In Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, music critic Simon Reynolds writes, “When I look back at the development of pop and rock during my lifetime...what perplexes me is the slow but steady fading of the artistic imperative to be original.” Reynolds blames something he calls “the retro virus,” a mindset whereby musicians try to re-create historic sounds from their record collections instead of trying to advance their art form. It’s a fascinating book, and most of Reynolds’s observations are spot-on, but I’m not convinced that the retro virus is fatal to the artist or the art. Plenty of musicians are making beautiful, heartfelt music in yesterday’s styles.
Take Bart Davenport. The Berkeley native has been working the San Francisco Bay Area scene for 20 years or so, almost always in some kind of retro form. In the early ’90s, he led the mod-soul combo the Loved Ones. More recently, he has played in the ’80s technopop-inspired Honeycut. As a solo artist, he prefers a kind of 1970s acoustic singer-songwriter style but has more recently leaned toward ’80s lite-rock.
I thought I didn’t like that kind of music, but I like Davenport. Don Henley wishes he could have written a song as melancholy and honest as Davenport’s “Cheap Words,” the B-side to his recent single “Someone2Dance.” In a video for the song, Davenport drives around Los Angeles at night (he recently moved there) in a 1970s car while in the passenger seat a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend is illuminated by the screen of her iPhone. Like the song, the video is retro, but it reflects our lives today.
BART DAVENPORT: Soda Bar, Wednesday, July 18, 8:30 p.m. 619-255-7224. $7.