The headline has been appearing in music magazines for years, “(Insert band name here) saves Rock Music.” Each time I see this headline I wonder from what is rock music being saved, and was it ever really in danger?
This phenomenon seems to have had its start in the early 90’s when Nirvana hit the scene with “Nevermind.” Hair metal was all the rage in those days and it looked as if good rock music, the kind we had grown to love, was becoming a thing of the past. But, here comes Nirvana to change the face of current rock music and “save” it from degenerating into a display of big hair.
At this time the phrase may have still held some meaning and may have even been a correct assessment of the effect Nirvana had. But since the early 90s the phrase has been used more and more frequently each time with less justification.
The phrase has subsequently lost any semblance of meaning. It is tossed around willy-nilly with no thought and good reason. Radiohead has “saved” rock at least twice in the past few years with the release of the near-perfect albums ” OK Computer” in 1997 and “Kid A” in 2000. Beck, with each release since his magnum opus “Odelay” in 1996, has been saving rock on a fairly regular basis. U2’s name has also been added to the newly long list of savior’s of rock music with their return to prominence.
Even non-rock music has saved rock. Witness all the hype that surrounded the electronic act Prodigy when they released “Fat of the Land,” in 1997. If I recall correctly, the band’s unique fusion of rock elements into their electronic music also had a hand in saving rock.
While most of the aforementioned bands deserve the critical accolades they have received, the idea that they saved rock music is strange. If the idea of these respective bands saving rock music is to be taken seriously, rock gets itself into precarious positions quite quickly. In the year between the release of “Odelay” and “OK Computer,” and more recently, between the release of “Kid A,” and U2’s comeback, rock music somehow put itself into a position it needed to be saved from.
What was this position and how did rock get there? Music magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone never make this very clear. This is because it is an absurd concept. Rock has dry spells, just like any other genre of music, where mind-blowing albums are few and far between. But, as long as artists like Beck, Radiohead, Built to Spill and Stephen Malkmus (to name only a few great rock groups out there) are still around releasing rock albums, will never be in trouble despite the amount of time between album releases.
Perhaps what these magazines mean to say is that when the aforementioned groups release albums or come onto the scene they redeem the idea of rock music and come close to embodying rock’s ideal form. These bands, then, don’t “save” rock music, they only give us a glimpse of what mainstream radio rock isn’t and an idea of what rock can be. To paraphrase the words of mainstream radio fixture, P. Diddy, “Rock isn’t going anywhere, it can’t be stopped now.”