Britain still searching for guitar heroes

24th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

As former "saviours of rock'n'roll" The Strokes release their fourth album this week, nowhere is the search for rock's new standard bearers more intense than in Britain. But who is up to the task?

The 2001 release of the US band's debut "Is This It" and the emergence of compatriots The White Stripes sparked a renaissance in guitar music but with both bands slipping from view it is up to younger bands to fill the void.

Theoretically Britain is the place to look, being the country which gave the world The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Sex Pistols -- but salvation may be far off.

One band garnering much recent attention are London quartet The Vaccines, whose tuneful album "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?" is also released this week.

Although a competent debut that is set to chart in the top two, Guardian reviewer Alexis Petridis doubted its generation-defining potential, saying it had been "hyped more than their catchy retro indie deserves."

The hype has largely come from an industry and music press desperate to see a British rock resurgence, with respected Radio One DJ Zane Lowe lauding the them as "the band that will kick-start a new era."

Former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher disagreed, describing The Vaccines as "boring".

Gallagher himself charted at number three with his first album from new band Beady Eye, formed from the ashes of Oasis. Yet despite largely positive reviews, it seems his chance to shape the future of rock has been and gone.

Following the 90s heyday of Oasis, the two British bands who have fleetingly threatened to restore guitar music's primacy are chaotic quartet The Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys.

The Arctic Monkeys shot into view with their debut single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" in 2005, and fast acquired a loyal fanbase attracted to the band's no-nonsense approach to the industry.

But having traded on their cynicism of celebrity culture, it was no surprise the Monkeys resisted the glare of full-on commercial success and instead chose to experiment with their sound.

The Libertines had ambition, talent and wit but were ultimately dragged down by lead singer and creative linchpin Pete Doherty's drug addictions.

The singer, who now fronts the band Babyshambles, revealed his desire to emulate great British bands of the past in his "Books of Albion".

"I want to create a band that people will be sorry to miss, and obliged to adore," Doherty wrote. "The Smiths had a special power. As did the (Stone) Roses, The Jam and, according to taste, many others."

That "special power" is one that has in the past elevated bands from mere musicians to cultural icons.

The key to the rock credentials of bands like the Stones, the Pistols and even The Beatles were their anti-establishment attitudes -- but with rock'n'roll now firmly part of the establishment, youngsters seeking rebellious kicks often look elsewhere.

This found expression in Britain's "second summer of love" in 1989 when a combination of ecstasy and rave beats kicked off an obsession with dance music.

The result of all this was a sudden vaulting of these DJs to the position of "deified saviours of the night," US music critic Alex Green wrote in his book, "Stone Roses," which charted the story of one of the few guitar bands of the time to embrace the new house beats.

Perhaps the biggest new factor limiting rock's reach has been the rise of technology and social networking, which have helped eroded the tribalism which for so long embodied rock's spirit.

British producer, DJ and record-label boss James Lavelle explained to AFP in a 2008 interview that with new technology "you can't focus people onto things in the same way, it just means there's much more confusion."

"If you look back to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, it was changing the world. It's a very difficult thing to say, but it feels like everything has been done," he added.

© 2011 AFP

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