It’s good for hair when done in moderation. It’s tasty when done with complexity and depth in food. But, as I sat praying to the almighty pulldown bar at the gym and hearing Kelly Clarkson’s new single on the radio, it suddenly dawned on me that layering is a horrid, overused thing that has pretty much crapped pop music out for the forseable future.
I blame it all on the mid-1990’s when digital technology started to make its way in to music production. There were hold outs to using any kind of digital system, such as Soundgarden, but then there were those that embraced it with great fervor and love. Such was the case with a Motley Crue (sorry, I could care less about the umlat) album that came out around that time which was about as good as eating a crepe off a Parisian sidewalk. Upon release, I read an interview with the guitarist who said that he recorded something like 23 guitar tracks that were then mixed down in to one to get the “sound” he was looking for. I don’t know about everyone else, but I couldn’t hear it. All I could make out was an overly-processed wall of sound that did little to tickle my ears when I heard it.
This kind of thing has become commonplace these days as with the advent of multitrack recording on a computer, you can basically record as many tracks as you want ad infinitum as long as your computer has the space, which pretty much anything these days does. The result of this was far worse than the simple doubling of voices that had been going on for a long time prior. James Hetfield for instance simply recorded his voice twice on Metallica’s black album to smooth out any bumps that there may have been. But now a singer could record again and again to make sure and patch up any crusty vocal work that might give some kind of edge or spark to otherwise underwhelming music.
Case in point, listen a New Kids on the Block song from the 1980’s (yes, it’s painful but play along) and then listen to a Backstreet Boys song from anywhere post-2000. They’re both crappy, of-the-moment pop music, but you can physically hear the depth they’ve gone to on the later recordings to even out the vocals. Another one I’ve noticed the change on is Madonna. Honestly, I find her to have a horrible singing voice, but once again, listen to her early work and then her current work. You’ll hear the over-processed, digitally enhanced blah that permeates pretty much everything we listen to.
I’m using vocals as an example because it’s easier for people to understand what I’m talking about, but this applies to the instruments as well and I believe it is having the net effect of completely pulverizing music in this country. Imagine what would have happened if Led Zeppelin had done this. Well, actually, I guess you can imagine that with the Coverdale Page album that, while somewhat okay to listen sounds like any originality has been pressed between a velvet liner, covered in bubble wrap, and then sealed in styrofoam.
A good band I’ve recently heard called The Killers is a good current example of too much layering, because their single playing on MTV is a good song, but it is overly done and overtly unoriginal sounding. I wish it had been done in a more raw style like rock was supposed to be and then we’d have something enjoyable. I find it unfortunate that there will probably not be another “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic” (raw, slightly flawed, and beautiful) again for a long time if ever. Maybe some group will break free from this and suddenly explode with their “raw” sound. One can only hope as I’ve going out of my mind with what’s playing these days. Oh, and to the Kelly Clarkson song, piss off, you might as well be Kelly Osbourne for all I can hear.