How NOT to write about music – 24: Morrissey

British singer Morrissey performs during

This is reprinted from Collapse Board, 2012 – wherein I was merely trying to prove that there is  more than one way to review a show. Of course, there are more than 17 ways to review a show as well – interpretative dance, political, unseeing, seductive, podcast, ranting, haiku, whistled, choppy, sculpted, dress-making, self-centered… the list goes on and on. And on. Can all these be counted as music criticism? Depends on how narrow you like to set your parameters.

Couple of notes:

  1. Since this was written I find my 2018 self in violent disagreement with my 2012 self and section 15, particularly in regard to Morrissey and racism. So much so, I have thrown in a bonus rant (drawn from Ed Sheeran Is Shit) at the end, to counter the goodwill. The idea of reprinting this blog entry and the rant is not to draw attention to Morrissey however, but to try and alert people to the endless possibilities contained within music criticism – especially in the wake of Dave Simpson’s well-meaning but perhaps misleading Guardian article about the health of the music journalism that chose as its visual a magazine rack full of covers that only featured white male musicians over the age of 35.
  2. In section 14 (comparative) I cannot find links to all the music originally played so I have had to guess a couple. Unfortunate, but a good reminder of the transient nature of the Internet.
  3. I have added comments where I have deemed them necessary. Frankly, this shit should be shared and taught across every country where folk consider music journalism to hold any worth – but of course it won’t be. The folk most vested in music journalism’s value also have the biggest stake in music journalism not changing. Plus ça change.
  4. I still fucking LOVE that clip of ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’.

17 reviews of Morrissey @ Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, 17.12.12

The show took place on the 17 December. So I thought I’d print 17 versions of the review.

Version 1: Literal

SET LIST FROM BRISBANE EXHIBITION CENTRE 17.12.12
1. Shoplifters Of The World Unite (The Smiths single, 1987)
2. You Have Killed Me (single from the 2006 Morrissey album Ringleader Of The Tormentors)
3. You’re The One For Me, Fatty (1992 solo single, later released on Your Arsenal)
4. Alma Matters (single from the 1997 Morrissey album Maladjusted)
5. Everyday Is Like Sunday (second single from Morrissey’s debut solo album Viva Hate, 1988)
6. Speedway (final song on 1994 solo album Vauxhall And I)
7. Ouija Board, Ouija Board (1989 solo single)
8. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell (eighth song on the 2009 solo album Years Of Refusal)
9. How Soon Is Now? (B-side of The Smiths 1984 single ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’)
10. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris (first single from the 2009 solo album Years Of Refusal)
11. To Give (The Reason I Live) (Frankie Valli cover)
12. Meat Is Murder (title track from The Smiths’ second album, 1985)
13. Let Me Kiss You (single from the 2004 solo album You Are The Quarry)
14. Still Ill (sixth song from the first Smiths album The Smiths, 1984)
15. Irish Blood, English Heart (single from the 2004 solo album You Are The Quarry)
16. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (B-side of The Smiths 1984 single ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’)
17. I Know It’s Over (third song on the third Smiths album The Queen Is Dead, 1986)
18. November Spawned A Monster (1990 solo single)
19. The Youngest Was The Most Loved (second single from the 2006 Morrissey album Ringleader Of The Tormentors)
20. Sweet And Tender Hooligan ( B-side to ‘Sheila Take a Bow’, 1987)
Encore: 21. First Of The Gang To Die (second single from the 2004 solo album You Are The Quarry)

Version 2: Abstract

Invoice for u/c
Exercise 5: Towel exercise
Sally Breen
470.65
525.03

abstract_art_masterpiece

WHY AREN’T THESE PEOPLE MY FRIENDS?
WHY AREN’T THESE PEOPLE MY FRIENDS?
WHY AREN’T THESE PEOPLE MY FRIENDS?
WHY AREN’T THESE PEOPLE MY FRIENDS?
WHY AREN’T THESE PEOPLE MY FRIENDS?

Version 3: Pedantic

I can take or leave Morrissey. I’m ambivalent way more than obsessed. Never liked The Smiths or (it would be more accurate to say) never liked the idea of being seen to be liking The Smiths. Indie? Pah. Sometimes, I think he’s a one-trick pony. Sometimes? I mean, often. On Monday night at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre I find myself bored 32.1 per cent of the time, charmed 5.3 per cent, thrilled 3.87 per cent, spirits thoroughly uplifted 8.2 per cent, and entertained 64.9 per cent. I believe that adds up, and if it doesn’t that’s because it shouldn’t. I don’t like rock bands that think like rock bands. I like rock bands that rock. On Monday night, the only time Morrissey’s band really get into their stride – from my perspective, high in the stalls – is when they’re whipping up a howling vortex of noise during the PETA film, leading on from ‘Meat Is Murder’. I write, howling. I write, vortex. These words aren’t to be taken literally. You should never take anything literally, especially Morrissey and reviews of Morrissey. Unless, of course, it’s more entertaining to behave that way.

