Listen to this article
I was in a large record store the other day looking for Tom Waits’s latest album when I experienced an attack of disorientation. There was no Waits in the “rock/pop” section, nor in another labelled “classic rock”. Wandering through a maze of “heavy metal”, “hip-hop/R&B” and “dance”, I spotted “singer-songwriters” – but there was no sign of Waits there either.
Finally someone working in the shop waved me towards an obscure section called “Americana”. He had that airy brand of contempt that record store employees specialise in. It was as if I had flunked a test.
Pop’s subgenres multiply like bacteria, and it’s exhausting trying to keep up with them. The latest is “new rave”, which I must confess also leaves me feeling disorientated.
New rave is spearheaded by a London trio called the Klaxons who claim kinship with the early-1990s rave scene. At gigs their fans wave fluorescent glowsticks and blow whistles, wear clothes emblazoned with smiley faces and dance like maniacs. The spirit of acid house lives on.
So far so clear. Except if you listen to the Klaxons – their debut album Myths of the Near Future is out next week – you struggle to hear anything resembling rave music. Sure, there’s the odd blaring klaxon or repetitive sample but basically they’re an indie rock band, all wiry guitars, punk basslines and shouty choruses. Liken this to true rave music and you’ll have acid house oldtimers spluttering into their energy drinks.
The Klaxons claim to have invented the term “new rave” as a joke. It was pounced on by the music weekly NME, a publication with a venerable tradition of puffing spurious musical trends such as the “new acoustic movement” (“Quiet is the new loud!”) or the convoluted-sounding “new wave of new wave”.
So before dusting down that smiley face T-shirt at the back of the wardrobe and cracking open a tub of Vicks VapoRub (the classic raver’s accessory for some unfathomable reason), perhaps it’s best to take new rave with a pinch of salt, as the Klaxons are.
“With all those cool people who latch on to you first, by the time everyone else has caught up, they have moved on to something else and we are already ‘so yesterday’ to them. We are ‘old new rave’ already,” they said in a recent interview.
Wise words, though why they latched on to rave in the first place remains mystifying. These new-fangled new ravers could learn a thing or two from that Tom Waits album I struggled to find, a triple-CD compilation split into three categories, “bawlers”, “brawlers” and “bastards”, which refer to weepy songs, rough ’n’ tumble songs and weird songs respectively. Unlike new rave, it does exactly what it says on the tin.
■ Norah Jones’s music floats across genres like a lilo on a swimming pool. There’s a bit of jazz, some folk, a smidgeon of country, a touch of blues, all blended in such a good-natured, tranquil way that her albums have sold more than 30m copies. If you had to bracket her under a single label it would be “easy listening”.
For all her admirers, there are many others – the new-raving NME-reading classes, for instance – who deride her as dull. Her new album Not Too Late sets out to prove them wrong. It reveals a Norah who feels pain – “You seem really glad that I am sad,” she sings plaintively – and who wonders whether George W. Bush is deranged.
It’s not very convincing. Jones isn’t an emotional singer: she sounds too tasteful for that. Yet she has a fine voice and an ear for catchy melodies, which give Not Too Late a different sort of power. Music doesn’t always have to rouse our feelings to fever pitch. There’s room too for songs that soothe and please.
Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published