Steve Kilbey, frontman of seminal Aussie rock act The Church, really dry-humped the hornet’s nest when he was asked by The Guardian to review the top 10 songs from this year’s triple j Hottest 100 countdown.
The veteran rocker brought the full wrath of the J faithful down upon himself after he was vocally critical of their choices for the best songs of 2015.
Though brimming with praise for the band Tame Impala, who scored two songs in the big list’s top 10, Kilbey’s appraisal of the top two tracks – Kendrick Lamar‘s King Kunta and The Rubens‘ Hoops – was particularly severe.
Of Lamar’s hit, Kilbey said: “It sounds like a million other things I’ve seen and heard before. The Oedipal conjunctive, and some gangsta malarkey. Girls shakin’ their booties and homies gettin’ down. I guess rap causes me to suffer cognitive dissonance. I bet for someone who understands it this is the last word in cool.”
It prompted many Lamar fans to open fire at The Church frontman for writing off the song without understanding its full cultural significance:
As pointed out by Music Feeds, Kilbey also spoke harshly of The Rubens’ Hottest 100-winning track, Hoops, in his review, stating: “Nope, my readers, The Rubens do not rock. It’s another wry bouncy (little) song, pleasant and innocuous and harmless and twee. No electric guitars were harmed during the making of this record, and no revolution is preached. Catchy to the max, but no oomph or grunt or even twist. This old curmudgeon shrugs his shoulders.”
He continued: “Why this song is No 1 eludes me. Triple J listeners have gone a bit soft, I guess… Tell me what the youngsters who like a bit of bite listen to these days, ’cause it surely ain’t Triple J … is it?”
While this appraisal, too, sparked plenty of backlash, and Kilbey’s reference to himself as an “old curmudgeon” almost invited the “old man yells at cloud” references with open arms –
– there were also plenty of commentators who agreed with his sentiments:
Following the uproar, The Church frontman has since penned a lengthy statement via his own Facebook page, defending his Hottest 100 review and calling the “feeble little backlash” a “storm in a teacup”.
“I am bemused to think that some people out there think i am too old to ‘get’ the Rubens et al,” he said. “Yes i am very very old but even when i was young and very beautiful , let me assure you, i would not have liked the Rubens et al. Its not because i am old that i dont like them, its because i came to review rocknroll and i found limp bland pop.”
He continued: “People have been making this bland tripe ever since i can remember. yes the fifties and the sixties and the seventies were full of it. it will always exist and there will always be people like me railing against it. Because rocknroll is capable of making statements that no other artform can make.
“I aint no philistine either. I am well versed in many literary, artistic and religious works and still i say rocknroll can do things that no other artform can do so effectively. its sexiness. its rage. its revolution. its anger. its otherworldiness. its dissociation. its preposterousness. its glory. its tragedy. etc etc etc. I find none of these qualities in the people in the top ten except for tame impala upon whom i certainly bestow my blessing…”
“I was a random reviewer asked to give an assessment. i would be willing to admit if i was too old to dig some wild or strange new mess. but this is the same old limp tepid pop that theyve always dished up and probably always will. And believe me i DO understand it.”
On the subject of his Kendrick Lamar-bashing, he also added:
“A few people have castigated me for not researching the lyrics to King Kunta and they assure me that if i did and i wasnt so old and white, that i would realise how brilliantly essential this song is. When was the last time you heard of someone researching a fricking pop single ?
“Superficially i look at the vid and sho’nuff theres the chicks shaking their bums, a guy saying mutherfucker and homies doing the homey dance. having spent a lotta time in the USA i would say superficially that this vid/song is pretty much par for the course with all the standard accoutrements of stuff that ive been seeing for well over 25 years.”
It’s easy to shrug off Steve Kilbey’s criticisms of Triple J because yes, he is old.
But if you ask me, there’s at least some truth mixed in with his wafflings.
First off, when people slag off bands like The Rubens for being so successful and popular, it creates unnecessary conflict and clouds a much more important issue.
The question is not whether or not Triple J listeners are wrong for liking The Rubens, it’s whether or not Triple J itself is doing its job as a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster in exposing them to new music in a variety of alternative genres.
Including those that aren’t so – as Kilbey says – “soft”.
Or that “youngsters who like a bit of bite” can listen to.
Or that do embody the values of “rage”, “revolution” and “anger” that he champions as the hallmarks of rock n’ roll.
And that, friends, is an important question to ask.
Read Steve Kilbey’s full statement below, read his full review of the Hottest 100 top 10, here, or listen to a handful of the many awesome Aussie rock tracks that were released in 2015 and not played on Triple J, below.