I’m not sure how I split on the songs. I’ve created my own “Morrissey, live in Brisbane 2012″ playlist and some of the songs on that are already more memorable than they were on Monday night, particularly the blousy ‘You Have Killed Me’.

And some aren’t.

Version 4: Irrational (fan-lust)

I love Morrissey. I’ve only seen him live once, but that’s more than most people. It was the most amazing experience in my life. Why? Not only because seeing him live just made me feel so euphoric, but because he took off his shirt and tossed it into the crowd. I was lucky enough to get a piece and I swear to you, it smelled so sweet. Drinking my favorite beer, Blue Moon, on this lovely Wednesday night while listening to him has reminded me how much i love him. This is a special frame with the piece of his shirt. I have it hanging in my house ever so proudly. (SolarV, Tumblr)

Version 5: Visual

smiths-salford-boys-club

pregnant-princess

battery-farming

FWRO

fishing-wide

the clash

Version 6: Imaginary

IMAGINARY MORRISSEY REVIEW
by Jake Cleland

Out trudges Moz, his face the picture of graven sadness – or at least, I think so. I can’t really see from a hundred rows back. But let’s just say that the aura of this sadsack LEGO man stomping around half a football field away is one of gloom. “The Queen, bad,” he says. “Capitalism bad. Marxism bad. This heat bad. Our impending collective deaths, good.” Each statement is punctured with a round of cheers. “This is not going to be a typical show. You’re going to get much more than your money’s worth and I hope you’ll appreciate it although I think for some it might be too much. That’s OK. What’s important is we’re all here now and we’ll all go through it together. OK.” I didn’t know it then – I couldn’t have – but what Morrissey had in store was a trip to hell and back. Travel time: 16 hours.

The First Quarter
“I’d like to introduce a special guest tonight…” he motions stage left. The curtain parts to make way for whichever sap was pulled in to be his gimmick tonight. No doubt some member of the Australian rock vanguard. Timmy Rogers? Paul Kelly? No, this guy’s got dark hair. The excitement ripples through the crowd from the front row like the vacuum preceding a nuclear explosion. “I believe you know my mate Richey.” The fandom detonates. By some miracle, Morrissey’s revived the Britpop prophet of blank, emotional exhibitionism. He’s brought out Richey Manic. I start pushing my way through the crowd to get a better look. “A few guests, actually…” The curtain parts again and onto the stage shuffles Damon Albarn and a typically dapper Jarvis Cocker. A lot’s been made in the past year about 90s pop revivalism and the cynicism of reunion tours in Australia – it felt especially inevitable following the popularity of Simon Reynolds’s Retromania last year – and yet how could anyone be cynical about this? Sure, it was backwards-looking navel-gazing like all nostalgic tripping but shit, for the kids who weren’t there the first time, this simulacrum of a historical moment is just as good as the original. The set begins strongly, sprinkling covers of the guests’ songs between two decades of hits and treasured deep cuts.

The Second Quarter
The hits and covers done away with, Morrissey and his mottled crew hand off their instruments and come down off the stage. “It’s time for a break. Flex the muscles a bit.” Security staff begin circulating through the crowd, carrying an assortment of sporting equipment. Tennis gear, cricket bats, footballs of every kind. Even a ping pong table, set up in front of the stage, although this quickly turns into a round robin tournament of beer pong. Despite the sensitivity, Moz still draws the lad crowd. The band begin mingling. “Fancy a kick, Moz?” I ask him. For an old feller, he’s pretty spry, dodging and weaving like the ball’s glued to his legs. We set up a small area, maybe 5×5 metres, fans vs band. Moz’s a deadly midfielder but Richey’s cadaverous goalkeeping nudge the fans ahead.

The Third Quarter
Requests and crowd favourites. Security gathers up all the gear – even the ping pong table, which some had had the bright idea of using as a stage of their own [actually, in its original incarnation, my old regular venue in Brighton UK, the Free Butt, would set up the pool table as the stage – Ed] – and furrows it away as the band take their original positions. “So, what shall we play next, my darlings?” asks our fearless leader/lover. “Khe Sanh!” one shouts. They play it. “Cattle And Cane!” another shouts. They play it. “The Wild Ones!” yet another shouts. They play it. “Wonderwall!” The crowd goes silent. Morrissey’s stare freezes the culprit to the spot. “You’ve asked for it now.” Richey, standing in for Noel Gallagher, begins strumming the opening chords. And he strums. And he strums. And he keeps strumming for what feels like half an hour as the rest of the band stands poised as if they’re about to come in but it seems like they never will. Finally Morrissey enters. “Tooooooooooooooo-” it drags on. He slides up the scale and back down again. Then he starts syncopating. All on this one “oooh” sound. He drags it out, twisting and contorting it in every way imaginable, and just when it’s sunk so deep into the psyche it seems as natural as the sound of the breeze on a spring morning or the cars along the highway at night, he switches into “Dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-” and on and on. Finally it dawns on me, but the realisation makes it no easier to bear. A three-and-a-half hour long version of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’. By the end there are folks huddled on the ground, while some just stare blankly ahead, thoughtless, except for a kind of existential stillness, an emotional paralysis. He’s hurt us. Like any abusive lover, at this point it seems the only hope he offers is to make the cruelty that much more satisfying.

