Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Abney Park Or: If It's Serious, It's Not Rock and Roll

An important component of rock and roll is that it not take itself too seriously. This isn't Art, it's Entertainment. (Graham Greene appreciated this distinction, separating his novels into "serious" ones and "entertainments.") It's Kiss telling you to "rock and roll all night and party every day." It's Cyndi Lauper informing you that "girls just wanna have fun." Oh, sure, a good lyric can be as evocative as poetry, and good music can move the soul, but at the end of the day it's all done with a wink and a nod.

Classical music purists can marvel over the inverted G-minor seventh progression, or some such, and the folkies can bob their heads to some reedy-voiced dropout railing against how he's oppressed by The Man, but popular music needs to be a little less serious. That's why progressive rock gets a bad name, with songs that are essentially 15-minute jam sessions under pretentious titles such as "When God Lays His Hands on the Scheming Unbeliever and Extracts His Vengeance - Part VI," or why people often scoff at aged multi-millionaires Crosby, Stills, and Nash nattering on about teaching your children well. Hey guys, teaching your kids to stay off the crack might be a good start.

Abney Park, on the other hand - now there's an outfit that doesn't take itself too seriously! The 1930s aviator leathers and goggles, the hand drum that has its own light show, the backup singer swaying back and forth dressed like a debauched odalisque, the instruments (the "Chrono-Dynamic" microphone, the "Clockwork" guitar, the "Tesla-powered" keyboard), and, above all, the knowing smirk of Cap'n Robert as he masterminds the band before pushing off once again in the good ship Ophelia. You know he's not taking himself seriously when he sings

With a crew of drunken pilots
We're the only airship pirates
We're full of hot air and we're starting to rise
We're the terror of the skies but a danger to ourselves!

I'm a recent convert (hat tip to, among others, Emilly Orr), but, to paraphrase Dick Clark, they're a band that can make you laugh - and you can dance to it!

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