How NOT to write about music – 55. Robert Forster

Robert_Forster_Inferno

I cannot resist this.

I have never knowingly listened to a Robert Forster solo record before – sorry, Robert. I am too entangled with The Go-Betweens for that.

NOTE: don’t mention the fact the video reminds me of my former gardens in The Gap, a few long streets away from Robert himself lives.

NOTE TO SELF: do not mention the fact Robert once stood on Charlotte’s foot in the fruit and veg section of Woolworth’s, or our very convivial meeting down Kelvin Grove market, or watching him recount songwriting skills to QUT students on an otherwise mundane weekday afternoon, or endless weeks spent inside cowering from the sun, the inferno.

NOTE TO SELF, NOTE TO SELF: do not mention ‘Spring Rain’, the way I could only understand that song after I’d been living in Brisbane for a couple of years. Do not mention the heat. Do not mention the heat, the decaying plastic playgrounds and garages full of spiders.

NOTE TO SELF: do not mention The Velvet Underground, the two-note piano refrain, the towering benign shadow Forster casts over The Music I Love, the wicked little asides of synth and silence and madness, the way he brings it all back down, the focus we all have on our ‘lawns’, the ‘jungle’, the guitars, the forest, the green, the languor, the semi-retirement, the warping and bending of guitar notes enough to unsettle, the brilliant brutal simplicity of it all. Do not mention the fact I have now spent just over 52 minutes listening to a 2.46 minute song over and over.

NOTE: I really had no intention of writing about Mr Forster as he reaches yet another peak of artistic creativity. Indeed, I had no intention of listening to Mr Forster (see above). Now I think about it, that must be untrue – my insistence I have never knowingly listened to one of his solo records. (I got in a 3am Facebook argument with Courtney Love and Lou Barlow – among others – a few months back, when I started insisting I have no recollection of seeing Courtney’s band play live. I know I must have seen them. I just cannot recall seeing them.)

NOT TO SELF, BUT TO ALL OF YOU: splurgy-troth brilliance. Place on repeat, let the lyrics and the pronunciation and the guitars soak through you 20 times, the insistent two-note piano, and then start playing it for real. For real, man. For real. I fucking wish fucking YouTube didn’t keep taking me through to Sharon Van fucking Etten at the song’s end however. Do YOU remember the winter at all?

Look at the way the man dances with his mower! Look at him.

We all do that, in The Gap. It’s a weekly ritual, our pastime. Like First Dog on the Moon made corporeal flesh. A suburban death twitch.

How NOT to write about music – 54. The 1975

The 1975 Brits

I’m increasingly of the opinion that The 1975 are the greatest rock band in the world right now. (Note: define rock.) (Note: I am using the traditional (male) definition here because of course there is no way that the greatest rock band in the world right now are male.) This 1975 song reminds me of XTC circa ‘Senses Working Overtime’. (Note: it sounds nothing like it.) (Note: I am talking about the way the vocals have been treated, and the modulations, the pauses for breath. Not the content.) Between this and the new Billie Eilish one, it can be quite exciting listening to the Radio One Breakfast Show these days. Fact of the matter is: politics, sex, a sense of belonging. Fact of the matter is: jarring, explosive, political, not pandering. Fact of the matter is: passionate.

Living on the edge. Nervy. Living on the edge. “Is this song your jam, dad? Is it? Is it?” I don’t know, give me a chance. I like the Billy Eilish one. Give me a chance. “Is this song your jam, dad?”

Give me a chance.

“We need to stay angry and we need to stay woke.”

Here is singer Matt Healy at the Brits last week:

“I just want you to listen to me for one sec. Just a couple of sentences that a friend of ours, Laura Snapes said this, and I thought that we should all really, really think about it,” Healy said before quoting Snapes as she described her written response after a misogynistic remark was made about her by Mark Kozelek. “She said that in music, male misogynists acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of difficult artists. Whilst women and those that call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.”

I’m guessing Radio One didn’t play the opening lines:

We’re fucking in a car, shooting heroin
Saying controversial things just for the hell of it

Most people sing like they’re singing in the shower. Not Healy. He’s too intent on being intense. Fellow chart-botherer Lewis Capaldi sings like he’s been sitting on the toilet for 20 minutes now, unable to get relief. Strain. Reach those notes. Strain. Reach those notes.

I’m just sayin’.

I think this is a prime fit for sexuality. This song makes me want to go right back to their concert and hear them play this song all over again. It was the one they closed with and it left the biggest impact. Matty (the lead singer) asked for his little speech before the song to be kept a secret between him and everyone else at the venue and so I’ll do that for him. But honestly no matter if you’re watching the music video on youtube, seeing them in concert or watching them doing a live version on youtube as well, everything about this band is unreal. I could go on forever about how much I love the 1975 but I’ll stop now and leave this here.
“Being a sexually empowered woman doesn’t make you a slut or a slag” | Songs related to sexuality

I am just sayin’.

