British bands suck. Oh, sure, the U.K. has brought us The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and The Sex Pistols, Radiohead, and The Verve and maybe about 30 other great ones. But every time the "next big thing" is anointed to be coming straight outta some English town you've never heard of, they almost always turn out to be crap.
Reserve cynicism, however, because in England, where straight men dance without fear of looking stupid, the next great Rock & Roll band is a group of guys who marry the spacey, expansive sounds of Jane's Addiction and The Verve with the occasional mindbending breakbeats and tweaked synths of The Chemical Brothers. The combination of extended jams and rave-worthy Funk makes the group's name, The Music, not a hype-y boast or generic term, but a description of all that sometimes matters for a band.
Of course, like most innovators, The Music doesn't want to be the next great anything. And like most British groups, The Music is always good for sweeping pronouncement:
"I think Rock & Roll is over," says the band's singer, Robert Harvey from outside the group's rehearsal space in their hometown of Leeds. "We don't try and make Rock & Roll music. Sometimes it might sound a bit like Rock & Roll, sometimes it might sound a bit like ... Folk. I don't know, whatever. We think it's time for something new. Rock & Roll's been around for 50, 60 years; it's time for something refreshing. When Rock & Roll first came around, people weren't trying to make Rock & Roll music. It just was Rock & Roll. Nowadays people are trying to make Rock & Roll music, and I think that's where people are going wrong
When The Music started four years ago, the only thing the members were trying to do was entertain themselves. The foursome -- which also includes Stuart Coleman, Alan Nutter and Phil Jordan -- formed in high school because "there was nothing better to do." After two years of woodshedding, they won a local band competition in Leeds and started blowing away industry and press people in the U.K. They released a pair of EPs, The People and (the brilliantly titled) You Might As Well Try to Fuck Me, before unleashing their sprawling full-length, Take the Long Road and Walk It, late last summer. (The album will see its stateside release in February, but it merits serious consideration for picking up the import before then.)
Long Road is a party record with a soul. From the slinky, funky bounce of "The Truth is No Words" to the whiny synth filling the air on "Getaway," there's something going on that suggests a ton of weed smoked in the search for both a groove and a higher plane. And that's not just because of the sprawling six-minute jams and Harvey's spiritual lyrics (with echo added for maximum stoner contemplation). The Music is simply one of those artsy bands that doesn't think it has any limits -- and occasionally is able to achieve greatness.
In its short existence, The Music has had opening slots for New Order, Oasis, Coldplay and The Charlatans UK, cementing the band's mammoth live show, followed with riff after monstrous riff cascading across the bellbottom-wearing masses. There's plenty the for the drug-trippers to dance to, but they're not two guys hiding behind a turntable -- they're a full-throttle, hair-flying, hands-in-the-air live band.
Now they're in America with labelmates and fellow saviors of Rock & Roll, The Vines. It's an auspicious pairing, which, with any luck, will be remembered as fondly as The Red Hot Chili Peppers/Smashing Pumpkins/Pearl Jam tour that came through Cincinnati early in the winter of 1991. That the tour is stamped with the MTV logo (albeit only MTV2) as the "MTV2 Handpicked Tour," suggests the arbiters of taste think there's more substance than hype.
Harvey doesn't have his sights set on superstardom. He stresses that the band is grateful for the opportunity just to come to America. Perhaps it is the brashness of youth, or perhaps he really hasn't been paying attention to the failures of most of his predecessors to convince the U.S. that British bands don't suck.
"I don't see myself as a British person going to America to 'crack the market,' " he says. "The American thing goes out of my mind. I just see it as another country that's welcoming me to go play there. I want to grab it with both hands. Very few English bands have had success in America lately because of their attitude. They go over to America thinking that everybody's going to love them. It's like starting again, going to America. You can't have success in Europe and expect to have it made in America. You've got to work for it and treat them exactly the same as you treat everybody else."
That's a refreshing attitude from a country that has sent us such lovely cultural ambassadors as Prodigy, The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. England, with its chips (not fries), loo (not bathroom) and lift (not elevator), is like a whole different country or something. Besides the cult of Robbie Williams, if you go out to a club, you might actually see people dancing or going to record stores. They might even be buying a record with drum machines and keyboards played on it. Part of what makes The Music so mindblowing is that they carry off the hedonism of dance music with the raw power of Classic Rock. Perhaps rockers might open up to danceable music, and ravers and the like might actually dig a Rock band.
"Dance music has a new edge to it," Harvey says. "It uses new equipment, and a lot of things are being done that haven't been done before. It's almost revolutionized the English music industry. But we don't try to do anything. We don't try to be Rock or Dance; we don't try to introduce Rock music to dance listeners or Dance to Rock listeners. That's just the sound we make, that's how we just play together. The only time I think about it is when people ask me about it."
And before you write them off as arty wankers, remember this: Harvey was drawn to music at an early age, and though he may have flared trousers and a shaggy mane, at one point, he was moonwalking.
"When I was younger I used to try and dance like Michael Jackson," he confesses.
THE MUSIC performs with The Vines at Bogart's on Sunday.