Veteran record producer and audio engineer Rick Beato helped lay more of the groundwork for Cultural Ground Zero theory – at least in the music sphere – than any other pop culture observer. In particular, he contributed the crucial datum that rock & roll died in 1996.
The cause of death Beato noted in rock’s obituary was the genre’s final divorce from its blues roots. Digital crutches sold as innovations, like Auto-Tune and quantization, reduced rock album production to an assembly line process. As happens all too often, the tools intended to improve rock record-making instead stripped out all the humanity, and thus all the art.
Rick convincingly defined the flaws that characterize post-Ground Zero music. In so doing, he raised the question of what the quintessential pre-Ground Zero song sounds like. What is the standard that independent artists seeking to recapture what was lost should work toward?
Helpfully for counterculture artists, Rick supplied the answer in a recent video.
Disclaimer: Yes, I’m well aware that U2 deservedly gets grief these days for descending into woke self-parody. I’ve called them out more than once myself and cited their undercooked 1997 album Pop as symptomatic of Ground Zero music.
But before they became a punchline to jokes about cultural irrelevance, U2 spent the 80s on a musical march from victory to victory. Their records helped lift the culture out of 70s pessimism by, foremost among their achievements, restoring Christianity to pop culture. Like it or not, U2 have done more to keep Christ in the public consciousness than all the cringe Christian publishers and film studios combined.
The band’s subsequent fall to the Death Cult doesn’t negate their early work spreading the Gospel, but it does make their apostasy all the more tragic.
Which is why it’s fitting that the track Beato identifies as the direct antithesis of post-Ground Zero bug music is in fact a Gospel song.
You may hate U2, but give this video a watch. You will learn something valuable.
- Edge’s guitar style is far more complex than meets the ear and deliberately organic in ways that Current Year Auto-Tuned, geometrically perfect audio engineering could never reproduce.
- Ditto with Larry’s drumming. Beato has pointed out that quantizing removes the tension that’s essential to blues rhythm. Not only is there tension between the drum and bass, there’s tension between each of Larry’s limbs.
- Flying in the face of modern pre-programmed basslines, Adam Clayton effectively jams throughout the song, changing his bassline with every chorus.
- In diametric opposition to contemporary Auto-Tuned, pitch-corrected vocals, Bono’s vocal track isn’t doubled. It’s done in one take, and it’s actually slowed down a half-step instead of recorded slower and sped up. In a crowning touch, Bono’s voice supplies notes that Edge purposefully leaves out, meaning that the vocals complete the guitar chords.
Whether or not U2 is your jam, you have to admit they’re not hacks being led around the studio by lazy producers – at least in regard to their 80s material. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a magnum opus produced by inspired craftsmen coming into the height of their powers.
Creators just as talented are out there right now, working in obscurity. They’ll never be the Biggest Band in the World; no one will, but emerging neopatronage and increasing public disgust with mainstream entertainment is giving them a chance to find their audience.
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