Is Danger Mouse Ruining Rock?
Okay, let's get this out of the way right off the bat. That headline is hyperbole. I don't think one man could possibly ruin the entirety of rock and roll. That takes the combined effort of a movement, such as hair metal in the '80s or nu-metal in the late '90s.
Danger Mouse isn't a movement. He is, however, representative of an increasingly aggravating and desperate production trend.
Danger Mouse hit it big early in the '00s when he did that original mash-up of Jay-Z's Black Album with the Beatles' "White Album" to make the Grey Album. Speaking for myself personally, I never thought it as a particularly inspired idea and I never liked the mash-up trend to begin with. Perhaps for the novelty though, it spread like wildfire across the Internet, especially because the record companies got involved and made a martyr out of the Mouse.
The Internet loves nothing more than a rebel fighting the evil executives of record companies and the big, bad RIAA for their, um... art. If you can call what Danger Mouse did there art. Regardless, it set the stage for his eventual massive success as one-half of the duo Gnarls Barkley. Now I'll give him props for that. I did love Gnarls Barkley and felt like it was a refreshingly unique sound in the pop landscape, which at the time was dominated by Timbaland, Will.i.am, and that fucking "Bad Day" song.
The problem then is that everybody in the rock world took notice. The Danger Mouse "sound," as it was, combined all the best parts of '50s rock and roll and '60s Motown with a modern hip-hop sensibility. It doesn't take a genius to notice that those are the same elements almost every pop-minded rock star has been trying to tame since the Beatles. From Phil Collins' obsession with it to Grizzly Bear covering Phil Spector girl-group songs today, it's the traditional blueprint for high-minded rock.
So every intellectual rocker started to look to Danger Mouse to produce his or her work and he, being a sensible person and realizing he could make assloads of money, of course took the jobs. It started with the Black Keys and it worked. It worked very, very well and has been working for them for the past five years. No one can deny that the Danger Mouse stamp has bolstered their music to previously unthought-of proportions.
After the Black Keys kicked it off, Beck tried it. His last studio album to date, Modern Guilt, ended up being a modest success. Critics weren't all that hot on it, but it sold decently and it got enough praise to not be considered a bomb. If the Danger Mouse sound was going to work for anyone, it should be someone like Beck, who was already known for throwing anything at a wall and seeing if it was going to stick.
At that point, it could have been considered a noble experiment in adopting a particular sound to a particular format and we all could have breathed easy while Danger Mouse continued to produce his own admittedly good music. But it didn't stop there.
Next, the dearly departed Sparklehorse jumped on board. Then it was James Mercer from the Shins, starting a whole new band with Danger Mouse producing all the tracks. At least he didn't just hire Danger Mouse to do a Shins album. I'll give him credit for that. Then it was Norah Jones.
It seems like people just can't get enough of Danger Mouse. This year it's two more and these might shock you: U2 and Portugal. The Man. While no music has been heard from the upcoming Danger Mouse/U2 album, there has been a single released from the Portugal. The Man record. Can you guess what it sounds like?
I'll tell you. It sounds like John Gourley from Portugal. The Man singing over a Danger Mouse song. It's exactly what you would expect. Therein lies the problem and what I've been getting at this entire time.
Danger Mouse is essentially a one-trick pony. What was refreshing in 2006 and what was even a noble experiment for rock artists to indulge in back in 2008 is officially played out. Danger Mouse is an eminently talented man, but he essentially has one very unique sound. Every single record he produces sounds exactly like him. He's so immediately identifiable that he cannot produce anyone's record without it literally reeking of Danger Mouse.
That was fine before so many artists decided they wanted that for themselves. Now that it has spread to so many, it's no longer unique or novel. It's yet another annoying trend. If it keeps up, what will happen? Will I be able to turn on the radio and have every song sound like Danger Mouse regardless of what band I'm listening to? I don't want that, and I doubt anyone else does either.
As much as I like Danger Mouse, I think it's time to put the kibosh on his sound. I think he needs to take a break and maybe work on some new material of his own. I think bands need to stop looking to him to revitalize their albums because he's hot.
He won't be hot for long if everyone milks the cow dry. And when that inevitable backlash comes, Danger Mouse will be ruined for everyone, and his own career will be the one that suffers the most. After all, bands can go hire someone else, but his name will be poison, much like long-forgotten producers of the '80s and '90s whose sounds exceeded their lifespan.
There's a reason Dr. Dre is still around today, and it's because he makes us wait to hear what he's up to rather than flooding the market with his particular brand. Maybe we need Danger Mouse to let us have the time to miss him before we all get even more sick of him.
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