I’ve never seen the Vh1 show, but I can agree with the sentiment: I love the 90s. They were my formative years, the decade that bore witness to my adolescence, to my cultural and, well, all sorts of awakenings. As such, I will always have a soft spot for them in my heart. This is why I couldn’t resist buying the Bush CD I found for ninety-nine cents at Goodwill, why I once held an Empire Records costume party, why I will “awesome” that Eve 6 song every time someone plays it on turntable.fm. Nostalgia, to twist the words of the Handsome Furs, does mean a little something to me.
I cannot, however, argue that nostalgia is a valuable cultural force. Having fond memories of 90s pop radio does not mean that I crave musical rehashes of “Don’t Speak” or “Semi-Charmed Life.” And when a 2011 Polaris Prize shortlister sounds like a late-nineties powerpop obscurity, I get a little puzzled.
On Tigre et diesel, Montreal’s Galaxie does a great job combining rock-n-roll swagger with dance-floor pop. Fuzzed-out guitars buzz over finger-snapping rhythms, and the swagger-filled beats are just the right speed for lascivious dance-floor hip shaking. I see sweaty girls and strobe lights, smell the black leather jacket on a very close neighbor in a crowded club. It’s almost rock’n'roll, and I like it.
But – and here is an argument I seem to keep coming round to this Polaris year – just because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near great. Tigre et diesel is highly enjoyable and highly derivative. Every song involuntarily reminds me of another song by another band. “Requin Tigre” could almost be an Outkast number. At least fifty percent of the album I would mistake for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were it in English instead of French. And (though this is not really a complaint) I’ll be damned if the beginning to “Jusqu’a la fin” doesn’t sound just like the intro to Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas.”
What bugs me the most is that Tigre et diesel is widely considered to be the year’s “token” Francophone entry. But with some of the most innovative and avant-garde music being made today coming out of Montreal, surely any (supposed) tokenism duties could have been shouldered by a band that looks forward, not backward? Have we fallen victim to lowest common denomitator-ism? Are we seeing the perils of taking a slice out of the middle of the bell curve?
Tigre et diesel is good, and it’s fun, and it’s loud, and it’s got some sex appeal. But when it comes to the Polaris, I don’t just want a band to blow their speakers. I want them to blow my mind.