Arts: Why the sun is rising in the west

After a spectacular decade, pop now seems stuck in the doldrums. But there are signs of new life - across the Atlantic. By Fiona Sturges

As with almost every facet of our existence, there is a feeling that a millennium will mark some sort of watershed in music. Pessimists speculate that independent record companies will either be forced into liquidation or be subsumed by the major labels who will step up their output of manufactured tat. A more optimistic view is that the advent of a new century will flush away the industry's evils, from Britpop's obsession with retro and boy/girl bands to the tyranny of the big labels. Neither will happen, in my lifetime at least.

For the next 12 months, it will be business as usual with teen acts continuing to spread across record labels like a rash. Boyzone may have reached the end of an unfeasibly long road but they have already spawned suitably saccharine offspring in the shape of Westlife. Reduced to their constituent parts, the solo Spice Girls met a mixed reception this year but, as their recent tour demonstrated, their appeal as a unit shows no signs of abatement.

However, while it's true that, at this portentous moment, pop is stuck in neutral, things are simply not as bad as they seem. After years of Britpop's smug effrontery, the past couple of years have heralded the return of American indie-rock in the guise of acts such as Smog, Will Oldham and Wheat. My hopes are pinned on Nashville's Lambchop to continue this trend next year with their new album, Nixon (City Slang). The band remain curiously uncelebrated in their own land but have slowly gathered a cult following here. Fourteen musicians, headed by the charismatic Kurt Wagner and his weary, semi-spoken vocal style, Lambchop offer an unlikely blend of soul and country replete with understated strings, choirs, horns, and the obligatory steel guitar. As a critic on this paper put it: "It's real music for real people."

New Jersey's Yo La Tengo have always been on the fringes of American rock, though their wilful experimentalism and mercurial live performances have guaranteed them a quietly fanatical following. Among their fans is the movie director Hal Hartley who regularly uses them to provide soundtracks for his films. Yo La Tengo's guitarist, Ira Kaplan, was once described as "the Jewish Jimi Hendrix" - some recommendation - yet, in some ways, that undermines the tenderness and subtlety of their sound. They return in February with their 10th album, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador), a hypnotically fragile collection of songs that explores themes of love, marriage and history.

At the opposite end of the rock spectrum, there are a clutch of US bands that are guaranteed to have parents and offspring at loggerheads. If you watch MTV you will know that Limp Bizkit are already huge in America with their videos on a seemingly permanent loop. Limp they most certainly are, though their empty-headed blend of rap and anthemic rock has got angst- ridden, baggy-trousered teens in a fever.

Rap-metal crossover bands Korn and Filter will also be doing the rounds in 2000, as will Rage Against The Machine, the granddads of polemical funk-rock who are trying to relive their glory days of 1993. As far as this particular fad is concerned, I'm with the parents.

Closer to home, three major players from 1997, Radiohead, Oasis and ex- Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft are all releasing albums. Thom Yorke's penchant for soaring vocals and maudlin sentiment has led to a recent proliferation of Radiohead imitators - Travis, Coldplay, Ben Christophers and Muse, to name but a few. So can Radiohead astonish us once more, or will they turn on their disciples and become, say, the undisputed kings of samba?

In the words of countless gameshow hosts, it's make or break time for Oasis. The band that spearheaded Britpop - sorry, Damon - return in February with a new album Standing On the Shoulder of Giants (Creation). The Gallagher brothers' last album, 1997's Be Here Now failed to match expectations; it will take a very special album indeed to propel Oasis back to the dizzy heights of the mid-Nineties. It is unlikely that the recent changes in personnel will make a difference. Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs has been replaced by ex-Ride bassist Andy Bell; but would anyone really have noticed if they had swapped him for a bloke in a local pub band?

Richard Ashcroft is due to release a single in April and an album set for the summer will feature steel guitarist BJ Cole, bassist Pino Palladino and former Verve drummer Peter Salisbury. Determined to surpass his success with The Verve's Urban Hymns, Ashcroft recently stated: "I really want to seize the moment this time around." Oh, please.

Bar the Chemical Brothers, the early Nineties innovators in the dance world (notably Underworld and Leftfield) are no longer the giants of the genre, having released disappointing albums this year. But a sparkling debut from Basement Jaxx proved there's still life in dance music yet. No doubt it will continue to sub-divide and mix genres, forcing the music press to come up with increasingly absurd classifications.

The next Madonna album is nearing completion, with a little help from her friend William Orbit. We are also awaiting albums from Primal Scream, Embrace, the Wannadies, Elastica and Smashing Pumpkins. You can see Beck live in March, Prefab Sprout and Brand New Heavies will play in April.

But will there be any real surprises? There is always the odd shock debut to look forward to - who could have predicted the rise and rise of soul sensation Macy Gray this year? But the most outlandish promise recently came from My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, whose last album, Loveless, ran up such huge studio bills that it nearly bankrupted Creation in 1991. He has vowed to release a new album, sometime in the next millennium.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference