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After reading this piece on the folk singer Cat Power’s upcoming album, I revisited a few samples from her latest, The Greatest, to remind myself of why I never bothered to listen to the rest of the album. The music is beautiful, as so many Chan Marshall fans already know, but there’s a distinct whiff of advertising fodder about the whole thing.
Which, of course, is hardly Cat Power’s fault. It’s a slippery slope from the collection of demographic data to the over-saturation of edgy-yet-pleasant music. And it doesn’t hurt that so many listeners think that music should be free or close to it. (Among them was director Stanley Kubrick, who, as Alex Ross points out in his book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, used György Ligeti’s music in 2001 without paying for it.)
So what’s an artist to do? They either can’t afford health insurance—because so many listeners think that music should be free or close to it—or, if they’re successful at writing edgy-yet-pleasant music, they become primarily associated with images of shiny new hipstermobiles or banks that spring up in Joni Mitchell’s idea of a forest.
If I had a time machine, I always thought I would use it for good. You know, go see a band that I missed because I was born too late—such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, or the classic Coltrane Quartet. But now, every time I hear a breathy folk singer trying to sell me something I don’t need, I think about the “Pink Moon” commercial and what might’ve been done to save future generations from its unintended consequences.