“You learn a couple of things when you get to my age.”

Like, community matters. Like, when the magic dispels and the glamour fades and the paper bag is finally removed from Charlie Brown’s head, no one is interested. A solo heartfelt performance witnessed by no one. Everyone has better things to do, more appropriate people to call. Like, why not give yourself a try? At the age of 29 or 57, it does not matter. OBSERVATION: that dude from The 1975 is like Brian Molko crossed with Harley Quinn. OBSERVATION: this song from The 1975 does not pander, does not talk down (except everywhere). OBSERVATION: killer riff.

“And what will you say to your younger self?”

Like, family matters. Much as you might like to pretend it doesn’t and that you can cut yourself adrift, run wild and free and with no thought for collecting friends or kudos or security. Much as you love to pretend you were early, you were late. OBSERVATION: killer riff. Seriously killer riff. You couldn’t be more wrong actually, I’m unbelievably sentimental. Have you missed me? I sure as fuck have missed you. Where did you go? Why did you go? No, wait. I think I understand that. OBSERVATION: The 1975 are great because The 1975 are both cliched and wrong. Wrong is always attractive in pop music ESPECIALLY when you are not exposed to pop music. When you are exposed to pop music, and in the context of Nick Grimshaw’s Radio One breakfast show, The 1975 are fucking GENIUS. How can they even get away with playing this shit? (Well, simply. It’s a killer riff and they can talk over the words.)

“And I was 25 and afraid to go outside.”

Every time, Daniel goes “You like this song don’t you dad?” as I’m negotiating another two cars parked on a blind corner, cyclists holding up a line of 30 cars treating the country roads like their own personal gymnasium, horns blaring in fading frustration, another couple of hundred quid added to the bodywork bill. And I’m like, “NOT NOW DANIEL” and then realise how I am too late and stutter an apology for my grumpiness, my lack of good humour. He’s right, I do like this fucking song. A lot. Killer guitars, Killer riff. And now I’ve listened to it eight straight times on YouTube I like it even more – smart lyrics. Smart, smart lyrics.
THE 10-MINUTE REVIEW – 25: THE 1975

I am just sayin’.

How NOT to write about music – 53. Nina Simone

nina

“Go on, cry cry, your tears won’t change a thing”.

I know surprisingly little about Nina Simone and her life when it comes down to it.

All that I need to know is contained within this one performance, recorded on 7 April 1968 three days after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and performed at the Westbury Music Fair. You don’t even need to listen to the music (although why you would choose not to listen to the music of Miss Nina Simone I have no idea). Just watch her face, and the faces of her audience, on the YouTube clip. Just watch her face, pain etched in every line – but not a victim, never a victim. Her stance as she hammers the keys. So proud, so caring. Just look at those eyes. The way she loses herself in the music. Just watch her considering how to start the song, the enormity of which she is unable to tackle but someone needs to.

Someone must.

Turn on the sound. How can you bear to be doing anything while Nina Simone sings? How can you bear to be doing ANYTHING? Listen to that sweet gospel organ sound, attempting to heal a hurt that still feels raw and open nearly 40 years on (and that often feels as if it has nothing to do with Martin Luther King, Jr at all). The names change, but the hurt remains.

Look at her face.

Look at her.

Look.

Listen to her voice.

Listen to the instrumentation.

Listen to it all, it all.

“Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.”

I don’t listen to this song to linger in shared pain and betrayal though. I listen to this song at the moments when the world feels too much to bear, when there’s a surfeit of that bullying misogynist asshole Donald Trump on the ‘web, when more innocent people have been murdered by Western-approved forces in Syria, when my seven-year-old is having difficulty adjusting to rules. I listen to this song for its succour, the balm. I reach deep inside this performance, for its frailties and hurt and beauty. I reach deep inside this performance and in the act of listening to this performance never fail to be healed in some way. The way it starts so gently and eloquently and sorrowfully, never in anger or retribution. The way it swells, the way Nina reaches for notes and expression that I have never heard from anyone else. That soothing organ. The audience still shocked beyond tears.

The way she grabs notes and feelings and emotion out of nowhere. The way the music almost overwhelms her voice. The way she stops the song, rolling to dissolution.

As she sings: “What do people…what do they think they have to gain? And did Martin Luther King, did he die in vain?”

Such a eulogy. It heals me every time. I could play this song five times over in its 20-minute entirety – and have – and still never get tired of its healing balm, still find something new to lose myself within each time. It makes me want to punch the air, every refrain makes me want to punch the air and in the act of punching the air, stagger and weep and hug myself with happiness that someone out there knows how it feels to feel. I don’t do religion because I don’t need to do religion.