The Fourth Quarter
That hellish nightmare endured, Morrissey gives one more surprise. “This is the final one, I swear, but please welcome to the stage my dear friends, the original members of S Club 7.” The crowd muster a feeble moan of approval but can’t even get it up enough to appreciate the spectacle of Albarn and Cocker mimicking their choreography with rehearsed precision. The hits go by with rote energy. ‘S Club Party’, ‘Don’t Stop Movin”, ‘Bring It All Back’. It doesn’t matter. Who cares? I’m defeated. The entire world seems grey. Wait, is that it? Oh Morrissey. Morrissey, you sly dog. I finally get it. The last sliver of my conscious mind grasps Morrissey’s genius. “We’re all here now. We’ll all go through it together.” My god, he didn’t mean the show, he meant life! The optimism followed by the crushing pessimism which evolves into jadedness. I doubt many here could understand but Morrissey’s just replicated the experience of human emotional growth, from the boundless curiosity and hope of children through to the bleak limit of reality one discovers as an adult. Torture, yes. Fairly sure everyone here could be considered prisoners at this point. And yet, we’d all been offered the most real glimpse into Morrissey’s psyche as any one man could ever provide. In that moment I understood exactly what made Morrissey who he was, and exactly what I could do to stay the fuck away from it.

7/10

LOVED: The complete deconstruction of Morrissey’s metaphysical nature.
HATED: The beer was a bit watered down. For $8 a cup, I expected better.

Version 7: Street press

The following is taken from The Australian:

Back on the road with no new album to support, the Mancunian front man took to the stage looking like a well-aged matador. Opening with The Smiths’ Shoplifters Of The World Unite, Morrissey’s five-piece band swung in to action behind him.

You Have Killed Me was next and the troupe had a full head of steam by the time You’re The One For Me, Fatty came around. Morrissey’s voice sounded, for the most part, as good as it ever has, although there were moments when the quaver wavered. Speedway was rough around the edges but that was part of the appeal.

John Lennon, towards the end of his life, referred to David Bowie as rock’s last great original. A few years later, Morrissey came along

Version 8: Poetic

Morrissey.
Oh Morrissey.
You mean little when you’re separated but sometimes you mean
The night to me

Version 9: Note form

We were in the seated section to the right hand side of the stage, as you look at it.

Charlotte asks me what I take notes about at a concert (it’s very rare that I do). Usually, it’s just the song titles (although strictly speaking this isn’t necessary in the age of set-lists being available on the Internet the following day – e.g. here) and some general observations: the stage banter, as that’s what is unique to this night alone. (Some artists repeat themselves night to night, but I can’t imagine for one second that Morrissey, who prides himself on his capriciousness, does.) Lighting arrangements, number of musicians. Whether I enjoy a particular song or not. The mundane stuff. Stuff I forget. Also:

Did the crowd chant his name? (Yes.) Were fans pulled on stage? (Yes.) How many shirt changes? (Three.) Were the lights blinding us in the stalls? (Yes.) Was a giant image of Himself projected onto the screen behind the stage so we could see nose hairs in detail? (No.)

The following are my notes, word-for-word, typed into my mobile phone during (and before) Morrissey’s set. Quotes signify Morrissey speaking (or a lyric).

Jean Genie
Salford Boys Club
football chant of “Morrissey”
never turn your back on mother Sparks 1974
new york dolls looking for a kiss

