Is Rock Dead? Not If Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, More Can Help It

Rock bands had a hard time breaking through in 2010, but our critics say new indie groups might be nirvana for the genre.

There was a time not long ago when good-old fashioned meat-and-potatoes rockers like [artist id="760446"]Nickelback[/artist], [artist id="2017482"]Hinder[/artist] and [artist id="760710"]Disturbed[/artist] frequently landed albums in the top 10 and reeled off solid chart singles. Then came a new generation of bands like [artist id="2552793"]MGMT[/artist], [artist id="2584573"]Vampire Weekend[/artist] and [artist id="1802187"]Arcade Fire[/artist] who were heralded as the saviors of a limping-along genre that had been overtaken by pop cuties like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

“In 2010, we just didn’t see the people like the MGMTs, who potentially could have taken over the top from being a great niche artist to being a pop sensation [take off],” said Noah Callahan-Bever, editor in chief of Complex magazine, addressing the psychedelic duo’s confounding, sometimes confusing second album, Congratulations.

But maybe it was just an off year and, as Elliott Wilson, founder and CEO of Rap Radar, suggested, we’re due for the kind of musical flushing of the pipes we experienced back in 1991 with the rise of Nirvana. Back then, music was emerging from an era of spandex and lipstick ruled by a generation of hair-metal bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe, as well as mega-selling boy bands like New Kids on the Block, when the punk-fueled trio started a revolution that shook up the industry.

With the airwaves currently flooded with hip-hop/R&B collaborations and dance floor-ready pop, Wilson said a riff-fueled correction could be on the horizon. “I think rock is due for that kind of Nirvana-esque explosion,” he said. “I think it’s just gonna be the right artist with something different, with more of the tradition of the foundations of rock — great melodies and songwriting, hard guitars and a kick-ass kind of attitude.”

With rap stars such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and Lil Wayne taking on the mantle of rock stars thanks to fast-selling albums, hit singles, major tours and an embrace of live backing bands, what rock needs to storm back is a group with a dynamic frontman who can capture music lovers’ attention, or a sound that can spawn a million imitators.

In the meantime, urban artists have certainly taken their cues from rockers, with Rihanna employing heavy guitars on “Rockstar 101,” Wayne releasing his “rock” album, Rebirth, last year, and Jay-Z opening for U2 and reportedly cooking up a collaboration with the White Stripes’ Jack White called “Ray Bans.”

And while 2011 will not suffer from a lack of new music from rockers, with tentatively scheduled new efforts from U2, the Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Radiohead, the Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, My Morning Jacket, a reunited Blink-182, the Decemberists and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, we’re still looking for the act that will help tip the balance.

Like so much of the music biz, the rock charts in 2010 showed a further splintering of the audience for the genre, according to New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica. “What happened this year is you really got a stratification of the rock audience,” he said. “If you look at a Billboard rock chart you got bands like Shinedown, Godsmack and these hard bands that have absolutely no play in major cities. And then at the same time you have this creeping up of Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend who had a lot of traction at indie rock for a long time and all of a sudden had #1 records.”

Caramanica, like Wilson, argued that the rise of those indie acts is similar to the arc of the Seattle grunge bands of the early 1990s. In time, he predicted, you may see mainstream rock influenced by their sound. “I think a few years from now we’ll be sitting here talking about rock bands that grew up on Vampire Weekend.”

Do you think rock is due for a revival? Tell us in the comments!

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.