Simon Reynolds has decently condensed his new ‘un into a Guardian article:
As the last decade unfolded, noughties pop culture became steadily more submerged in retro. Both inside music (reunion tours, revivalism, deluxe reissues, performances of classic albums in their entirety) and outside (the emergence of YouTube as a gigantic collective archive, endless movie remakes, the strange and melancholy world of retro porn), there was mounting evidence to indicate an unhealthy fixation on the bygone…
The book is not a lament for a loss of quality music – it’s not like the well-springs of talent have dried up or anything – but it registers alarm about the disappearance of a certain quality in music: the “never heard this before” sensation of ecstatic disorientation caused by music that seems to come out of nowhere and point to a bright, or at least strange, future.
I don’t wish to dollop even further layers of irony on top of this particular trifle – but we’ve been here before, too, haven’t we? This is repetition, if not revival. What Reynolds castigates as ‘retromania’ has been sporadically identified throughout the past decade, most perspicaciously by several of my mates around about the point at which the third pint starts to make its presence felt, because we’re old enough to remember when revivals seemed novel, if only because this was the first we’d heard of them.
Last summer I wrote a piece for the Morning Star, which wasn’t my finest rhetorical or analytical hour, but that’s what you get for writing drunk and editing hungover. I’m probably enormously wrong. All it did at the time was get me disagreed with by Chris T-T, which was rather a shame as six or so years earlier I’d quite enjoyed Chris T-T’s arch globe-shaking smash hit ‘Drink Beer’. Anyway, it’s related so I reproduce it here.
As anyone on nodding terms with the internet, the Rolling Stones back catalogue or the Liberal Democrat Party will know, no matter how potentially fantastic something may be, in reality it turns out to be 90 per cent barely mitigated ordure. But even allowing for this, popular culture in the 21st-century has so far been spectacularly unedifying.
The last decade was characterised by a peculiar resistance to novelty, with entertainment retreating either into nostalgia or down the cultural cul-de-sacs of reality TV and misery memoirs.
Apart from an ever-accelerating permanent gadgetry revolution, few risks were taken. Music, film and fashion seemed at a loss for original inspiration and focused instead on an endless succession of revivals, reformations and repackagings. The best-selling album of the decade was the Beatles’ compilation #1 – for which one can, in fact, only be thankful when considering that the runner-up in Britain was James Blunt.
The decade’s enduring entertainment motifs were remakes or rebrandings of already bankable products – the filming of 60-year-old Tolkien canon and, on page and screen, JK Rowling’s confected remodelling of Blytonesque paternalism.
The weight of grudgingly hopeful expectation with which the century began made the subsequent squandering of its promise a heavier disappointment, a displeasure expressed throughout the ’00s in continual and comprehensive complaint.
A representative stocking-filler was Steve Lowe and Allan McArthur’s Is it Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? – a book whose title captured with spot-on laconic accuracy a certain type of millennial curmudgeonry which ran through cultural commentary from the sublime Charlie Brooker to the ridiculous Peter Hitchens.
This pervading sense of discontent, pent-up frustration and conviction of a present in terminal decline has become increasingly urgent and commonplace over the last 10 years, making the decade’s abiding soundtrack a background rumble and occasional swell of non-specific grumbling.
Maybe all those zeroes should have been a clue. The ’00s began as a blank slate, supposedly wiped clean of the messily complex scribbles that defined the previous era. The 20th century’s closing scenes witnessed the apparent end of history – a spurious claim which begged the question of what on earth we were meant to do from now on.
Culture reflects its conditions of production, and the same instability and uncertainty which has produced a loss of faith in political orthodoxies, and analytical paralysis in the face of a multiplicity of alternatives, has also produced a splintered and disintegrated culture at a loss as to how to define itself and, given the apparent imminence of disaster, not particularly convinced that it’s worthwhile bothering to do so.
We have fallen back on imitations or wholesale reproductions of the tried, tested and tired-out because, in postmodern society, creating or producing anything culturally distinctive seems as pressing and productive a task as arranging deckchairs in a previously untried aesthetically pleasing pattern on the Titanic.
Politics in the ’00s continued to drift lazily rightwards while insisting on the existence of liberal harmony and contentment in the face of worsening material inequality, leaving society becalmed in deepening waters of unfocused resentment and dissatisfaction.
The 2010s have commenced with the election of a government seemingly intent on turning back the clock to the Victorian age via the 1980s. The only conceivable upside to this abrupt political and economic regression may be its potential to provide our currently stalled creative endeavours with a necessary jump-start, letting us slip the coils of an artistic ouroboros in which not just pop but fashion, film and literature are endlessly consuming themselves.
And a minor annoyance is the same paper’s review of Retromania, which contains the line ‘The Mighty Boosh put it best: “The future’s dead. Retro’s the future.”‘ Please. Surely the operative Boosh quote here is ELEMENTS OF THE PAST AND THE FUTURE COMBINING TO MAKE SOMETHING NOT QUITE AS GOOD AS EITHER.