“let me spit it out”
“well, look at it this way, this bottom therapy”
You’re the one for me Fatty
always was a Clash fan (and that’s a difference between us)
mic lead
security monitor every move as he touches hands
“this is my life to destroy my own way”… I like this one (song 4)
big gong behind drums
“you’ll be horrified to hear we had a fantastic time in New Zealand and whether Australia can compete, I don’t know”
Every day is like Sunday (“It couldn’t be much further from Queensland, this song” – Charlotte)
bows (mention way the band looks when they come out)
“in my own strange way I’ve always been true to you” – with ‘Funeral Pyre’ drums (song 6)
guitarist with his arm in a sling
Ouija Board has vague carnival signifiers, gong at end
“I had a shocking experience last night…. Rock Kwiz…’name a singer whose name begins with “m”… someone said the obvious one, someone another obvious one…six down the line, I wasn’t even mentioned…”
no costume changes yet
“I’m human and I need to be loved/just like everyone else does” – theatrical end with Morrissey in foetal position, and banging on major drum (song 9)
“You’re feeling weary now, you’re thinking about tomorrow, there isn’t one… prozac, prozac”
next song like ‘Eloise’ singer Barry Ryan (song 11)
“I’m very pleased to see such a movement in this country against factory farming… until it’s gone, humans aren’t humane”
footage of chickens and turkeys
“and the turkey you festively slice/it’s murder” – band almost coming into their own (song 12)
“Will and Kate. Bag. Of. Shit”
“close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire”
strips off shirt and lobs it into the audience, returns in green Johnny Cash top (costume change!)
into Smiths song, very messy. ‘Still Ill’, voice cracking a little
Meat is moider, “brave English heart”
A plant in the audience… “thank you for your great courage and compassion”
stands still, encourages audience participation
Please Please Please… done subtle with keyboards (song 16)
ties shoelace
Also gentle, ‘I know it’s Over’

“Oh, you’re bored stiff, I can tell”
….
Shouting on “etcetera  etcetera” lyric repeated (song 20)
same venue as citizenship ceremony, seemed big then
another costume change, and a bow
“You have never been in love… first of the gang with a gun in his hand” – pulling fans up on stage

Version 10: Musical

The songs I enjoyed particularly are as follows:

  • Alma Matters – score! I don’t believe I’ve heard the song before, but it has a lovely circular guitar motif that cuts in every so often across, enhancing Morrissey’s deliciously playful croon
  • Everyday Is Like Sunday – score! Charlotte memorably remarks halfway through, “It couldn’t be much further from Queensland, this song” and later revealed she would listen to the song in the car on the way to Southend, on a Sunday. Utterly charming. Couldn’t believe it wasn’t a Smiths song, when C informed me of the fact. I thought only Smiths songs possessed this lightness of touch – as opposed to bludgeoning force. Wrong.
  • Speedway – it’s muscular, sure. But it’s pleasingly muscular.
  • Ouija Ouija Board – what sets the great Morrissey songs aside from the merely ordinary or mundane is the choice of phrase, often. For example, this song here. (‘One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell’ rocked reasonably hard, what with those tempestuous drums but didn’t have a phrase. Or a melody.)
  • How Soon Is Now? – oh yes. I mean, really. This is the song the entire early mythology of Morrissey and The Smiths is built upon, right? The one The Stone Roses hark back to (which is why they could be MASSIVE while Suede only ever aspired to ordinariness as they took ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’ as their template). Lyrics lyrics lyrics… but of course not only. The band aren’t Johnny Marr. Only Johnny Marr is. It didn’t matter. And it was sweet to see Morrissey stray away from his standard dance move of twirling the microphone lead around to curl up in a foetal position in front of the drum kit as the noise droned on and eerily on. Lyrics lyrics lyrics.
  • Meat Is Murder – memorable, certainly. Awful song, but memorable.
  • Irish Blood English Heart –  yeah of course.
  • Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – oh, it’s such a relief when he drops the volume for a couple of songs, and lets us all breath again. This always was a wafer-thin delight of a song (thrown away with the other great Smiths song on the same B-side), recognised long ago for its sensitive touch, and it’s always a pleasure to be reacquainted with any version that doesn’t feature bland indifferent female vocals.
  • I Know It’s Over – see above, and triplicate. Score! A Smiths song I really wasn’t on speaking terms with, reclaimed – subtle and playful and wistful.
  • First Of The Gang To Die – the only encore. (The crowd can’t say Morrissey didn’t warn them. He kept warning them!) Absolutely the stand-out of the night. Storming chorus, storming phrasing, storming storming. Loved the way he played up to the idol worship, pulling outstretched hands up onto the stage, security all crouched and vigilant in case the play-acting became too real. (Which of course it was.) Wonderful way to end the night. I could forgive him any number of faults for this one song alone, and indeed do.

This doesn’t mean I hated the others, more that I was indifferent.

Version 11: Conversational

Conversation One:

“Went to see Morrissey play at the Exhibition Centre the other night…”
Oh yeah? How was it?
“Well, I wouldn’t classify myself as a fan…”
No?
“No. It was pretty good actually. I objected to the way he semi-shouted several of the numbers, and I didn’t really like the band, but there were enough moments to make it worth the trip…”
Oh yeah? Did he play any old Smiths songs?
“Seven, actually.’How Soon Is Now?’, the one Smiths song I’ve always had a soft spot for. And ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, which everyone thinks is a Smiths song anyway.”
Yeah? Good, was it?
“Yeah, great. And he closed the show with an absolute belter, ‘First Of The Gang To Die’. Absolute stormer.”
Yeah? I haven’t heard that one.
“No, neither had I. Remind me to play it to you some time.”
So. Did you speak to him afterwards?
“Morrissey? Are you kidding me?”

