly Stone Roses – artists who had their moment in the limelight well over 20 years ago. The fact that people are still excited to see them play is testament to their talent and stagecraft; but also perhaps sadly indicative of how little competition there is. Will Cher Lloyd or Olly Murs be headlining festivals in two decades' time?
It used to be seen as a sign of weakness, a lack of imagination and an artistic cop-out if a band reformed to cash in on their former glories. Now it's commonplace. Revival tours were once for has-beens and failures. You wouldn't bat an eyelid at Showaddywaddy doing the rounds again or even a clapped-out Status Quo ... but The Velvet Underground? Yes, I was there at the Edinburgh Playhouse in June 1993. The songs sounded authentic and the night was joyous; but Lou Reed had a mullet and a guitar with no head-stock - unforgiveable!
Another milestone was the Sex Pistols "Filthy Lucre" shows in 1996. Was nothing sacred? This particular movement was designed by youth, played by youth and aimed at youth ... Suddenly beer-bellied mums and dads doddered along with teary-eyed, mortgage-punk longing. At least Johnny Rotten and cohorts were honest about the money. Once, when lucky enough to meet Joe Strummer years ago, I asked him about the Sex Pistols reunion and he insisted The Clash would never do the same. I wonder, if he were alive today, would that still be the case?
The comeback trail has seen the indie cognoscenti of Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Pavement and Britpoppers Blur do the honours and provide their audience, young and old, with another glimpse of alt-rock genius. Even dance legends Orbital decided to retread the boards to huge acclaim. In a more bizarre turn of events in the last few years, a slew of seminal bands have regrouped and toured with non-original singers – The Doors, The Blockheads, Thin Lizzy, Big Country and INXS spring to mind. Even when a band can no longer actually reform, due to a deceased frontman, there's still a maniacal hunger in the musicians' eyes to relive and plunder the teenage dream. The Tupac Shakur hologram at this year's Coachella festival was, however, creepily beyond the pale.
Despite acrimonious splits, dwindling sales and a lack of interest from fans and media the first time around, just a few years away from the glare of the spotlight is all that's needed before that triumphant return. Wait for the generational guard to change and re-emerge from the shadows – or rehab – with a greatest hits compilation and some Botox injections, then take on the arenas and rake in the spoils. So much for "live fast, die young". It's now about squirrelling away some savings and finding that retirement pad in Brighton or Florida.
I am being facetious and deliberately contrary, of course. Like most people, I thoroughly enjoy revisiting my youth or seeing groups from before my time. In recent years I've witnessed extraordinary performances from artists such as Brian Wilson, The Zombies (playing Odessey & Oracle), Kraftwerk, Buzzcocks, Adam Ant, The Specials, Pixies and the aforementioned Stone Roses. To gush even further, I'll be front row in the Edinburgh Picturehouse for a show by 1960's garage-rock pioneers The Sonics in November.
And why not? The past does inform the present. With hindsight and knowledge, one can make sense of new music and rediscover back-catalogue gems. If pop has indeed eaten itself, it's now regurgitating all over us and, strangely, the experience can be quite pleasant. The 1980s Rewind festival and Here And Now tours sell-out to huge acclaim, as middle-aged music aficionados embarrass themselves in front of their own children. Next weekend, a capacity crowd at Scone Palace will jiggle excitedly to the soundtrack of stalwarts such as Altered Images, Marc Almond, Jimmy Somerville and ABC. Everyone there will undoubtedly have a great time.
So nostalgia is good, clean, harmless fun. Musicians continue to earn a living and fans eagerly lap it up. My main worry is that we need to make stars of younger musicians and give them a lifespan across a collection of albums. With the disposable nature of X Factor and Pop Idol, and the youth phenomena of downloading everything for free, something has to give. If nothing else, we need another generation of bands who can reform 20 years from now.
Vic Galloway presents on BBC Radio Scotland at 8.05-10pm, Mondays (repeated Fridays 10pm-midnight), www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland. Contact Vic at www.twitter.com/vicgalloway or check www.vicgalloway.com. Rewind is at Scone Palace, July 20-22, www.rewindfestival.com; Here And Now is at Glasgow Green on July 21, www.here-and-now.info
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