Friday, July 6, 2018

Never mind the quality, feel the length

Is it the rule that there are no rules, or are the rules the same as they ever were?

The album is dead, yet it is alive. Since it’s no longer about the physical format (at least not exclusively), any time an artist drops a set of songs it qualifies as an album. There are regulations imposed by the chart companies but their relevance is low, people can decide for themselves what constitutes an album, ep or mixtape if it even needs to be qualified.

Kanye puts out ‘Ye’ and it is 7 songs long, 23 minutes or so. Within weeks he puts out ‘Kids See Ghosts’, another 7 songs and around the same length. In the meantime Drake drops ‘Scorpion’, 25 songs and almost 90 minutes of music. Logic tells us that more people will listen to the whole of ‘Ye’ than they will to ‘Scorpion’ but Drake dominates the charts and destroys all streaming records.

In the meantime ‘rock’ is dormant. Once the format for which albums were created it lies unloved by the masses. Rock needs to create new rules, collaborate, invent new stars and write songs that people want to hear. No-one said it would be easy.

Like any music industry observer I expect trends to merge, diverge, to rotate, wax and wane. The truth is that ‘RnB’ and pop-soul is the dominant force and has been for so long that it’s tricky to see how a change will come. Who can break the mould, who will inspire a different generation? Where once Run DMC may have required Aerosmith to help them break into the mainstream it would now be the other way around.

As the money is largely in live and not plays or purchases perhaps we look to the likes of The Courteeners who can headline big shows and appear the equal of any indie-rock act. If you’ve seen them though you know how important the song ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ is to their fans and the whole set. The 1975 can do a Kanye and release multiple albums in short order but it’ll matter little to the masses if there’s no killer song(s). 

Those who’ve followed the unlikely, or somewhat baffling, long-lived successes of ‘Iris’, ‘Africa’ or ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ know that one rule survives all the changes, one rule to rule them all, it’s all about the song. While the albums can come and go, there is no great success without a great song.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The King's Shilling

‘Foul’ screamed The Guardian in front page outrage. ‘Army ads targeting stressed teenagers’. To many of us it appeared that the newspaper had just discovered the existence of targeted advertising and inadvertently decided to tell their advertisers about it.

In brief the MOD had dared to reach out to their target market at a time when they thought that market may be interested in hearing about the jobs they had on offer. I’ve no doubt that the timing could’ve been better than on exam results day but equally the apparent existence of jobs that don’t require qualifications could be reassuring to people who’ve failed to get any. As we no longer have much industry or retail it’s fair to ask what opportunities there are these days for such individuals.

The emergence of ‘targeted advertising’ has allowed marketing and advertising professionals to maximise effectiveness, to get better results. The holy grail has always been a higher ROI and, to a degree, better targeting enables this.

I think The Guardian may have been more concerned that the army and its advertising were lacking morals. There is clearly a place for moral thinking in marketing but few would expect it. Their ads may have pictured an armoured vehicle at sunrise but you’d hardly have expected them to show bodies on the battlefield and they’re probably banned from showing tracer fire and explosions on the grounds of glorifying warfare.

In the same sense, you wouldn’t anticipate an ad for a dull data-entry job to show a lank-haired, sweat-stained, spotty teen hunched over a keyboard. Advertisers are compelled to make things glossy, clients and recipients expect it.

I don’t imagine that the agency working on behalf of army recruitment deliberately targeted ‘stressed teens’, their scope was based on age plus geographical and social groupings. It was aimed at the people most likely to respond, that’s how advertising works these days.

Government bodies may have more of a duty to be moral but it’s not so long since drunks were drafted by dropping a coin in their drink, there are limitations. At the very least the ad copy didn’t say ‘Failed your exams? You can still be cannon fodder’ even if we all know that’s what it meant.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Agenda of Lies

Sunday is a good day for political piffle. If your average politician (most of whom are decidedly average) can rock up on BBC’s Andrew Marr show or alongside ITV’s Robert Peston and say something definitive, they can dominate the day’s news agenda.

There’s good, and obvious, reasons for this. Most of it is down to resources. Nothing much happens on a Sunday, Govt is not in session and newsrooms and related offices are staffed accordingly. Consequently, if you want to say something and have it go unchallenged, say it on a Sunday. 

A few weeks ago it was possible to witness this in action. The newly appointed Conservative Party Chairman was on with Marr and said that the Govt was doing everything in its power to prevent the release of rapist John Warboys. I was out in my car and heard this on every news bulletin I encountered. Within 24 hours it had been disproved.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Buying the lie

Often, I think that what we think we know is just a version of the truth, one that doesn’t bear up to closer scrutiny. We are told enough to pacify us, to ensure that we carry on. Enough that we can reassure ourselves that it’s all ok.