Conversation Two:

“He was a lot more jovial than I expected” – Charlotte, on the way back to the car

Conversation Three:

“We consider ourselves the Morrissey and Johnny Marr of Brisbane. There are fights over who gets to be Johnny Marr, because no one wants to be Morrissey” – Gentle Ben Corbett, on the songwriting process between him and Dylan McCormack, 2008 (interview by Shan Welham)

Version 12: Cynical

He’s no David Bowie.

Version 13: Lyrical

I am the son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die

When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

(‘How Soon Is Now?’, The Smiths, 1984)

Trudging slowly over wet sand
Back to the bench where your clothes were stolen
This is the coastal town
That they forgot to close down
Armageddon – come armageddon!
Come, armageddon! come!

Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey

Hide on the promenade
Etch a postcard :
“how I dearly wish I was not here”
In the seaside town
…that they forgot to bomb
Come, come, come – nuclear bomb

Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey

(Everyday Is Like Sunday’, Morrissey, 1988)

Version 14: Comparative

Most of these are Morrissey’s own comparison points, drawn from the music and films played before the set on Monday. I threw in Barry Ryan, mainly for the Frankie Valli cover, and I can’t imagine Morrissey would object. If I was feeling real mean here, I’d compare some of the set to the lesser bands that came after Viva Hate (which is my favourite of any of Morrissey’s albums, with or without The Smiths), but I ain’t feeling real mean here, just comparative. Oh, wait. That means I should.

Hence the Suede clip at the end.

Version 15: Vitriolic

This section is halfhearted because I ain’t got no call being vitriolic towards Morrissey. My feelings for him veer from indifferent to admiring and, on occasion, glad that he’s around. Do I think he’s a racist (to answer one popular call)? No. Not vaguely. I think he likes to think he’s challenging.

Also: it ain’t his fault the shit his music has inspired… OK, maybe some of it is (Easterhouse, anyone?) but not all of it.

  • ‘Still Ill’ has always fucking sucked and it STILL FUCKING SUCKS
  • As does ‘You’re The One For Me, Fatty’
  • ‘Sweet And Tender Hooligan’ should never have been afforded a release. The “etcetera” lyric sounds way better in its original form, “You’re my pride and joy/Etcetera”.
  • I wouldn’t remove my shirt, looking like that. Oh no. What does he think this is? 1992?
  • If I’d wanted to hear someone bawling his way over graceless noise I could have stayed at home and listened to Isaac and Daniel fighting, thanks.
  • Meat means dinner. Always.
  • He’s a bit Tony Bennett, all this reaching out to the crowd.

Version 16: Conflicted

Ah yes. Should I ‘fess up now after all these years? That I only ever hated The Smiths because everyone else so overrated The Smiths when all they simply were was an occasionally brilliant rock band with a lot of chaff attached?

Doing research for this review, I saw plenty of examples of (overwhelmingly male) music commentators making irritating and outrageous claims for Morrissey (the Second Greatest Living Englishman, according to a poll conducted a few years back). That he’s the Last of the Great Pop Stars. That he’s the World’s Greatest Living Lyricist. Etcetera. Etcetera. Bugger that. All they’re doing is trying to reaffirm their own place in the world, one rooted in nostalgia and a yearning for times when they still understood half of what was going on around them.

The Last of the Great Pop Stars? To paraphrase Bill Naughton (The Goalkeeper’s Revenge), I buy and sell pop stars, they’re two a penny to me.

I like The Smiths but I don’t like The Smiths. I don’t like The Smiths but I do like Gene, The Sundays, The Stone Roses, even (very) early Cranberries…

Fundamentally, because I’m old, I can still remember independent music in the U.K. before The Smiths’ champions (and Creation Records) got their teeth into it and turned it all retro and put paid to myriad of the possibilities. This is the prime reason for never being a fan, but that’s ancient history now and it’s 2012 and yes I’m glad Morrissey is up on stage tonight. I can forgive almost anything for one, just one great song.

On his day, Morrissey can handle a phrase, that’s for sure. And he struts with a certain insouciance befitting of the former president of the New York Dolls fan club. He ain’t half rooted in a different world to mine though (one that seems weirdly indifferent to his sojourn in Los Angeles). He’s known for his sensitivity and wryness, yet attempts to browbeat us into awed compliance half the time with an arena rock band interchangeable with dozens of other arena rock bands.

I like the fact he’s petulant, still cares enough to wind up folk he sees as the foe. I dislike the fact he’s petulant, doesn’t really care enough to wind up folk he knows are the foe. I am not a Smiths fan, but I do really like about six of their songs (same as with Roxy Music, Sparks). I am not a Morrissey solo fan, but Bangs alive several of those songs really came alive for me tonight.

Version 17: the Spotify playlist

Bugger that. Create your own, you lazy fuckers.


