Modern Love

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New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements… the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. ”
-Jackson Pollock

Biffy Clyro, Scottish alternative band, recently produced a cover version of David Bowie’s song ‘Modern Love’ for The Howard Stern David Bowie Tribute Album. The transformation is radical, and no doubt confronting for those who remember the original.

The first record I bought was Appetite for Destruction. Many people would describe Axl Rose’s voice as either a shriek or a whine, but it struck my heartstrings the first time I heard it as hard as Slash digs into his Les Paul.

One of the joys of being inducted into any style of music is listening backward. You start searching out the contemporaries and influences of your heroes, looking to get more of the sound that drives and sustains you. The most articulate voice to stand in for your own, that summons feelings as much as articulating them, bringing your own emotional territory into perspective.

In this way I have come to love bands like the Stooges and the Sex Pistols, and I understand that cheap, primitive recordings are a part of that ethos. The fact that the music was ‘unpopular’, or what we would refer to as ‘alternative’ is clear from the coarseness of the recordings, as well as the voices and instruments.

I’m not a fan of screaming in music, unless it’s Tom Araya of Slayer. Araya sounds like he’s barking above the cacophony of battle, complete with artillery and helicopters. The kind of screaming I hear creeping into the popular music available on mainstream Spotify playlists is distinctly polished, pressed within recordings as clinical and airtight as a piece of cryovac meat you buy at the supermarket.

Bobby Darrin, Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra did not scream. Nor did they sing about drug abuse and mental illness. Black Sabbath came from an industrial town in the UK where the band members had been factory workers. Tommy Iommi lost two of his fingers when they were torn off while operating a machine.

In a modern context, we often talk about domestic violence, anal sex, frustration, addiction, and other figures that are almost certainly shades of mental illness when we talk about love. Maybe that scream, pre-lingual and raw, is a shade of pure articulation.

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