Forgive me for being a tad pedantic but it has to be done. I read a lot of music reviews, watch a lot of video reviews and I’ve noticed this phrase that gets thrown about in metal circles: “Clean Vocals”. I don’t like it and if you read on I’ll explain.
Whenever the term is used it is always referring to the same sort of thing, so it is at least, applied consistently. Only, it serves as a poor and misleading description.
“Clean vocals” is used to describe singing. That is all. It is used to describe a vocal line that has melody, as opposed to screaming, shrieking or shouting, which are more typical in the various forms of extreme metal.
There have been a couple of recent examples of the use of this term. Cattle Decapitation’s last two albums, “Monolith of Inhumanity” and “The Anthropocene Extinction” have introduced a new thread to the ever-growing musical development of the band. Vocalist, Travis Ryan, has started applying melody in his vocal parts, usually in choruses, with a very raspy, croaky style and often within an impressive octave range. The main addition this brings is genuinely catchy, melodic vocal parts. Various reviewers, in print and on video have described this new vocal style as ‘clean vocals’, much to both my own and even Ryan’s frustration.
It is melodic, not clean. Was Joe Cocker ‘clean’? How about Tom Waits? Phil Anselmo? They all sing, with melody. You can sing more aggressively but that isn’t ‘clean’. There is nothing ‘clean’ about Travis Ryan’s vocals on recent albums.
This whole thing has got me thinking about the misuse concept on a broader level as well. Take ‘Meme” for example. Originally coined by scientist, Richard Dawkins to describe a unit of cultural evolution, comparable with the gene in biology. A meme could be an image or a tune or any piece of information that can be passed on to others. Nowadays everyone thinks a meme is picture with words over it, intended for humour. If more people refer to something incorrectly than correctly, then who is right? In the book 1984 written by George Orwell, we read about the concept of 2+2=5, where we imagine a world where all knowledge and reference to mathematics was wiped out, forcing us to simply accept what we are told as there is no means to question it.
So, there you have it, an innocent misuse of a phrase, used to inaccurately describe a vocal style has led to Orwellian paranoia. Good Night all.