Morrissey is shit (2018)

There I’ve said it. Happy now? Morrissey is shit. Of course, I don’t really believe that. Not really. He’s a diarrhoeic stream-of-consciousness twat whenever he opens his mouth these days, he doesn’t think before he opens his big fat mouth… or perhaps he does? Maybe that’s the problem. But back in the day, he was great… wasn’t he? Well no. Never felt that either. A pleasing enough diversion, but I didn’t grow up in buttfuck USA. I knew of plenty of alternatives already, many of whom weren’t so obviously performing sorrow and integrity and sensitivity the way he did. Nothing wrong with performance of course, not per se – but to me, back then? Fuck yeah there was. Still, The Smiths (and Morrissey solo) released a good couple of songs and several albums of mediocre imitations and approximations of same. So blanket shit, like Chris Martin? Hell no. ‘Course not… unless you happen to believe he is.

Hell, I’m not scared of my own taste, but I don’t believe you should be either. Got n’owt against him as a performer. Puts on a damn good show sometimes. But nowadays? Fuck man. Nothing feels like shit more than someone people once placed their trust in, their belief, and formed their identities via. No one can stand up to that pressure, that spotlight. Imagine being Johnny Rotten for 40 years. Imagine being Morrissey day in and day out, and not being able to switch off. Bad enough being Everett True. The other day I had a student tell me that she liked DailyMailfuckwadwriter’s name, cos at least she’s being honest. Here’s the thing, though: is DailyMailfuckwadwriter being honest or is she being selective? Perhaps she, like us, eats Oatibix in the morning, but she doesn’t Tweet about that, does she? Nah. She Tweets shit like, “An entire city of monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Blind. Deaf. And dumb.” Not about her Oatibix at all. Just the stuff she knows will rile people. She’s a professional twat, a Troll of the First Order, thriving on fear and hatred and everything that is low and scummy about life. A bottom feeder on the bottom feeders.

Morrissey isn’t a Troll of the First Order like that… and he’s not as bad as Bono either. But he is a twat, isn’t he? Maybe he always was, and we just didn’t care (or know) back then. Maybe he’s changed, or our demands upon how he should behave have changed? He says stuff to provoke, to get people thinking. That’s the defence. (Is it?) What, so you like people thinking what a racist piece of shit you are, Mozzer? Nice. ‘Course you don’t need to defend yourself mate. This is art. All you need to do is call other races ‘subspecies’ when you get upset. Not individuals, mind. Whole races.

Claims to love animals, bans all animal products from his shows: Wears leather shoes, so I’m told. (Who knows? I’m no expert. I’m down with the alternative reality brigade, just not the alt-right scumbags.) All he does is sing the same melody from the Dominant 5th to the major 3rd of whatever key his songs are in… so I’m told. Behaves like an impoverished rejected outsider when he isn’t. (Is that a crime? Well, it explains Trump.) And he looks like a Tory MP these days. Flag waving ex-pat. Still, he’s got a nice voice, don’t he? Lovely voice. (‘less you don’t like it, of course.) Shame The Smiths only had about eight good songs. Still. That’s eight more positive contributions to humankind than that fucking DailMailfuckwadwriter has managed.

People who have always been shit don’t disappoint. Not in the same way.

 

How NOT to write about music – 23: Johnny Cash

johnny cash

The opening line…

The opening line comes from a Leadbelly song…

But the Leadbelly line is taken from a far deeper tradition that goes back decades, centuries even…

(Listen to this version! So damn good.)

I’ve been performing this song on stage for years now, unaccompanied for the most part. There’s nothing lightweight about it. I know precisely why I am singing it and who I am I singing it for. It usually has the effect of reducing a room to chilled awkward silence, except for one memorable time in Olympia when the entire audience began singing along in unscripted beautiful three-part harmony.

This Johnny Cash song… oh fuck. This Johnny Cash song I heard a few nights back when I was watching the tail-end of an OK if somewhat overdone (in terms of violence and its own self-importance) movie about a tired mutant nearing the end of his life. I do not know which inspired genius decided to place it right there, at the film’s end: it did not complement the film content – instead it threw the entire movie into stark relief, showed it up for what it was, storytelling that resonates for only as long as the flickering images are there in front of your eyes (like life itself, I guess). You think generations of male filmmakers and storytellers, from Tarantino and Eastwood onward, through Peaky Blinders and the rest of the Game Of Thrones shebang, have not been trying (and failing) to duplicate what Johnny Cash does with such ease here, over the course of a few sparse lines and inflections…

It is one of the last songs Cash wrote before his death, and most everything sounds overdone next to this… even if the lyrics are way Book of Revelations.

I’d like to say Nick Cave stole his Kicking Against The Pricks album title from a line in this song, but that title is drawn from acts 9, verse 5, Acts of the Apostles:

I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks

I would reprint the lyrics, but what would be the point?

