“A Certain Romance:” A Pop Revival Primer, Part I (2006-08)

If you look at the rock landscape of the mid-2000s, you might be confused. Sluggish post-grunge continued to be pumped out by the big record companies, but most everyone had moved on to sneering pop-punk, twee, and garage rock revival. Indie stations liked to play New Wave revivalists and Dance Punks like Franz Ferdinand, which received little airplay but were frequently heard in film and television. At this point in the decade, film and television were dictating musical tastes in a way radio no longer could. If this sounds like complete chaos, it wasn’t. The boundaries between genres–and the people listening–would never be more clear than they were then.

Pop Revival is the result; a genre blending classic pop and rock with contemporary sensibility. Pop Revival had the good fortune of sharing a common aesthetic with other cultural phenomena–Mad Men, American Apparel, Tumblr–that arrived just at the right time. But back in 2006, the future of rock wasn’t nearly as certain.

I say 2006 because to understand the genre you must understand two bands, both of which debuted that year. Arctic Monkeys began in the same vein as the “Rock is Back” bands of a few years earlier, but early on they possessed a defiantly “retro” touch that got stronger with time. Arctic Monkeys also made history as the first band to become a huge success by giving their music away for free. Not only did it number the days of Sony and their ilk, it demolished the wall between the band and the audience. Whereas bands in previous eras were untouchable Olympians in gold mansions, it would be no great surprise to turn a corner in your own town and see Alex Turner buying potatoes. Rock stars became musicians, idolatry was now admiration.

While Arctic Monkeys had more name recognition, The Fratellis were a sleeper hit. In the six years since their first album Costello Music was released, I’ve heard no fewer than six of its tracks scattered across innumerable movies and television shows. But more than success, The Fratellis had a look, an unforgettable aesthetic typified not only by Costello Music‘s content, but it’s album art:

Most of all, these two bands had heart. In the decade that gave us Apple Bottoms, The Pussycat Dolls, and Paris Hilton, The Fratellis said “no, not us,” and reminded the world that it was possible to be sexy, not slutty, even while the Arctic Monkeys bemoaned that the chavs had taken over in their epic song “A Certain Romance.”

Arctic Monkeys and the Fratellis arrived long after the other garage rockers, making them fresh voices in a declining genre which the smart set, the early hipsters, propelled to runaway success.

While Arctic Monkeys helped create Pop Revival, the transition into a new genre was not smooth. Their third album Humbug, as well as the back half of Favourite Worst Nightmare, tell the story of a band looking for direction as its contemporaries fall by the wayside (the Fratellis broke up in 2009). Luckily, other bands arrived to pick up the slack.

Next time: Neomodernism comes to New York.

Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”

When: October 2004
Where: La Canada-Flintridge
Who: My mom, the band Nural, and several strangers
Weather: Cool, breezy

Last year, The AV Club asked the question, “why is music from the ’90s on classic rock radio?” A better question would have been “why is music from the ’90s on new rock radio?”

KROQ is the modern rock station in the Southland, and like almost all stations of that kind, it fell into the trap of playing less and less new music. Leaving out the 80% of the airtime devoted just to The Offspring and Sublime, you’ll mostly hear Grunge. Green Day was no spring chicken at this time, but for a few brief years it wasn’t the least bit unusual to hear this nine-minute monstrosity in your car.

Back at Bosco, Mr. Thompson was working very hard to keep the school newspaper running, and the end result was really good. One of the articles was about this very phenomenon. There was a new radio station, Indie 103.1. It was the best radio station in Southern California, characters on TV could be seen waking up to it, and KROQ was starting to play more and newer music to compete. Eventually, 103.1 folded and things went back to normal, but so long as I was in high school, this was the case.

I was in La Cañada attending a Nural concert. I was so taken with them after my 8th grade graduation party that I wanted to see what the fans were like. I have no idea why I liked them so much, they weren’t very good, but I did get to talking with some of the girls. Mostly about Xavier Lopez-Ayala, Bosco Tech’s resident artist and Youth Governor of California. We swapped NorCal band demo discs, and I returned home.

Next: Wasted hearts and nuclear war.


Blink 182 – “All the Small Things”

When: August 2000
Where: Bryce’s House, Hastings Ranch
Who: Bryce
Weather: Hot, dry

I may have gone overboard in my willingness to be accepted.

The Spring of 2000 was the era of Gaygate– my friend told me I acted gay, thus instigating a schoolwide scandal. It all seems so silly now, but I went to an all-boys high school so it’s harder to take so seriously. But if this series has proven anything, it’s that I was a very serious, very effeminate ten-year-old.

In my attempt to patch things up I broadened my horizons by letting Bryce introduce me to some of his musical taste– foremost was Blink-182, which I tolerated. I was also a devotee of the Now That’s What I Called Music! franchise, meaning I would get my own copy of the song soon enough; and lo and behold, I was transfomed by the power of the Sony Corporation!

Note: Bands like Blink-182 remind me that Todd Oldham is going to hell for popularizing punk-prep. Don’t worry, early 2000s. It Gets Better.

Incidentally, please check out Nathan Rabin’s seriesThen! Especially the earlier articles, as the later ones just agonize repeatedly over the Black Eyed Peas.

Next: When your trapped in a car with Beyoncé, you start to make compromises…