Jun 242013

Popular music goes through its cycles, just like anything else. I look around, and it seems that blue-eyed British soul has once again come to the surface. The last time I remember this happening big time, was around the mid- to late-’80s, when the coolest music was coming from England, and everything had to be stamped with passion and neo-soul. The airwaves were ruled by the likes of Simply Red, The Style Council, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Blow Monkeys, Paul Young, Boy George, Alison Moyet, Phil Collins, Prefab Sprout…everything was redolent of Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, and everyone wanted to be a smooth operator.

I can see where the groundwork has been laid for a recent rise in British White Soul. With the exception of some hold-outs, black music has gone all Money, Gats, and Ho’s a long time ago. A lot of White music is taking a Luddite approach, and the jug band look rules the indie coda today. Dance music is ruled by an inane “wub-wub-wub” aesthetic.

So, it seems only natural that we’re being treated to a stylized white-boy soul, mostly from out of England once again. There seems to be a subconscious, subcultural tremor, whereby white and black music alike are in crisis. Young Caucasian men are attempting to construct a spurious black body and regeneration of culture to signify…I’m not sure.

I like it! But, I have a bit of a “here we go again” feeling. And, it’s funny that back in the day, soul music was the sound of an individual broken by loss or desire. A true wailing Soul, finding release and purification from some essentially tragic situation, usually involving a woman. Now, soul has become a token of strength, a surge of being. White boys (and oh yes, I’m one too, despite my Robert Johnson avatar) take an empathetic pride in the baptism by fire of their soul heroes. I think of Jack Kerouac’s wish that he “were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night.”

Anybody else notice this? Comments? Are you refreshed by the likes of these young soul rebels, or is it a travesty of soul? Soul-ed out, or just plain fun?

Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?


  5 Responses to “Young Soul Rebels”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    I do not like that Jamie Lidell number. Sorry to start off with a burst of negativity, but: no thank you! Where’s the melody? What’s with the heard-it-1,000-times-before techno “groove”? Me no likee.

    More later, when I resurface from some overdue work kaka.

  2. jeangray

    Your ’80’s timeline is a bit off. Most of those bands had peaked by the mid-80’s & their careers had hit the toilet by the late ’80’s.

    James Blake’s first album came out in 2010 & Jamie Lidell’s came out in 2005, so, this is hardly a new phenomenon. There are also plenty of American artists mining this same territory. Meyer Hawthorne, Robin Thicke, Ray LaMontagne — just to name a few.

  3. You left out Timberlake!

    True on the timing, however it reaches a hindsight moment. I also do realize that it’s going on in the US, as well, and yeah, there are a ton of British women (Adele, Amy, Duffy, Jessie) that I haven’t touched on.

    Another phenomenon that just seems like a whole other thread, is the black musician who seems fed up with current trends, and goes back to roots-soul (i.e.,Terence Trent D’Arby, and currently Raphael Saadiq, Dam Funk, Jose James)

  4. HVB, if you ever catch me dancing in public like the blond guy at the beginning of that Rhye video, please have me beaten with spiked clubs. I kind of liked that song, despite not finding it “soulful” in a “black” way. I know what style of British music Slim is referring to, however. There was stuff like this popular in the early ’90s that went down nicely.

    I found the Latch song to be terrible, but I appreciated the video’s many drop-the-cat moments. Also very early ’90s.

    I keep hearing about this James Blake guy and keep expecting someone else – possibly. Is this the same guy who had a super-sensitive folky ballad about 10 years ago? Is was one of those A Man’s Got to Cry, Sometimes numbers, like the one some guy did about his daughter’s teardrops or whatever. Anyhow, it is VERY much in that weird tradition of British soul that I associate with the early ’90s. This stuff’s making me feel really old. I’m expecting that heavyset, black hippie guy from that period to show up at any moment. Anyone remember who I’m talking about? Not much of a song, but well intentioned. It’s like one of the ballads I skip on any number of solo Paul Weller albums.

    As for the final guy, James Lidell… Wow, that 1-man fake band thing annoys me heavily. It’s like that black English comedian a lot of otherwise cool people like, what’s his name? You know, the guy with the big Afro who samples his voice and flips on all sorts of effects while he makes up mildly amusing songs in the ’70s soul tradition. This Lidell performance makes me wish for a band of vandals or whatever from Monty Python to burst into the studio and hack the singer’s head off or something.

    Hey, successful tributes to various types of soul music or not (in my opinion), I think it’s always a cool genre to plumb and rework in each new generation’s image. I’m really enjoying the 2 songs I downloaded from Justin Timberlake’s new album. There’s simply something comforting about hearing the beats fall with purpose just so, to hear every part of the arrangement – even the vocals – fall in line with the beat. I’ve been trying to sort out a definition of what I call “latticed arrangements,” which typically seem to come out of Motown and other forms of urban soul music. Some rock ‘n roll clearly picks up on that tradition as well. I feel like those arrangements present each stage of their development in a clear, latticed way. There’s a sense of decorum in these arrangements that allows for emotions to build in ways that more cacophonous arrangements, for instance, do not. Anyhow, I think that’s one of the reasons artists keep going back to this particular well.

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