Nick Cave once drew a comparison with one of my own performances, telling Warren Ellis that I was “more entertaining than Nina Simone”. He could not have paid me a higher and more loaded compliment if he had thought about it for five lifetimes. And if I write that, “it sometimes feels like Beyoncé is determined to pick up the mantles of both Prince and Nina Simone”, I do not rush to form that sentence.

Reprinted from Ed Sheeran Is Shit. Paypal £13 (UK) / £16 (EU) / £20 (ROTW) to ramonesfan79@yahoo.co.uk. Be fast though, there are only 10 copies left

How NOT to write about music – 52. Dori Freeman

Dori Freeman

“One day she went away and didn’t come back. She died or vanished somewhere, in one of the Labour Camps. A nameless number on a list that was afterwards mislaid.” (Yevgraf Zhivago, Dr Zhivago)

Nice of you to drop by. Makes me think you care somehow. Thank goodness that all life comes to an end, right? Means that, sooner rather than later, our hopes and dreams and loves and heartaches and addictions and tears and children will come to nothing – nameless numbers on lists that afterwards are mislaid and then forgotten until the very concept of writing numbers on lists is bereft of meaning, whether it’s in our children’s lifetime or a thousand years later, doesn’t matter. There is nothing to look forward to, just the Void.

It’s lonely this evening, isn’t it? Children are at their grandparents instead of their regular weekly stopover, the house is chilly and drafty, no sound of laughter or fighting or TV blaring.

The second half of Dr Zhivago has just finished playing in the old man’s TV.

Man, that’s some cheery movie.

Here. Have some sweet melancholy to tide you over. Beautiful voice, beautiful arrangements. There is something a touch of Elvis Costello’s (slightly misguided) country album Almost Blue about this, but we do not hold this against Ms Freeman. Indeed we appreciate Ms Freeman all the more for it. Nostalgia, tinted with regret, tinted with warm melancholy, tinted with an appreciation for a job well done. Not too shabby. Slightly nasal. In a good way. She feels like she’d be someone it would be nice to share a few minutes with, have a few laughs with, move on after and catch a train back to Nowhere. The void. When the song finishes, there is a palpable feeling of loss.

Does not solve the problem of the cold or the heartbreak or isolation, but what does?

How NOT to write about music – 51. Ryan Adams

ryan adams

Some of us have always hated Ryan Adams. The following is reprinted from Music That I Like, 2017 

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Father John Misty vs Ryan Adams: Who Is The Biggest Asshole?

Here is the ‘news’ story. 

And here… fuck it. Who the fuck cares? Both are weak, fifth-rate, belligerent boring narcissists with little taste in music and even less taste in hair.

On the one hand, Ryan Adams has never written poetry like this:

Father John Misty
You seem quite shifty
Humorous in a non-humorous way

Father John Misty
The critics love to discuss you
They want to know the ‘real’ you
Why?

All art is a performance
But not all art is boring
or dull or serious or like late 70s Elton John without any tunes

You have a beard
And no back story
Just another hipster glowing
In the light of another

Father John Misty
You have been compared to various art-
ists like Fleet Foxes, Jackson Browne and
others I have never heard

Father John Misty
I have not heard your new album either
This does not bother
Me

I have a feeling that
You and I could never be
friends or enemies or even one-night lovers as we have absolutely nothing in common beyond a distrust of
razor wit

Father John Misty
Critics like to use your real name
Why?

All art is a performance
Some duller than others
Some so dull that it should not be listened to at all

Father John Misty
Like an Agatha Christie
Without any myst’ry

Father John Misty
Pitchfork inform me that you have one of the “7 Albums Out Today You Should Listen to Now”
So demanding
And with the bar set so low

On the other hand, neither has Father John Misty.

On the one hand, one is a boring middle-class white male rock tosser. On the other, one is Ryan Adams.

On one side is a man who has plenty to say, but fuck me is it dull and tedious. And on the other, one is Father John Misty.

One is bloated, corpulent, unfunny. So is the other.

Related posts:
Father John Misty vs Ed Sheeran. Who is the more shit?

You still want to know what the songs sound like? They sound exactly how you would imagine them to sound. The title track is a ragged folk-waltz, ‘Kindness’ is a lush testament to the healing power of love, ‘Save Me’ is an intimate country-rock lament … look I can’t play this game anymore. This album is awful. It is beyond awful. It is a waste of your time. Trust me; you can do much better than this. You deserve better. I am truly sorry if you think the things Ryan Adams describes on Ashes & Fire are real emotions. They are not. They are the words of a person whose imagination is comatose; it is the poetry of the mundane. We are all in the gutter, but that does not mean we have to drink from it. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire (PAX-AM/Capitol)