It is all in the voice.

How NOT to write about music – 22. (reprinted from 2015)

ScotDrakula

I don’t know why I continue this blog.

No one reads it. It frustrates me no one reads it because I think the way I write it is both entertaining and sufficiently different to the majority of music criticism out there to be of note, and (more importantly) most of the music featured is SO DAMN GOOD. My motivation has remained constant throughout the years. I started writing about music because it just wasn’t enough for me to listen to it, to be a passive consumer. I wanted to be part of it, give something back. I did this initially through dancing down the front, whether anyone else danced or not. I continued dancing for decades… even now, I will shuffle to the left, shuffle to the right, send my arms wheeling in semi-circles, if a band moves me sufficiently. It’s more fun experiencing live music that way, and serves as a necessary release. Back then, a lot of my energy came through sexual frustration, doubtless. Plus ça change.

I wanted to give something back. So I started writing about music, trying to convert everyone to my cause. Even early on – especially early on – I knew that was a futile quest, but that made it all the more fun. If I didn’t think I could change the world through my writing I wouldn’t be doing it, even now. Especially now. I want to communicate the emotion, the rampant emotions that lead me to dance. I want to make everyone else dance. I barely go out to concerts these days – perhaps one every couple of months – but that’s still the case. I still want to make everyone dance. I still want to change the world.

These years, I’m whistling in a wind tunnel, pissing in the billowing ocean.

My own music is so magical, different, unique. Know the last time I released a record, an MP3? Over a decade ago, easy. Pissing in the wind.

It’s a constant source of annoyance to me that if I write about anything from the 1990s, more people will click through. If I write about something that everyone else is writing about, more people will click through. (Surely, the opposite should hold true.) It’s like I’m not allowed to grow or discover, to change as a person, to be enthused by new music.

My audience is decayed and dying so I should be. Maybe I am and I don’t realise it? Of course I am. Maybe that’s the problem.

Here’s the new Song of the Day. It’s from an album I just spent a very enjoyable hour reviewing for Mess+Noise (the review should appear next week), even in the context of thoroughly knowing who Blank Realm are. It gives me release. It tallies with the whole dance scene thing. It’s grungy (with a small ‘g’) and woozy and boozed-up and wonderful. I am loving this song.

And no one will ever know, will they?

How NOT to write about music – 21: Robyn

Robyn

Robyn!

Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn.

Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn.

Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn.

We are not worthy.

There is no dignity in sorrow, but you can dance through your tears.

How NOT to write about music – 20. Snail Mail

Snail Mail

Contemporary slacker, according to The Guardian. My territory then. Myself and my three children have been mainlining the first two series of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (the tv series that helped define contemporary slacker back in the 1990s) the last few months. My understanding of understated bittersweet ‘gentle’ (not the right word) grungy pop begins with Juliana Hatfield and yes, Miley Cyrus. (Miley, more than Taylor surely?) Soccer Mommy has a better name, but whatever. I am familiar with the genre, the concept. I’ve covered Liz Phair’s ‘Flower’ on stage with awkward angular Brisbane iconoclasts Bent. I got banned from the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle after a Hatfield gig. A few years earlier, I engaged in a Manhattan street spat with Matador Records founder Gerard Cosloy (who know who was chasing who?). Handbags at dawn. Matador, being the home of Snail Mail. Bittersweet with the emphasis on… nah. Let’s not go down that path. Everything is perfect in our imperfect world. Heaven, heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. Something to do with a distrust of the outside world. This music resonates the way this music has always resonated in my world. Makes me think of late night/early morning Sydney taverns. No jagged edges beyond the “pained vulnerability” of the lyrics but that’s the way this music rolls.

How NOT to write about music – 19. Flight Of The Conchords

Flight-of-the-Conchords-on-colbert-2018

So. This new song from Flight Of The Conchords. Um. The one about single dads and their children… me and Isaac enjoyed watching it half-an-hour ago and I thought that we could… Um. Well, I thought we could write something about it. Er.

And that’s it.

So, Isaac. Hello.

“Hello.”

What is it that you like about this song?

“It’s quite funny.”

How so?

“I don’t know.”

Is it something about the self-deprecating way the two singers tackle the subject material and their downbeat wry manner, or is it the delicious delight of the (vaguely taboo) subject material itself, the way the duo sometimes throw in an unexpected sting at the end of a line, the understated pathos that is none the less sweet or moving despite the fact the song is satirical (like all the greatest comedy it holds truth), the underplayed but heartwarming musicality, the way the song builds up into mini-crescendos and dies away again, passion momentarily spent, the smart interplay between the two disjointed narratives, the smart way “Trevor” rhymes with “live together”, the wry nastiness of some of the more ostensibly throwaway lines, the way the song becomes funnier and funnier with familiarity and repeated listens, the unmusicality of the voices as the song draws closer and closer to its climax, the gentle chugalong of the rhythm and melody, bodies swaying gently in the spotlight, the…

“I don’t know. Er. Sorry. Something like that.”

