Thursday, March 26, 2009

Politics and music - should one be considered over the other?

When I listen to music, I often pay more attention to the instrumental rather than the lyrical aspects, although I try to be cognizant about what is being said. Musicians often use their music to state their social, political, religious, or other views, which means that I often find myself listening to music with which I do not philosophically agree. To take one example, I do not necessarily endorse the political views of the Clash.

Some people are able to listen to music with which they do not agree, and some do not. Some, however, believe that the music itself is reflective of a political view.

Take this Guardian blog post entitled "Spandau Ballet: The sound of Thatcherism." It's not a compliment.

Thatcherism was about more than politics. It was, obviously, also a cultural phenomenon that transformed British society....

Maybe pop writers loved the avowedly anti-Thatcherite likes of the Smiths – and we certainly still hear plenty about them from pop writers – but the records people were buying were made by musicians who reflected the aspirations and assumptions of the time, even if they did so unwittingly. They were buying records by people like Spandau Ballet.

For purposes of the post, Thatcherism is defined as more than a political movement.

[T]he link between Spandau Ballet and Thatcherism is about more than the personal politics of Tony Hadley. It's about the emptiness of Spandau, the aspiration to do nothing more than look good in a nightclub, the happy embrace of style over substance.

But if you use that definition, there are a number of bands that could be lumped into the Thatcherite category. Perhaps Madness and Depeche Mode would be excluded, but Duran Duran didn't really delve into politics all that much, nor did Culture Club. ("War is stupid" does not rank as the greatest political manifesto of all time.)

And there are plenty of bands from other decades who emphasized style over substance, or sometimes both. The Beach Boys and the Beatles are two examples of bands that played both sides of the fence, and there are die-hard fans of both bands that feel that they either got better or worse in the Pet Sounds/Revolver period.

In my view, the first question is whether the artist in question put out good music that reflected his/her/their views - I can deal with the specific views later. And, measured by that metre-stick, Spandau Ballet passed the test.
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