Tuesday, June 24, 2008

To Skewer or Not To Skewer? The Raveonettes vs. The Polyphonic Spree and Other Derivatives

A couple months back I was listening to Sound Opinions, my favorite music podcast out there. During the show, hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot were reviewing Lust, Lust, Lust, the new Raveonettes cd. They both skewered it for being trenchantly derivative of The Jesus and Mary Chain. That got me to thinking how music critics and aficionados often rip a band for being derivative, but sometimes they’re willing to give a pass to another band who is just as derivative. Why do some bands get raked over the coals, while others are lauded?

So I started thinking about some examples in my own collection. Why is it that I like the Raveonettes but detest The Polyphonic Spree? Within the first 40 seconds of hearing the Raveonettes for the first time it was obvious they were borrowing quite heavily from the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Spector Girl Group sounds. Yet I didn’t mind. In fact, it made me happy. Within the first 40 seconds of hearing the Polyphonic Spree, it was clear to me they were borrowing quite heavily from Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. Within 50 seconds my blood was boiling. So what gives? At the end of the day I think it has to do with the listener’s attachment to the source material being ripped off. I was a huge Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fan. I was a fan of both those bands since their first records, watched them develop over the years and find their patented sounds. So when I hear a band like the Polyphonic Spree rip off a sound that I saw develop over the years, a sound that I’m intimate with, I get angry. If I want to hear that sound, why would I bother listening to the imitators when I’ve got all the originals in my collection? In terms of the Raveonettes, I always liked the Chain and I think Psycho Candy is a great record. But I never owned it and never saw them play live in their heyday. My wife owns Psycho Candy and it’s been in my house for 15 years, yet I’ve probably only listened to it a half-a-dozen times in all those years. As much as I like that record and their sound, I honestly don’t have a particularly strong attachment to it. Same for the girl group sounds. I’ve always loved that sound, yet I’ve never delved that deeply into that canon. So when I hear the Raveonettes, I’m hearing sounds that I love, but because I rarely listen to those source materials on my own, I’m actually happy to be reminded that I like those sounds. And actually, listening to the Raveonettes is likely to get me to pull out Psycho Candy or my Shangri-Las records.

I’m not sure if this reasoning holds up, but that’s my two cents anyway.

As a side note, I wrote Jim & Greg a letter which this post is heavily cribbed from. I believe that letter inspired a show about one-note wonders, bands that have made a glorious career out of playing the same song over and over.

And for what it’s worth, the new Raveonettes record is not all that great. The opening track, Aly, Walk With Me is a sultry, slow-grind monster, but beyond that nothing too earth shattering on the record. Good to hear when it pops up in shuffle, but a little tiresome in its entirety.

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