An example of this classic situation is explicit in the rise of U.K. groove-rockers the Music, who have grasped the brass ring of international rock notoriety without really reaching for it. When they first hooked up in 1999 in their hometown of Leeds, the band members -- Adam Nutter on guitar, Stuart Coleman on bass, Phil Jordan on drums, and Robert Harvey on vocals -- were just looking for something fun to do, and figured that writing songs that sounded like their favorite Stone Roses and Rage Against the Machine LPs might do the trick. Along the way, the group managed to combine England's post-rave groove obsession with a penchant for classic rock riffing and dense, atmospheric guitar heroics that resemble Jane's Addiction getting down with Led Zeppelin-era Jimmy Page. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the Music shares the bill with a reunited Jane's on this summer's resuscitated Lollapalooza Festival.) As its reward, the Music received overseas stardom (its debut hit the U.K. charts at No. 4) and universal acclaim. Across the pond, industry pundits -- most notably New Music Express, which hypes the band as "the most important British rock act since Oasis" -- hope the Music will save its genre from the blahs; U.S. proponents trust they can export the excitement stateside.
So, will it catch on? Don't ask Harvey. The group's lead singer, just 19 years old (as is Coleman; Nutter and Jordan are the big brothers at 20), comes off in conversation as a congenial knucklehead incapable of explaining his work or his motivations. Take, for instance, his inspiration for the lyrics to the title track of the band's second EP, You Might as Well Try to Fuck Me, released last year: "[The band wrote] a melody, and then those words started coming out of my mouth." Harvey says he thinks up most of his lyrics on the spot. In fact, the Music's whole sound comes about in the same haphazard way -- and ultimately, this chaotic method is what pushes the group forward.
Part of the Music's appeal comes from its effortlessness and lack of agenda. Nutter, for example, has set guitar aficionados' hearts aflutter with his sophisticated, free-form riffing, but he's revealed in several interviews in guitar-tech magazines that his technique is essentially self-taught. This lack of training moves the quartet away from the rote stylistic references to rock's past that annotate the work of more self-aware acts like the Hives and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. (Indeed, the band members have been quoted saying that they only became aware of Led Zeppelin after frequent comparisons made them wonder who that might be.)
Even the songs themselves are hardly planned, arising only as the condensed byproduct of extended jams in the studio. Explains Harvey, "We tend to do jams, different jams, and we take different parts of the jams that we like and just try to squeeze it into one song."
Given this mode of working, one would expect the Music to make a ruckus live, and the group doesn't disappoint. While Nutter and company hold down the melodic fort, Harvey, who has the high-pitched warble of a rocker but the coordination of a stroke victim, flails around the stage like the funkiest of chickens. NME lovingly dubbed his moves "rave-fu." Again, Harvey has no idea why his stage act comes out that way, but he does say that he's starting to enjoy entertaining the crowd. "If they have a nice time, it kinda rubs off on you, and it works both ways. They can inspire you, and you get the adrenaline from watching someone enjoying the show. They can vibe off of you as well."
It's hard to deny that the Music has the right sound at the right time. Not unlike American action heroes, British rock stars undergo a predictable cycle of obsolescence, wherein they're asked to give up their throne once they reach geezer age. Alongside similarly hyped act the Coral, the Music stands as Britain's bid for continued relevance against peers like the White Stripes in the international rock sweepstakes. And in its own unconscious way, the group has already started branding itself by releasing a steady stream of 7-inches and EPs, each with a characteristic circular-spiral graphic on the cover. Indeed, Harvey hopes record buyers see the music as a long-term investment. "[The graphic is] really easy to recognize. You can also collect them. CDs are sort of throwaway. We wanted to make them essential so that people could collect them or look after them. We also release 7-inches and 12-inches because they're important to some people. CDs are so throwaway: You play it once and you leave it outside. You can't do that with vinyl. [With] vinyl, every time you use a record, you have to put it back in its case."
The group's self-titled debut full-length on Capitol contains many of the sonic elements that made these early efforts appealing: Harvey's soaring and powerful (if indecipherable) vocal stylings, Nutter's melodic yet aggressive guitar leads, and the churning, relentless rhythm work of Coleman and Jordan. At times, the Music can inadvertently channel pseudo-blues slide-guitar and white-boy doo-wop ("Take the Long Road and Walk It"). But the use of dance-floor electronics (such as the Roland TB-303 on "The People" and the frantic edits at the end of "The Dance") show the group isn't stuck in the past. For his part, Harvey attributes the electronics to producer Jim Abbis, but insists that beyond those additions, the album was no harder to make than previous efforts.
Since the record's release in February, the boys have been busy. The group has toured nonstop, opening for Coldplay and, later, the Vines, with a pit stop in Indio for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and performances on The Late Show With David Letterman and Last Call With Carson Daly. In addition to Lollapalooza, the Music also headlines Scotland's summertime T in the Park fest. Comments on Amazon.com and CDNow.com suggest that all the exposure might be paying off. ("I couldn't help being taken in by the music and the driving beat that dominates in many of their songs and I would recommend the CD based on their live show alone," reads a typical response.) As Harvey acknowledged in an interview with the New York Daily News, many of these remarks come from an older fan base that hears the similarities to Zep, Mott the Hoople, and other post-Hendrix rock outfits that disbanded before the Music's members even registered frequencies on a sonogram. These references suit Harvey fine, since, like those fans, he figures that music nowadays doesn't matter as much as it did then. "In the '70s, music used to make money. Now, the money makes the music, do you know what I mean? It's like bands are ... products now, instead of people with feelings and a message to give."
Such pronouncements are a bit ironic, given that the Music has no real message to convey to its audience. But as any old-school rocker knows, a statement isn't necessary. All that matters is that people are moved and excited by the tunes. The Big Point can come later, if at all. Whether it will arrive during the group's next studio sessions -- set for the fall, after the current tour -- depends on inspiration. Harvey can't be sure. "You don't know what your next song is going to sound like. You're only as good as your last song," he offers. For now, it's as much as he needs to know.