Defending the popular

I suppose I’m defending things that are popular, which, on the surface, is redundant. Successful things do not need to be defended. But in light of Adorno and Horkheimer, with whom, ironically, I’m in the deepest sympathy, it’s necessary, at least at times.
I’ve been listening to Amorphis lately, a band that’s been around long enough to have that classic (frankly, predictable) split between fans who prefer the early works over the latter. And I’m reminded how Tool settled this debate in “Hooker With a Penis“. Let the great bands move in the directions they want. Fans who accuse them of selling out are merely saying they want them to make the same albums over and over again, which is a commentary on their base stupidity.
I’m impressed with the direction their new singer, Tomi Joutsen, took them in. Their first two albums were great, but it was not sustainable. They would have faded into obscurity with many other talented metal bands from the mid-90’s. With him they did something most bands are terrified to do. They evolved and reached in a new direction. They embraced their melodic roots and allowed them to branch out toward a new sound, one that was not unfaithful to their source. The fact that they gained popularity, to me, means they were doing something right.
I think much of their criticism is due to a Scott Stapp effect. Creed’s first album, My Own Prison, is amazing. But Stapp quickly became a caricature of everything that was wrong with pop-grunge, soccer-mom rock. He was guilty of having an amazing voice, and for being, according to most accounts, a complete asshole.
Joutsen, who has an amazing voice, is, by my estimation, guilty by association. Real metal, according to this narrative, is elitist and inaccessible. It turns the average listener away by its distorted aggression, both vocally and instrumentally. This leaves the true believers, who can safely rest in their sad, ridiculous sense of superiority.
What he did with Amorphis, on the other hand, is remarkable. He took a talented band and led them in a new direction, while preserving their foundation, in a Hegelian Aufhebung.
I suppose this is merely a long-winded way of disagreeing with Adorno and Horkheimer, which is sad, for I want them to be right. But they can’t be, for their argument presumes a prior standard of musicality that is acceptable only to them. And this is ridiculous. To make something both great and accessible is not only a kind of genius, it is the height of it.

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