………

(from seven years ago)

Isaac: “You know what would make a great ice cream flavour?” Me: “No.” Isaac: “Dead dad.” Pause. Isaac: “That’s you.”

“Dad, you rock!” Really Isaac? That’s nice of you to say so. “No, not really. I was giving you a sarcastic build-up.”

“You said I can do anything I want when I get home. That means I can kill dad.”

How NOT to write about music – 18. Let’s Eat Grandma

Let's Eat Grandma

The name is a punctuation joke.

Immediately I find myself drawn towards this pair of transgressive teenagers. Their name is a punctuation joke: I don’t know why, but this one simple reveal tells me more about their potential of their music than any number of flowery lines detailing how novel and stand alone their kaleidoscopic pop is. And there sure have been plenty of flowery lines detailing how novel and unique the Norwich pair’s second album is.

“[Their] bold, tender music at once captures teenage girlhood and transcends it entirely. I can’t imagine what they’ll do next.” (Pitchfork)

“Still deliciously bratty of voice, LEG writhe from pouty indignation to rapturous fantasy as they reclaim pink and power in the most visceral four minutes of pop this year.” (The Guardian)

I wonder how many of these writers are the same age as Let’s Eat Grandma? (Yes, I do believe it to be relevant.) At least many of them are the same gender.

Unique? Novel? Really?

Within seconds of listening to the luscious ‘Hot Pink’, I’m reminded of Gothic Americana popsters, the sisters CocoRosie, with a much more immersive understanding of EDM. I am not trying to pull Let’s Eat Grandma down by making this observation (also, this is superficial, based around a certain Helium trill in the intertwined voices and love for esoteric slightly jarring sound) – just pointing out the danger of calling something like “nothing else in pop right now” (thank you Pitchfork) when a statement like that is more revealing of the writer’s own lack of immersion than the music itself. Indeed, the description Pitchfork applied to Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album could so easily be applied to Cocorosie’s early work, “If anything, I, Gemini’s everything-at-once psychedelia spoke directly to the feeling of being a young teenager—a kaleidoscope of unknowns, as terrifying as it is cool.”

That’s not to say it’s not a great line. It is. It’s a great line, especially the phrase “a kaleidoscope of unknowns”. It makes me want to listen, for sure. (And isn’t that one of the primary functions of music criticism?) Better than the NME’s “This is a thrilling, fascinating album that continually startles: it’s a bold step forward and one that feels like a glimpse into the future” – a line which frankly could have (and probably has) been written about any one of 10, 000 other albums, from Paul McCartney’s Back To The Egg to Britney Spears’ latest to the debut from Coldplay.

Also, comparisons. So the fuck what?

I will forgive The Quietus their header of “Walton and Hollingworth’s second album is a richly chaotic collection of warped weirdo pop” but only because it is a header (notoriously difficult to get right), and skip straight to the part where the writer talks about how “‘Falling Into Me’ unpicks pop’s lining perfectly, with its broken, neon disco beat racing into a savage techno high that’s pierced by a recorder.” And everywhere, every review extant, there is the obligatory description of the 11-minute long ‘Donnie Darko’ as an “epic”. What else could it be? It is 11 minutes long.

Great song, though.

The Drowned In Sound review fails (mostly) by trying too hard to be Pitchfork, and it is difficult to get past the clanger of a misjudged opening line, I’m All Ears opens with ‘Whitewater’, a thunking great ice-bucket challenge of an instrumental that answers that age-old question: ‘what if the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive had been written by Godspeed You! Black Emperor?'”

Yeah, right.

Stereogum go on and on so much about how the discussion around Let’s Eat Grandma was framed almost entirely around the phrase “but they’re kids!” it makes the reader wonder whether the writer is resentful that these “kids” have moved on. (Damn, do Stereogum need a decent editor.) Also, the comparison to Lorde (as another high profile former “kid”, presumably?) is surface-level to say the least.

Rolling Stone call Let’s Eat Grandma’s second album “a balancing act of modern bubblegum synth-pop with rangy indie-rock restlessness” but you would expect them to say that, wouldn’t you? Speaking of which, much of I’m All Ears (e.g. ‘I Will be Waiting’) is not any more musically adventurous than Wolf Alice (say) – not an insult per se (I really could not give a crap about perceived innovation), just an observation.

Man alive though, that closing line! “The future, after all, belongs to the young.” Oh my fucking God.

There is a Needle Drop review, but I can’t be arsed with that.

Two nights ago, Q Magazine awarded I’m All Ears the heady title of Album Of The Year, and good on them for that. So pleased to see the magazine stepping away from countless years of Paul Weller Lifetime Achievement Awards and Gallagher brothers covers.

weller

Oops.