One debate that constantly arises when talking about indie rock, is whether a band is "playing it safe" or not.
I've determined that usually when people say a band sounds too safe, they actually just mean it's not loud enough or not experimental enough for their tastes. But is that valid? Or is it just another way people can say a band sucks without sounding mean?
So it's pretty much up in the air. Is a band like the Beatles safe and The Clash not safe? In terms of punk, is The Ramones safe and The Stooges not safe? Because arguments can be made either way.
The Beatles created virutally every device of experimentalism that bands like The Clash or even The Flaming Lips have used ever since. So are The Clash and The Lips safe because they aren't breaking any new ground?
I've heard bands perform nothing but noise onstage and people praise it for being "experimental." But Jesus Christ, Lou Reed released "Metal Machine Music" decades ago. Even Neil Young released an entire CD of feedback. It's been done so many times it seems pretty damn safe to do it again. In fact I think noisy rock is about as safe as you can get.
I guess what bothers me about some bands beng labeled as safe is the fact that nothing can explain it. Lets relate it to the genre of indie pop. I've heard The Flaming Lips and perhaps Modest Mouse called not safe. Then we can call Elliott Smith safe. But then again, The Flaming Lips are pretty devoted to ripping off Pink Floyd and despite a few freak outs, Modest Mouse is just indie pop music sung in an odd voice. Elliott Smith changed the face of indie rock and folk by singing about demons in his life. So while acoustic guitar music may sound safe and isn't breaking any new ground. His words are like a punch in the balls.
A lot of people have been claiming that Suphjan Stephens is breaking new ground. But let's face it, he has several albums made up of the same song written a hundred ways. That's not breaking new ground, it's driving it into the ground.
That's why I think a lot of music fans always seem to ignore lyrics and aren't seeing the whole picture. The words that make up a song are what the whole goddam thing is about. It's pretty shortsighted to just compare bands based on musical arrangement. The Blues were based on about four different arrangements. Is Muddy Waters safe? Not by a longshot.
Hell, Bob Dylan is just another folk singer ripping off Guthrie and Van Ronk when you ignore what he was saying.
Somebody may hear Bill Haley and The Comets' "Rock around the clock" and think of how lame and safe it is. But do they know when Bill Haley performed that song in Europe it caused riots? Teenagers brought wooden sticks to his shows and beat them on the goddam stage. Bill Haley and the Comets are not safe, they fucking rock.
So all I'm saying is that if you're going to call a band "safe" show some respect and at least know what you are talking about.
That said, I think we can all agree that Death Cab for Cutie is safe and completely suck.