Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The politics of hypocrisy

It is often said that emotion outweighs logic when it comes to decision-making. Although this has never been more obvious I can’t help but hope that the balance will tip, particularly when it comes to voting.

The sheer irrationality of politics makes me steer clear of even offering a viewpoint in most cases. It’s all too easy to be flippant but the jokes cause hollow-laughter that mockingly reverberates in the echo chambers of our polarised discourse. Preaching to the converted was never less appealing.

Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash
It has taken the odious Nigel Farage to shake me out of this habit. If ignorance is bliss he should be the happiest man alive, but it appears that he’s still angry about something and has chosen to launch a political party to vent, which is the obvious thing to do of course. The imaginatively titled Brexit Party again focuses on the single issue for which he is known (other than wearing tweed and drinking foamy ale), opposing our membership of the EU. If he has any mates I wonder why they’ve never suggested that he ‘winds it in a bit’ or ‘changes the record’. Surely that’s what mates are for, to remind you when you’re becoming a bore, or a caricature. Obviously, they’ve decided he’s a lost cause – something our broadcasters would do well to acknowledge.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Beyond Fame

After the screaming stops, everything stops

The Bros documentary, After The Screaming Stops, which was screened by the BBC over Christmas, is almost unique as a piece of cultural and social history with additional psychological interest.

Naturally, that’s not what draws you in. Instead you’re beguiled by a voyeuristic glimpse of diva-esque pop drama and sibling rivalry with the promise of real-life ‘The Office/Partridge’ moments. I hadn’t even intended to watch it but the social media furore made it irresistible.

I’m as much a voyeur as anyone else, I particularly enjoy seeing self-importance ridiculed and egos pricked, so I was initially enraptured but eventually began to see the deeper relevance to modern culture and mental health issues, realising how very little has changed.

With ATSS you could see how that self-importance is developed and enabled by the music industry. In one of the more dramatic arguments that festered in a crowded rehearsal studio the brothers went at it while everyone around them looked at the floor. The session musicians wouldn’t intervene for fear of being accused of taking sides and potentially losing their presumably well-paid gig; the surrounding family and management were equally reticent.

When you’re a star no-one questions you. If you’re a star at the young age that Bros were that can easily lead to personality flaws, an inability to know how to interact with co-workers or normal people. For these guys it goes on, as was evidenced by promoters in Vegas favourably comparing Matt’s residency there to Frank Sinatra. Is it any wonder that self-importance and ego runs rife?

It’s well known that in successful bands most other members hate the singer. When that frontman is also your brother there’s an added bit of family strife to factor in. Everyone needs a focal point for their irritations and Matt played that part beautifully.

Luke had genuine grievances that were persistently ignored. All the industry needed him to do was look pretty, be a foil for Matt and an essential part of the marketing – ‘who’s your favourite brother?’ He recalled the excitement of turning up at the studio for the first time to record his drum parts only to find that the producer had already programmed them in. Is it any wonder that he carried a grudge?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Disappearing Music

I was nearing the end of Elvis Costello’s biography when ‘Look Now’ dropped. It was pertinent timing.

The book is simultaneously revealing and guarded, in all the ways a Costello fan would expect it to be. Gloriously written yet infuriatingly opaque. If fans know anything about Elvis it is that he would be anything but obvious. What he does with great aplomb is to decipher certain lyrics in such a way that I often wished for a compendium of his lyrics with side-notes and references. It’s something I would buy, I suspect I’m not alone.

Since the biog has no linear tendencies the zig-zagging across the decades is occasionally perverse but eventually makes sense. His form is to write of instances that remind him of why he ended up in that position or artists that influenced this or that reference or song. There is a lot about music, in some ways it’s all about music and his knowledge and depths of references are bewildering in their expanse.

Elvis is the single artist by whom I own the most work. In reading UM&DW I realised that I had barely scratched the surface of his output. There were countless songs written for, and recorded by, others of which I knew nothing. Added to this there are dalliances in genres of music that I feared I would dislike but now yearn to hear.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Idle Race

My ability to capture generally irrational thoughts and turn them into blog posts or reviews is largely based on harnessing my natural outrage and funnelling it into righteous anger or exasperated humour.

In the past few years this has become harder, principally through pressures of time and the vast quantity of people doing the same thing, often better than I could. Therefore, I have no need or purpose.

This said, words have a purpose and sometimes I can’t help but spill them out. Sometimes an event will provoke a spillage, sometimes a song, sometimes a gig. In this case it is all three.

I went to see Idles last week in Birmingham. I had looked forward to it for a while, not always the case with my gig going of late. I have the desire but not the will and am too frequently disappointed by the outcome. Either some acts and promoters are not trying hard enough or I expect too much.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Who voted for this?

It was always about votes. It was always about power. The only control they wished to retain was their control over us.

We only had a referendum about EU membership because of a Tory election promise. The promise was only made because Tories needed to stop people voting UKIP in their marginal seats. We got a referendum because David Cameron wanted to stay in power, he wanted those UKIP votes.

A decision whether to remain in the EU was always too nuanced and important to be trusted to the public: until it started to cost the Conservative Party votes.
It was never about what’s best for us, only what was good for them. It was about votes then and it is about votes now. Labour can’t properly oppose Brexit because some of its key constituencies voted for it. They’re scared, they should be. Should this turn out to be the catastrofuck that most of us expect we will remember who stood up for what’s best for the UK.

It was never about what’s best for us. We were so deeply entrenched in the EU that it was difficult for politicians to explain what benefits we got, particularly if they were trying to claim credit/votes for those benefits. The EU were also a too convenient scapegoat, a distant powerful force who could be blamed when stuff wasn’t working. Don’t blame us, it’s all their fault.

Now the protagonists are scattered to the wind. Still they re-surface to poke the wasps nest before disappearing again. Shit-stirrer supreme Boris Johnson got the f—k out of Dodge when he failed to have any influence. He only has any impact by being an agitator. Calculated remarks about Muslim women keep him front of mind and firmly positioned as a right-wing poster boy, jocular Etonian for hire, good old Boris, one of the (rich) boys. He wants that Tommy Robinson sheen for his next assault on the leadership.

Pawel Czerwinski, unsplash

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.