The pop music scene since the 1980’s has gotten increasingly and distressingly less creative, imaginative and versatile. Not to mention significantly less fun. The 1990’s seemed to be dominated by boy bands except for the insidious manner in which rap entwined its deadening sameness around seemingly every musical style. The death of rock music in the 1990’s set the stage for a revolution in the 21st century not unlike the way the British Invasion of the 1960’s saved pop music rock from teen idols and the way punk rock saved it from dinosaur bands in the 1970’s. Alas, such has not been the case. And so, some of the best music since the end of the 1980’s has been not that which looks to the past as a rebellious stimulant to cut through the apathy of the mainstream but rather as an influence to be nostalgically celebrated for its retro credibility.
The Rentals: “Please Let That Be You”
Take one member of Weezer and put him together with musicians who share his love of electronic synthesized music and the result is a mere five year wait between the end of the 1980’s and the first big recognition that it represented everything that was missing from much of the 1990’s pop music scene. The first album from the Rentals is a complete homage to the synthesizer revolution of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but the song “Please Let That Be You” is the clear highlight. This song with lyrics about the sterility of existence that can be read as anything from a political statement to a religious plea for a greater power is driven by a wave of synth sound that you’d better believe would have been a big hit 12 years earlier.
Todd Edwards: “Critters Have Feelings”
Even the movies of the 21st century have produced contemporary songs that sound like they could have been released in the 1980’s. The shamefully underappreciated animated film “Hoodwinked” distinguishes each of its subjective perspectives that retell the same story through a mix of different music styles. The best of the lot is this power pop song that accompanies the version of the story being recollected by Red Riding Hood. “Critters Have Feelings” is a majestic throwback to a streamlined sound requiring little more than a few guys with guitars and drums and a little dash of keyboard to give it a broader aural definition. Like all the best power pop that peaked during the early 80’s, “Critters Have Feelings” is an example of what can be done with a song when you have talent and don’t need to depend on gimmickry like Auto-Tune.
“Bulletproof” was a big hit as the first decade of the 21st century drew to a close, but it could just as easily have been just a big a hit 25 years earlier. The synthesized hook of “Bulletproof” proved as hard to resist to teenagers of the cell phone generation as similar-sounding songs by bands like Yaz proved to their parents when they were teenagers of the Pac-Man generation. If there is one song of the 21st century that encapsulates that special something about the 1980s that most songs today simply do not possess, it is “Bulletproof.”