Is Danger Mouse Ruining Rock?
Okay, let's get this out of the way right off the bat. That headline is hyperbole. I don't think one man could possibly ruin the entirety of rock and roll. That takes the combined effort of a movement, such as hair metal in the '80s or nu-metal in the late '90s.
Danger Mouse isn't a movement. He is, however, representative of an increasingly aggravating and desperate production trend.
Danger Mouse hit it big early in the '00s when he did that original mash-up of Jay-Z's Black Album with the Beatles' "White Album" to make the Grey Album. Speaking for myself personally, I never thought it as a particularly inspired idea and I never liked the mash-up trend to begin with. Perhaps for the novelty though, it spread like wildfire across the Internet, especially because the record companies got involved and made a martyr out of the Mouse.
The Internet loves nothing more than a rebel fighting the evil executives of record companies and the big, bad RIAA for their, um... art. If you can call what Danger Mouse did there art. Regardless, it set the stage for his eventual massive success as one-half of the duo Gnarls Barkley. Now I'll give him props for that. I did love Gnarls Barkley and felt like it was a refreshingly unique sound in the pop landscape, which at the time was dominated by Timbaland, Will.i.am, and that fucking "Bad Day" song.
The problem then is that everybody in the rock world took notice. The Danger Mouse "sound," as it was, combined all the best parts of '50s rock and roll and '60s Motown with a modern hip-hop sensibility. It doesn't take a genius to notice that those are the same elements almost every pop-minded rock star has been trying to tame since the Beatles. From Phil Collins' obsession with it to Grizzly Bear covering Phil Spector girl-group songs today, it's the traditional blueprint for high-minded rock.
So every intellectual rocker started to look to Danger Mouse to produce his or her work and he, being a sensible person and realizing he could make assloads of money, of course took the jobs. It started with the Black Keys and it worked. It worked very, very well and has been working for them for the past five years. No one can deny that the Danger Mouse stamp has bolstered their music to previously unthought-of proportions.
After the Black Keys kicked it off, Beck tried it. His last studio album to date, Modern Guilt, ended up being a modest success. Critics weren't all that hot on it, but it sold decently and it got enough praise to not be considered a bomb. If the Danger Mouse sound was going to work for anyone, it should be someone like Beck, who was already known for throwing anything at a wall and seeing if it was going to stick.
At that point, it could have been considered a noble experiment in adopting a particular sound to a particular format and we all could have breathed easy while Danger Mouse continued to produce his own admittedly good music. But it didn't stop there.