Retromania notes 3: the critique that disappears?
Thoughts prompted by Retromania's sheer quantitative scope. The first is that, arguably, the more examples of retro Reynolds marshals from the aesthetic width, geographical breadth and chronological depth of pop music, the more it begins to seem an inherently retro form: always and already nostalgic, from Chuck Berry's rehearsals of teenage lust, and the 'high school' genre as discussed by Nick Cohn in Awopbop onwards. In other words, it threatens to move beyond being persuasive and into a zone where the critique essentially disappears and you almost have to disavow pop music itself as a futuristic form except in a very small number of strictly exceptional cases.
There's a lot of truth in that model. One of the things that troubles me about it is the way it seems to acquiesce or feed into the strange complacency or faux wisdom of the twas-ever-thus brigade. People who, when challenged with the moribund state of genre X, insist everything moves in cycles, the critic must just be too old or out of touch to enjoy it, as if there is always a fixed and stable quotient of good/innovative music out there, like some kind of mathematical constant. Even though genres and forms do dissipate, dismantling themselves entropically, as the energy of their original algorithmic arc plays itself out completely. Even though pop music as we understand it simply did not exist in 1932, and we have no right to blindly assume it will continue to exist as we know it indefinitely. At almost every level the means to produce, distribute, obtain, and consume/absorb (and then discuss/dissect) art has been transformed in the last half century. This now is new, and we have to talk about why its music might not be (or if it is, then talk about how to articulate its newness, and why it should be that this new-newness requires explication and advocacy at all if it's so fresh and unprecedented).
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