The hype surrounding the future of rock 'n' roll in America - namely, The Strokes and The White Stripes - has left a number of potentially great British guitar bands in limbo. Only five months ago, us Brits were content with the formulaic-but-nice sound that has typified indie rock for the last decade. But now, as a British music-lover, I'm left in two minds as who holds the key. The Strokesí "Is This It"í was the freshest album I've heard for a long time, but my heart, musical past and heritage laid with the four-piece acoustic bands of the '90s.
Bands such as Oasis, Radiohead and the Verve lent heavily on the great guitar rock of the '70s (it was no secret that the Beatles and Bob Dylan should have been given a very big thank you in the liner notes of any Oasis album). But they did, however, give a much-needed kick to the stale British music scene. They had everything I, as a student, wanted - I could pretend to be any number of the guitarists, because they were simple, melodic songs. Sure, it was the same verse-chorus-verse formula, but my Dad could only criticize it for sounding too much like the music of his heyday, and that couldn't be a bad thing.
So Radiohead's "The Bends"í and Oasis' "(Whatís The Story) Morning Glory"í were acclaimed for being the first great British albums of the '90s. "The Bends"í contained classy - and, more importantly for me at my age, dead noisy - power chords in songs like "Just"í and "My Iron Lung". "(Whatís the Story) Morning Glory"í contained epic and tuneful solos courtesy of Noel Gallagher. Both albums had the same effect on me: as soon as I heard them, I rushed home, played the song over and over again until I'd worked out how to play the riffs and solos. Sometimes, it took whole nights, but, in my infantile eager-to-please logic, I figured it was worth it in the long run.
I started listening to music seriously just after Kurt Cobain died. There was - and still is - a massive buzz around his songwriting, and his guitar-playing. The critics still remind us that Kurt and Nirvana saved rock. My theory as to why he's so popular with my generation's guitarists is that, for such simple tunes, they sounded so damn good. Still, as a patriotic Brit, we wanted a Kurt of our own. We didn't have an equivalent to the Seattle grunge scene. We had the Manchester fusion of dance, indie and hip-hop scene. I had never wanted to be an American more.
Which is why I embraced the guys who came out of the Manchester scene providing us with some great indie rock. Oasis hit the mainstream straight away. Noel Gallagher isn't the greatest guitarist in the world by his own admission, but his playing was powerful and dynamic - it wasn't as withdrawn as his predecessors (The Charlatans, The Stone Roses), and it was an instant hit with listeners.
Fortunately for us budding guitarists, Oasis spawned a load of imitators. Bands were signed up by the wagon-load, in the hope that they could replicate their success. For instance, I know Embrace were signed by their label because they contained a pair of brothers (like Oasis). They fell way short in comparison. The weird thing is, I don`t know any guys my age who listened to that stuff who didn't at one point think they could do it too. That was the beauty of it.
The bands are still emerging. Citing Tim and Jeff Buckley as their heroes, Starsailor were the men of the moment in April this year. Off the back of a few great acoustic E.P.s, they were allegedly going to be the greatest thing to happen to British guitar rock this decade. Singer and guitarist James Walsh stuck with simple chords and memorable, heartfelt tunes. I liked what I heard - their album is set for release in October.
But then everything changed. Britain got caught up in the whirlwind of new American rock 'n' roll. The hype surrounding the White Stripes tour was incredible. They thrashed out an alive guitar sound, and they looked good as well.
That was nothing compared to the reaction The Strokes got. When I first heard the Strokes, I wasn't that impressed. The thing that struck me was the crisp guitar sounds. A friend of mine saw them perform, and told me it was a completely amazing experience. I've seen any number of the British guitar groups - Elbow, Coldplay, the Charlatans, Embrace - and the result is generally the same. But, the Strokes? Well, according to my mate, they were perfect. Yep, that's the word he used: perfect. My immediate thought was to slap him. How can it be perfect? Well, according to him, their sound is perfect. My mate classed it as a new, clean sound - but to me, they sounded like The Jam and Talking Heads. I bought the album, and admittedly, loved it. The album probably doesn`t do their electric sound justice, because anyone who has seen Dylan live will tell you how superior true electric guitar playing is when you're there to see and hear it as it happens. Every response to seeing the Strokes live is the same: they look incredible, they sound incredible, they are incredible.
I guess the irony is while I was in America, in August, I never heard either the Strokes or the White Stripes mentioned once. I searched the radio stations frantically but could only find the boring and dull thuds of today's metal bands, or those "Golden Oldies"í songs you Americans have an abundance of.
Anyway, I suppose I should round this up. The Strokes rule. The White Stripes rule. What about British acoustic rock bands? Who knows? Starsailor's album "Love Is Here"í will be out by the time you read this and, trust me, it will be great. I can only hope that the American influx will not completely shadow the up-and-coming British bands. It probably won't get to that stage.
I know, Americans don't get all of our stuff. But, for middle-of-the-road guitarists, it can only be admired. Not because it's easy to play, but because it's easy to remember and has a dreamy quality. Guitar playing that I can truly fall in love with has to have a "Hey, I might be able to do that" quality - I`m sure you know what I mean.
Here's my final thought: we have seen your newcomers come over here with their new flashy guitar melodies. Sure, they were nice. Now, you let our guys go over to your land and let them have the same effect on you. It's only fair.
Chris Coyne is an 18 year-old student and guitarist from Newcastle, England who iscurrently in a three-piece guitar band called `Singers`.
He reviews live performances and albums for a local newspaper. Coyne grew up listening to Oasis, Radiohead and the Charlatans, but has matured into admiring the Byrds, Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley.
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