Take the great plastic war/controversy of current times. Plastic did not ‘suddenly’ become non-biodegradable, there was clearly a tipping point (pun intended) when the knowledge transferred from the woe of eco-warriors to a concern for us all. 

In this case, it was undoubtedly BBC’s Blue Planet that allowed us to be awoken. You can be assured that politicians and manufacturers knew about the problem way before this but not enough people were concerned and so they were able to be indifferent and carry on as normal.

Who knew? Those of us that diligently recycle may not have been aware that our plastics are bundled onto container ships and sent to China. All those tonnes of diesel fuel, not quite my concept of eco-friendly. We only know this fact now because China no longer wants our plastic

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Friday, January 19, 2018

Land of the giant - Cyrille Regis 1958-2018

The loss of Cyrille Regis weighs heavy upon my heart.

It is fair to say that he was my first true hero. Of course there were dalliances with musicians and actors but none were ever as exciting as Cyrille, nor were they such a regular presence in my life. I could not witness their adventures on a bi-weekly basis as I did with him.
The timing was perfect; I was newly adolescent and unconsciously eager for role models. My first ever live football match was West Brom vs Tottenham on Saturday 2nd October 1976 where, as a misguided Spurs fan, I watched my team go 2-0 up in the first half only to concede 4 in the second to a rampant Albion side. Within a month I’d switched allegiances and the following year I was a season ticket holder at the Hawthorns.

I didn’t know then that those would be the glory years, that the players I’d adore would be the best I’d ever see in an Albion shirt. There would be Statham, Wile, Robertson and Batson in defence, Robson, Cantello, Tony Brown, Ally Brown, Willie Johnston and of course Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis. It’s hard to convince people now that West Brom were an incredibly capable and potent team with real strength and resilience.
Cyrille was the very personification of this. He was strong, quick and lethal. It is fair to say that those of us who stood transfixed in the Birmingham Road or Smethwick end, in the Halfords Lane or Rainbow stand, had never seen anything like him.

They were different times. Buff-bodies and ripped torsos are ten-a-penny now but people didn’t look like Cyrille in the late 70s. Track athletes were skinny, wrestlers were fat and few boxers had defined muscle-tone. Unless you were reading specialist weight-training magazines, no-one looked like Cyrille. It’s little wonder that he terrified defenders still used to sinking pints and smoking fags the night before a big match.

Though I lack the recall prowess of many friends who can spew out specific dates, weather-conditions, pie prices and particular instances in matches, I remember Regis goals as well as anyone. Many have been replayed in the last week and they follow a similar pattern. Cyrille would receive the ball near the half-way line before leaving defenders in his wake and the net practically in tatters. He could hit a ball like no-one I’ve ever seen.

Friday, January 12, 2018


Some weeks ago I unfollowed the footballer Saido Berahino on Twitter. This occurred after what I perceived to be a taunting tweet he’d posted about the victory of his current club over his old one, a victory in which he played no part.

It impacted upon me because his old club is the one that I support and I felt that he owes them some respect for giving him a platform for his talents and nurturing them to the point where he was an England international and a transfer target, something that has undoubtedly enriched him. C’est la vie as they say in non-footballing circles. I’d forgotten that I was following him at all since I am interested in very few footballers, their opinions likely to be witless, meaningless and ‘on brand’ to the point of tedium.
Last week I was tempted to troll him with taunts of my own. This occurred after his current club were beaten by a lower league team in the FA Cup, a defeat in which he did play a part – at least arguably since he was on the pitch.

I managed to restrain myself but still felt the pangs of shame for even contemplating such an act. Likelihood is that he’d never have read it and that my opinion is of no consequence to him, that’s certainly how I feel my opinion is rated by most Twitter users. Still, I knew it and expect better.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The fairytale of excess

We all know that Christmas is a consumerist orgy loosely cloaked in some Christian tradition to keep us all from feeling too guilty, it is frequently a time when we require some excuses for the excesses of our behaviour.

On the big day itself, I’ve become increasingly aware of the quantity of marketing messages I consume. I suspect this is because they’re the only e-mails I’m getting and consequently they’re more obvious. For the last few years I’ve made a note of those companies and a vague promise that I would unsubscribe from their messages. This year I am following through on that vow.

The roll call of commercial entities that were certain I was desperate to hear from them on Christmas Day was:

Bamboo Clothing 
Banana Republic (2)
Body Shop
Coffee Tasting Club
Dr Martens (2)
First Choice 
Honest Brew
London Review of Books 
Marella Cruises
Ribble Cycles 
Richer Sounds 
Secret Escapes 
Teletext holidays 
Thomas Cook

All of them now find they have one fewer customer to sell to. If any have asked why I’m unsubscribing I will send a link to this blog.