You can still buy the book Ed Sheeran Is Shit. Paypal £13 (UK) / £16 (EU) / £20 (ROTW) to ramonesfan79@yahoo.co.uk. Be warned though, there are only about 10 copies left

How NOT to write about music – 50. Marshmello ft. Bastille

Marshmello ft. Bastille

Last week, a bog-standard EDM DJ played a concert to an estimated audience of 10 million people, and I bet you didn’t even know…

The first ever live virtual concert inside Fortnite with millions of people in attendance; and for those watching, this was An Event to match all those Oasis Maine Road and Superbowl halftime shows and U2 stadium tours. Apparently. I don’t mean for the ‘apparently’ to sound cynical, just acknowledging my own lack of insider knowledge. Certainly my 13-year-old son (let’s call him Isaac, as that’s his name) loved it, was very excited. Yet I cannot connect to this on near any level: the music and the event feels alien to me, clinical and clumsy, disconnected and woefully amateurish, so basic. Lack of commonality.

Maybe it’s my two-dollar headphones (no bass). Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity.

The event feels strangely empty. (Ten million people? Really? “They’re all on separate servers, dad,” Isaac patiently explained.) At big shows (or after-show parties) (or weddings) I really notice if the audience is lacking or if there is not much atmosphere. (That moment the lights get turned on at 2am after a bangin’ disco to reveal the beer spills and patches of nothing and ordinary, sad would-be all-night hedonists.) This is a generational thing, right? Watching virtual reality I am very aware of the reality I exist within. The music is tinny, squeaky-clean. There is too much separation between the sounds, between the stage and the dancers, between the dancer themselves. It’s so damn empty. I do not want to comment on the music – except to note that shorn of the physicality of actual reality, the smells and off-mic sounds, the sights and breeze across my face – I find myself floundering to establish commonality (something at the heart of near all criticism, too often taken for granted).

Then there is this. I don’t understand. I really don’t. How is this, on any level, good? Six million views, 360K likes.

I am betraying my own lack of engagement, my own lack of common ground. Isaac loves this stuff; my criteria for whether something can be judged ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are outmoded and meaningless when it comes to discussions like this. Yet music criticism is not musicological analysis, it has never been even primarily concerned with  the notion of a universal good or bad, with the notes and tone and composition by themselves. So does this make Rolling Stone‘s critique of Marshmello’s 2018 album Joytime II as “monotonous… every song sounds like it has already been pre-leased for use by energy-drink companies or extreme-sports squads” valueless? Only inasmuch as music criticism has always been valueless.

Pitchfork‘s comment that “Artists trafficking in EDM have typically been averse to the album format, but Marshmello’s two Joytime releases aren’t exactly albums. Think of them more as collections of DJ tools — packages of cuts tailor-made for set-lists and remix fodder alike” feels more relevant. Doesn’t tell you anything about the music though.

Or does it?

Music criticism focuses on the audience, and on the performer. As the old line has it about John Coltrane and the Cheeky Girls – can we not all agree the merit and worth in one over the other. No, I do not believe we can. Preference is down to context and fashion, not some mythic intrinsic ‘value’.

Could I also draw your attention to this:

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Damn.

That is some heavy-duty marketing, right there.

How NOT to write about music – 49. The Specials

The Specials

I was dubious. I cannot deny it. It’s not like The Specials haven’t reformed every year since whenever it was they first “split” (’81? ’84? ’93? ’96? ’98? ’00? ’07? ’09? ’12? ’16?). What should make this latest reformation any more – or less – special than all the previous reformations?

I cannot answer that. Maybe no one can. It feels appropriate, that The Specials should reform once more in 2019 – but frankly, you could have said that about any other year they reformed. Sure, you can point to individual band members’ participation and all that. I don’t recall any of them releasing anything particularly stunning in the interim though. Sure, I enjoyed their live outings with Amy Winehouse and – yes, it’s impossible to decide which of their first two albums is the greater (it’s the first, of course! no, the second! no, the first… and so forth) but…

It’s not like I’m complaining. Even if, as some have argued, this latest incarnation is not actually The Specials at all. Listen to the music and judge for yourself. That’s all you need to do. Listen to the music. This first single is… well, it’s miraculous ain’t it? A shameless reworking of the sound of ‘Ghost Town’? Yeah, ‘course. But a minor miracle too. I’m sure the new (Number One!) album is as patchy as shit but… well. Whatever. Time to drag out the old Tricky anecdote again.

The story goes that, right at the height of Tricky’s first flush of fame, the notoriously moody trip-hop pioneer was flown first-class to Seattle to DJ. He showed up with a copy of the Specials’ first album under his arm, nothing else. “Er, that’s lovely Tricky,” stuttered the nervous club owner, “but where’s the rest of your records?”

“This is it,” came the reply. “It’s all you need.”

ADDENDA: heard the album now. There are some fucking killer cuts present.

For example: