Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Nostalgia Factor

No, its not a televised talent show about cover songs.

I often talk about nostalgia and its powerful effects when triggered by music here on this blog; its pretty much the only reason we all still fondly headbang to Limp Bizkit and sing along to some of the awful stuff we grew up listening. That power to take you back to a specific time and place, even a specific emotion you were feeling at the time, has a great effect on our minds when we hear nostalgic music.

However today I want to discuss a particular side effect of this nostalgia - rather than its effects on looking back, what are its effects on looking forward?

You hear a lot of older people (plus a lot of haughty arrogant elitists such as myself) claim that music was much better back in the day, or back in 'my day', or whatever day that particular person prefers to the present day. People will give many reasons as to my a particular decade was better than a more recent decade, stuff to do with freedom, innovation, the state of the industry, drugs or whatever. Thats up to each individual to decide for themselves, really.

I can't help but wonder if nostalgia has an effect on these opinions; if we associate fond memories with music of old, our view of it will be ever positive. I think I even read somewhere that as you grow older, the memories that stick with you are the positive ones (it was probably though, so I wouldn't cite that as anything concrete).

Another thought that struck me was when considering new material by bands who have a substantial back catalogue. I think there isn't a single band in the history of the universe who, upon releasing a new album, hasn't had a torrent of fans bemoan that their earlier albums were sooo much better man, and that whatever new direction they're taking is the wrong one. Even if, as it is in most cases, the band is just kinda carrying on in the same direction (in which case you also get a load of fans saying it just sounds the same as their other stuff...bands just can't win with fans these days!).

My thought was that does the fond nostalgia of discovering a particular band, growing up with their albums for years and having memories of their earlier music, affect ones opinion when the new release hits? This can be especially true for bands who have long waits between albums (*cough* Tool *cough*).

What spurned this thought tonight was me listening to some older Dream Theater, namely Metropolis pt.II: Scenes From a Memory. This was the album that got me into Dream Theater, and I love a few more from around the same era. Now, I argue that these are the best ones because, specifically this album and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, were concept story-telling albums with a narrative and music to reflect that, and thats what I believe Dream Theater excel at. Hell, even Octavarium had its uber-long epic title track with a story running through it. Themes, leitmotifs, operatic storytelling...I love it. Then came Systematic Chaos and the latest (something about clouds?) which hark back to them just jamming and writing songs. Whilst there are some storytelling aspects within the songs themselves, without the over-arcing story being written they don't seem to be writing in the same cohesive way anymore.

Anyway, that's always been my argument for why I've lost interest in Dream Theater (excluding Portnoy leaving, Mangini is a brilliant drummer but Portnoy wrote everything. The new album will likely be a suckfest). Nevertheless, could there be another factor to it? I got into a lot of Dream Theater when I discovered them, grabbing all the albums and catching up on what I'd missed along with DVDs where they performed their concept albums in full. All this happened around the release of Train of Thought and Octavarium, so there was a gap between that and Systematic Chaos. Does my nostalgia of discovering this hive of concept albums affect my opinion of their latest releases? That is, if I'd never heard of Dream Theater before and then heard the latest release, would I still get into it as much as I did back then?

I think you can apply this to a lot of bands with new releases, and the earlier statement about music of old in general. If the 70s prog era never existed and suddenly turned up nowadays, would all the vinyl-toting hippies still love it just as much? Or is it just nostalgia? (No offense to 70s era junkies, I myself tote vinyl and wish I was born 20 years earlier than I was. Not a Hippie though, and yes I'm aware that's more the 60s. Shut up its late and I'm better than you because. Face.)

Do you think you've come across the Nostalgia Factor when judging new music? That is, if my post made any sense at all and you know what I'm talking about.

Keep loving music ;)



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