The Wuss-Tones of Modern Rock

What in Tony Iommi’s blessed name is wrong with modern, so-called rock bands? I look at these bands such as Strokes, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and their ilk and the thing that strikes me is they must have some new setting on their amps called “teh ghey!” That’s the only explanation I can find for the completely un-rock that is emerging from their equipment.

Guitar tones hit an all time low with the broken plastic ukulele sound of Edwin Collins’ Girl Like You, but that was hardly a rock song. Now we have all these earnest guitar bands trying to out-wuss Collins’ guitar tones. When I hear any of these bands I find it hard to imagine any of them throwing shapes in front of a wall of pigeon-destroying Marshall amps as Deep Purple would have done.

Not only is their short-haired, skinny-tied, clean-shaven image as un-rock as you can imagine, they seem to lack anything approaching a stage presence. These bands seem to have completely bypassed the laws of rock. This is how it should work; you take a Les Paul or Strat, plug it into a Marshall JCM900 and crank it on full. Then you play while running around the stage as much as possible, pausing only to put your foot on a monitor and pretend to fire the guitar riffs at the audience as though holding a machine gun.

Why can’t many of this faux-rock bands manage anything as simple as this? I think the problem comes full circle, to their guitar tone. Weedy guitar sounds, with not enough overdrive aren’t likely to get anyone on stage jumping around, let alone the audience. As I write this little rant I’m listening to Cathedral’s 1995 album The Carnival Bizarre. Now Cathedral is a band that understands the power of a grinding bit of guitar, just one chord from Gaz Jennings beats the pants off the entire output of insipid wuss-rock of the likes of The Arctic Monkeys.

Perhaps modern PA systems are to blame. In the glory days of the holy trinity – Purple, Sabbath and Zeppelin (peace and blessings be unto them) PA systems tended to be a bit crap. Bands got volume by turning all their backline amplifiers on full and the singer would often find himself singing through a bunch of amp systems armed with four microphones sellotaped together. By the very nature of getting the sound out to the audience the guitar tones became crunchingly brutal. And it was these tones the bands tried to recreate on their records. Keith Moon used to listen to The Who’s Live At Leeds in his cars because it was the only record he could hear over the volume of their V8 engines.

Perhaps we can also blame the decline in the quality of your modern rock drummer. Look at the anaemic weedy gits they have playing in most of these indie-rock bands and you’ll see the decline in proper rock staring back at you. Watch the wussy way they barely beat their drums, providing percussion not unlike a plastic bucket being beaten with frankfurters. If your drummer, traditionally the most manly member of your band is camp as a row of tents, then how can you possible play with a decent guitar tone without drowning the poor sap out completely?

Even bands that were once metal are falling to the malady of crappy tones. Metallica seemed to have decided after the Black album to follow rather than lead their chosen genre, so we got increasingly crap grunge and then nu-metal records from them. The last record most famously featuring the worst snare-drum sound every recorded. But Metallica can still offer some hope for the wussy new bands, the documentary video A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica: Volume 1 offers a masterclass in creating guitar tone as producer Bob Rock builds a tent over several amplifiers to create the most awesome guitar tone every recorded. Bit of a shame then it was mixed way down to make the Black album more radio friendly.

But I’m digressing here and I’ve work to do. My point is this. Most modern rock bands, certainly the popularly indie bands of the moment completely fail to live up to the rock and roll ideal with their lame music. Often the songs are pretty good, but they are rendered powerless by production that makes their guitars like a wasp in a bottle. I know it’s deliberate, but as I said right at the beginning, it really does sound astonishingly girly. Where on earth have the men in rock gone? Lame drummers, wussy guitar tones and girly male vocalists. Perhaps we need to pray for the second coming of Sir David of Coverdale.