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By Matthew Reynolds
Joel Duddel eyes up the future for music if the singer-songwriter trend continues
Singer-songwriters are the go-to guys at the moment. Thankfully – it must be said – it seems the swathes of auto-tuned American drivel in the charts are gradually being displaced by individual men and women and their acoustic instruments; Ed Sheeran and Laura Marling, to name a couple of examples. Although I’m grateful that the back seats of buses are more likely to emit such music in future, there will certainly be less positive consequences of this industry move.
Firstly, look forward to hearing everyone around you impersonating singer-songwriters. So it was that I left my school’s leavers’ concert last year with a heavy heart: I’d quite liked Adele before that evening. Before hearing a hundred teenage girls each wail their way through her latest track, each accompanied by an equally untalented guitarist. What is it about Adele that makes girls think that they’ve got the ‘x-factor’? She has a brilliant voice and writes a good pop tune. But her songs seem to somehow lure tone-deaf girls away from the innocuous arena of the shower and towards the amateur stage. So it seems the DIY mentality of Punk has found a home in the mainstream once again. Yet instead of manifesting itself in underground clubs full of like-minded people, this essence of Punk finds itself unwillingly exercised in school halls, in front of long-suffering friends. Boys are just as guilty of this. There’s always one douche-bag at a house party who, busting out the acoustic guitar to the moans of his contemporaries, indulges us all in a rendition of Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)’. And despite protests to the contrary, you can be sure that he will always do an encore (usually Damien Rice’s ‘Cannonball’).
Secondly, anticipate the Emo mentality returning to the mainstream. I don’t know how many people would agree but I find Mumford and Sons strikingly similar to Fall Out Boy. Both pursue nostalgic sing-along choruses: ‘It was not your fault but mine’ is just as self-sanctifying a line as ‘Thanks for the memories, even if they weren’t so great’. Moreover, and more importantly, both fool the listener into thinking of themselves as incredibly profound. We all know that in any Oxford club it’s cool for a crowd that’s had a few too many to hurl out lines like those above, in some feeble attempt at collective meaning. And in the mind of some recently dumped teenager, ‘it was not your fault but mine’ becomes a catalyst, compelling the intoxicated listener towards attempted reconciliation with an uninterested ex-lover. If we’re not careful, sentimental lines like these will soon displace the equally awful noise of Flo Rider and Chris Brown, becoming the latest soundtrack for tears and break-ups in No. 9.
Finally, and perhaps more positively, look forward to many more camera adverts! As José Gonzalez first experienced with Heartbeats and as Radical Face can attest more recently, providing backing music for the latest Nikon or Canon is a consistently reliable route to fame. And for purveyors of fine cameras, there’s something about acoustic guitar music that makes the new 200mm lens that little bit more tantalising.
All in all, if auto-tuned America does become overshadowed by artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele, I reckon we might live to regret not replacing the status quo of Rihanna-led porno-pop with something better. There are plenty of good singer-songwriters, who often write genuinely decent stuff. Unfortunately, for every tune like Skinny Love there are 5 album fillers to accompany it. For every Newton Faulkner there’s a Jason Mraz – the market is saturated with a lot of rubbish, and that’s a shame. But more fundamentally, there are only so many acoustic chord riffs that one can take. So it would be good if the mainstream moved towards a genre with more potential for development and innovation than that which singer-songwriters can provide.