“Don’t Believe The Hype”
With Alabama Shakes about to don the cover of the NME for the first time and getting progressively more hyped in the mainstream media, it brings about a set of questions for any music fan. What is it that makes some bands so successful and others miss out on the popularity? Is it just down to media hype in the first place? Or do groups like Alabama Shakes deserve everything they get?
In the now, almost iconic video for Arctic Monkeys 2005 single ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, front man Alex Turner sidles up to the microphone and utters, “Don’t believe the hype”. The band at the time was facing a barrage of media attention; all on the back of a few rough demos and some strong live shows. Countless other bands are snapped up by the press in the same way, The Libertines, Razorlight, Brother and Oasis all gained nationwide coverage before they released their debut albums-all with differing success levels.
It is interesting to watch how, due to the structure of music industry marketing, some bands can capitalise on this and manage to ride out the storm ala Oasis to live up to their early attention. The question now is whether people listen to Alabama Shakes because they enjoy their soft country blues sound, or because they are so hyped?
The bands, in my opinion should not take the blame, whatever the case. The music press in the UK and America have shown that they are liable to jump on any bandwagon and brand bands as world-beaters at the drop of a hat. It sells them issues and at the end of the day makes them more money. When looking at the facts however it does appear to generate a far easier road to the top than most bands have, Alabama Shakes had appeared in the NME 3 times before they even booked a tour in the UK and when the time came the gigs were sold out within days, thousands of kids ready and waiting to watch the “new Kings Of Leon”. This is before their album ‘Boys & Girls’ had been released.
Other bands embark on their debut tours playing to only a few disinterested observers, Jeff The Brotherhood for example, a band on Jack Whites Third Man label with 6 great albums under their belts are only now starting to step up and play to hundred’s of fans rather than tens. The same is true of current press darling The Black Key’s, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were 5 albums in before their tours were selling out and now on their seventh and most hyped album ‘El Camino’ they can tour stadiums. There is an argument that says that bands or artists need time on the road playing tough gigs to gain long lasting quality, this certainly was the case 20 years ago.
Perhaps the answer lies within the quality of the music the artists make. Although the relationship between the quality of music and popularity has never been a symbiotic one. That becomes blindingly obvious when looking at the chart positions of tawdry and meaningless acts like Jessie J or Tulisa. But this has always been the case, especially in this decade when guitar music does become popular its quality suffers, we can take Kings of Leon as a case in point.
I would argue that The Shakes along with The Black Keys more recent records are a fairly middle of the road group, certainly not one that are doing anything different musically. They are part of a long tradition of bands that take influence from country, blues, soul and pop ranging back to 60’s groups like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Their songs are catchy yes, but perhaps not deserving of the attention they are getting.
In these new modern times the Internet and social media have opened up so many opportunities for music lovers to find music to enjoy. Unfortunately it seems that many music fans only listen to what’s shoved in front of them, this reliance on outlets like Radio 1 can work at times, but often serves to undermine a bands material. Alabama Shakes face the danger of becoming overplayed and overhyped, few bands can live up to the early attention they are given and as a result they aren’t allowed to grow and their artistic output suffers, this leaves us the listeners without great music.