Too Sexy for Their Rock

Fashionable retro rock has jumped the shark. Here’s why.

Thus began the age of retro rock, the sound of which is created by any band that steals from groups that existed B.N., or Before Nirvana. In addition to the Strokes and the White Stripes, acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the French Kicks, the Walkmen, the Vines, the Datsuns, the Libertines and dozens more roamed the earth. Each had its sound, more or less, but all of them--with their shaggy hair, rumpled jeans and coy, pasty-faced visages--could be placed under that one giant umbrella.

Now, the upside of this trend is that, by and large, it produced some great music. Fashionistas or no, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one fierce trio, and I'll concede the same for Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters and, to a lesser extent, the Killers. But, merely as a matter of timing, Interpol's Antics is the beginning of the end, for it arrives when these bands are truly starting to become caricatures of themselves, plastic and prefabricated, offering no new outlook on the world beyond catchy narratives about hitting the club and tying one off--oh, yeah, one of the defining characteristics of cheesy retro rock is lyrics about going places, hitting the town, etc. I'm not saying that every good band must be tortured, but when a band's thoughts are trained strictly to making it big, its music tends to lack a certain pathos. Which is why I'd say Franz Ferdinand isn't a good band. It's a band that knows how to pretend it's a good band, as are the Killers. They've both seen what works. They know which haircuts to get. And while these groups may end up making some snappy, sultry dance rock, it is, at the end of the day, pretty disposable snappy, sultry dance rock, and no less contrived than music made by the boy bands and rap-rock stars whom the retro rock movement established all its credibility for having upended.

Interpol's snooty fashion sense was once upon a time excusable because it was an anomaly. Now that it's the norm--now that the band is in essence competing with other bands that ripped it off--it's going to get old quick. So here's what I'm willing to bet: Despite its brilliance, Antics will be forever remembered as the album that marked the time when retro rock jumped the shark, going from early-'00s movement to late-'00s embarrassment. It's only going to get worse from here. We can expect a Creed-like version of the Strokes to show up on MTV any day now. I can expect my 15-year-old sister to ask for a set of hoop earrings and some leg warmers for Christmas.

Interpol, at the Gypsy Tea Room on Monday, is like the cool older brother to "It" bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Killers and the Scissor Sisters. But their album Antics, though brilliant, may signal the end of an era.
Interpol, at the Gypsy Tea Room on Monday, is like the cool older brother to "It" bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Killers and the Scissor Sisters. But their album Antics, though brilliant, may signal the end of an era.

Oh, well. At least Kevin and I got in a good road trip before it all went sour.

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