Radiohead, Albert Hammond, Mike Hazlewood, arr. Scott Bradlee: Creep

There is a perception that the music of this present generation is a lot crappier than it used to be. Now, I don't stand here professing that all contemporary music is quality, but I will tell you that music has existed for almost as long as humans have walked this Earth and for approximately the same amount of time several of them have made inordinately shitty music.

Perhaps the reason that this reality of music getting worse exists comes from a couple things that can easily be observed.  First and foremost, to quote Winston Churchill, "History is written by the victors."  Our entire cultural music experience is based on the premise that only music that gets listened to will be played.  We tend to look through music history with a lens that filters out all the gunk and tripe that never made it.  A downside to this is that sometimes things written in previous eras get tossed aside, and may remain undiscovered until someone later on can make it relevant to our cultural experience.  Case-in-point: Bach's Cello Suites and Pablo Casals.

The other aspect that is more apparent today than ever before is that music is an easily consumed commodity and much more accessible to the layman to both listen to as well as create. This sea change has created a music industry that frequently focuses on image and marketability over musical talent.  I reference my previous statement in saying that the only music that gets played is music that will be listened to.  In a capitalist society, if it wasn't making money, it wouldn't last long.  

Scott Bradlee (b. 1981) is an American musician, pianist, composer, and arranger from New York and approaches this new world of music creation and destruction with a backward looking glance. He's an incredibly talented pianist and has a natural flair for stylistically motivated arrangements that discover unknown facets of contemporary pop.  His experiment in sound operates on a favorite premise of mine in that if you get enough talent and put it into a box filled with instruments something good will come out.  

He is the founder of the Post-Modern Jukebox, a group of rotating and guest musicians who take various pop songs from different decades and reimagines them in alternate style universes.  He was actually tapped by the game developers of the BioShock series to create tunes that fit into the dystopian world of the game.  His formula usually is to take a tune that is presently popular and arrange it as a top 40 hit from the 30's (or any other decade that makes sense for that particular song). 

What interests me the most is his seemingly uncritical targeting for songs that will fit into his arranging machine.  He has rehashed several examples of pop music from today that would be rejected by the more conservative listening community as examples of the ejecta of the modern entertainment business and a byproduct to be consumed and destroyed- certainly not showcased and performed by ridiculously talented New York session musicians.

The example we look at today features a refresh of a song that can be considered to be part of the modern music "art" scene in and of itself.  "Creep" by the English alt-rock band Radiohead was released originally back in 1992 to a lukewarm reception in their home country.  The song did find a tremendous amount of success in Israel, several Scandinavian countries as well as the US.  In what is somewhat of a paradox, the band's general opinion of the song is somewhat jaded, initially fighting the pressure to re-release the song in the UK after it garnered world-wide attention.  

Postmodern Jukebox originally published their cover of "Creep" back in August of 2014, featuring a popular vocalist in rotation with the group, Karen Marie (who is nothing short of remarkable and hysterically funny too!).  Following a tour in Europe the band re-recorded the arrangement with Haley Reinhart who takes it in a different direction altogether.  

One of the more unfortunate things about the recent trends in popular music is not necessarily the embrace of image and marketability over all else, but more so the loss of musicality as something to be praised and embraced. The advent of autotune and the insane amount of post-processing technology that goes into producing an album allows for a sound that would be unobtainable under normal circumstances.  And before you go trashing Rihanna, et al...

...this sort of technology is present in the classical world too.  The difference between a classical recording today and one 50 years ago is worlds apart.  Sound design has evolved significantly, microphone placement and the sheer number of different microphones available means that in a studio every detail can be accounted for and captured and then processed into the final product.  Such music is also subject to the various edits and cut and pastes that any other music track would endure to be shaped into the final product.  This is just a part of where the music industry has gone with the tools that are now available and just like any other kind of tools you may find, these can be mishandled. 

So I invite you to sit back and put some headphones on and listen to good musicians playing good music. And remember, bad music has and always will exist.  There's nothing to be done about that. But take heart! 

Good musicians will persist and as a result... 

So will good music.

See you next Friday.