It’s like the world is using its inside voice.

A polite, mild-mannered tone so as not to offend the sensitive socialites nibbling on life’s canapés. Sipping champagne and exchanging witticisms in a dulcet voice to show respect and obedience to the world order. An inoffensive, unchallenging, inside voice.

Oh it swears. And it brags about its sexual conquests. And it laughs about the regretful mistakes it made on a mad bender of a weekend. But all in that delicate inside voice. With not even the slightest whisper of revolution in it.

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“The revolution will not be televised,” as Gil Scott-Heron so eloquently put it. A legendary rallying cry to humanity to get off its collective arse. But there are more insidious connotations here…

The revolution will indeed not be televised. Nor will it be broadcast on the radio. Nor will it appear on billboards, in the newspapers or on the educational curriculum. It will barely even register as a tremor on our minds’ richter scales. For a very simple reason:

Our owners don’t want it to.

Hence the inside voices of our rock and pop stars in the 21st century. By stripping the voice of a generation of its fury and its venom, psychic sedation is being pumped into our collective consciousness. A form of subtle brainwashing.

The ‘danger’ of rock music was not its rawness, nor the habits and addictions of its practitioners. The ‘danger’ of rock n’ roll was its breaking down of taboos and the power it held as a medium. Billions of souls were reached via ear canals infected with riffs and words. And the times they did start a-changing.

Iggy Pop’s whine, Lydon/Rotten’s snarl, Dylan’s sneer. While no one will doubt the importance of their lyrics, without their trademark vocal stylings, those words would not have circumnavigated the world on the people’s whispers and airwaves. As Tommy Tiernan said of what makes a worthy spiritual leader: “You want someone who looks as if the decisions he’s made in his life have had some consequences on his face!” You want them to sound like it too.

Like they’ve had just one too many cigarettes. As if that last drink made them wobble just that extra bit as they walk their fine line. You want someone who sounds like they’ve done a bit of living in their life.

The voices of the pop stars of today can barely carry the weight of a melody nevermind a soul. Edited into perfection, their unflawed, exquisite inside voices go down so smooth they don’t even touch the sides. They ruffle no enlightening feathers whatsoever.

It’s Barbie doll perfection: hugely appealing and utterly unattainable for mere mortals. And just like Barbie and her infinite chain of dead-horse-flogging clones, these voices are all essentially the same.

The character has been taken out of the equation. Individuality has been forsaken for the pennies to be made on iTunes downloads. Factor in that “…revolution will not be televised,” point, and the final piece of the puzzle slots into place with a maddening “KA-CHING!”

What many perceive to be flaws and imperfections – e.g. Dylan’s on/off relationship with the melody – are actually individual character traits of the singer’s. And how the singer uses these quote-un-quote “flaws” to their own advantage is part of their creative process and style. To intrude upon this vital stage in an artist’s development with the use of autotune is to remove a valuable identity-forming phase in the performer’s life.

Identity is what it’s all about. A vocalist’s “quality” should not be judged upon how well they hit the high notes or how many octaves they can leap. It should be based upon how well they convey the emotion of the song/lyrics in their own individual way. Virtuosity and perfection are all well and good. But especially in the realm of rock n’ roll, the emotion is what counts.

Which leads back to rock n’ roll’s power as a medium. Rock music provides a soapbox for emotions that often go unheard: boredom, humour, anger, fear. And the voices that carry those emotions are essential tools for transmitting them to the souls of the creatively malnourished. For the voice is the most human of all instruments.

Our humanity is being underrepresented in the popular music of today. There are as many facets to the human condition as a cut diamond. Partying and breakups are as valid an expression as dissatisfaction and rage. But in the musical house of politics, the former holds a strong majority.

And they make their conservative points in their polite inside voices. Never pushing the envelope but receiving envelopes stuffed with banknotes on the sly.

These inside voices, sparkling and perfect as they are, are incapable of carrying the broader spectrum of human emotion. They have a purpose and they can do it well. But we need to start hearing from some other, more individual voices.

They are there alright. Screaming, howling, roaring and even singing on occasion, just below the surface of the mainstream. But they have little to no hope of being heard in an age dominated by the corporate entity and big money. “The revolution will not be televised,” etc…

May the day come when creative expression usurps money-making’s throne. May the day come when artistic endeavours are encouraged rather than defunded. May the day come when these rants will not be needed.

But that day is not today.

These inside voices are the sound of boardroom pallbearers carrying our pauper’s coffin to the mass grave. The sound of stunted creative evolution. It sounds like cash registers orgasming.

So may the day come when the tides turn as they have for the briefest of moments in the past: ’67, ’77, ’91. For a while there, it looked like evolution was going to throw the knockout punch. But the big money was too quick and got it in first. May the day come when the dust settles and sweet music rides the waves. May the day come when the dissatisfied can be heard over the deafening roar of inside voices.

by James Fleming

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