How NOT to write about music – 98. Beyoncé

Beyoncé Lion King

Bow down bitches, bow down. It’s Beyoncé.

David Quantick writes: I like Beyoncé’s Lion King album a lot, but also wish other stars would re-purpose Disney soundtracks to be about themselves. Kanye West’s Bambi would be harrowing.

The entire Lion King soundtrack is astonishing. I know, because I listened to its entirety on the way in to work this morning. It was astonishing enough to block out the fact I’d dropped the jelly part of my homemade pâté sandwich on the floor, just close enough to the person opposite’s sandal that I could not pick it up nor could I stop the inevitable slide toward treading in it. It’s like she actually cares about what she’s doing. The album is even more astonishing for the fact that – as Beyoncé tells it – I fully buy into the story, whereas in reality I do not want to go within a thousand miles of the new animated version (nor have I seen the original). It’s enough for me to lose myself within the goosebumps and trills and surprises and uncovered territory and hints of non-white supremacy, and rhythmic twists, pious sermonising and untrammeled joy. Never patronising. So much to keep rediscovering.

I do not want to dissect, discuss Beyoncé, or her music. I do not want to be that critic sat at a bar pretending that on any level I am the equal of the artist. I do not want to dispel the magic. I often tell my students then when I step on stage – i.e. when I stand up to start another class – I picture myself walking down the steps, performing the intro to ‘Crazy In Love’.  That’s what I aspire to, anyway. There’s a swagger. An insouciant joy. My love for Beyoncé’s music goes way beyond that though, keeps changing and mutating with the times. Homecoming was mind-blowing enough. This new one is pure magic, especially considering the source material. I want to be Beyoncé, not to know her or write about her. Simply be her.

I rarely feel this way.

If ever.

How NOT to write about music – 97. Helen McCookerybook

Helen McCookerybook

First, Helen has a new collection of songs out, G*R*E*E*N. I know, because it arrived – flop! – on my doormat, a couple of weeks ago. I do not know where you purchase it from – perhaps Amazon – but I imagine that if you go across to her website blog and send her a note, she will let you know. UPDATE: you can find the album here. It’s wonderful, full of understated magic. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, to be this unadorned and simple, reliant only upon your voice and a soft acoustic – and smart words, boom! – but she manages it, near always. And seemingly effortlessly. This song is my favourite right now. Deserves to be Number One in more hearts than mine. In person, Helen is very sweet, though not be crossed. I am hoping she will come in to chat with my students at BIMM London next term about the film she recently produced with Gina Birch, Stories From The She-Punks. She is a great conversationalist and storyteller

I had that dream again last night, the one about the rundown house with extra layers of rooms up a mystery flight of stairs, and you go out and stand on a flat roof overlooking many other flat roofs, and flowers. There is a palpable sense of space, distance. This time, there was a flooded bathroom that I discovered only minutes before we needed to leave to catch the train to Edinburgh, but my host – David Keegan, a friend I have not seen for two decades – was unconcerned, suggested we leave it to a family member instead. “I haven’t used that bathroom for years,” he laughed.

That reminds me…

A few weeks ago, I got on the train at Clapham Junction – first on, you have to be inch-perfect with your platform placement. Two ladies sit down opposite. We immediately get our mobiles out: several thoughts rush through my head, looking briefly at the lady seated diagonally across from me.

First, that I find it odd that she and me would be on our mobiles at all: a couple of years ago, we would have been chatting to our friends, browsing a newspaper, reading a book surely? My gaze strays across to the rest of the carriage, everyone is behaving in the same way. Second, that I’ve been discussing this phenomenon with a work colleague on a previous connection (West Brompton to Clapham Junction). Third, the ladies remind me of some other ladies I’d sat opposite across from a few months earlier – these ones were in fine form, loudly ripping into Johnson and the Brexit crew, discussing friends’ and relations’ sexual peccadilloes with gusto. Fourth, the lady sitting diagonally opposite reminds me of my friend Helen and that makes me happy, makes me feel she is someone I could be friends with, given different circumstances. Fifth, I think that…

“What are you doing on your phone?”

Sorry.

“I wondered what you are doing on your phone.”

I place my phone on the table. “I’m playing a game, Gardenscapes.” A Facebook post from Neil Kulkarni earlier that day had tipped me off to it. “What are you doing?”

She lowers her phone. “Checking messages.” Then, quite coolly, she remarks, “I thought you might have been filming me.” I don’t even stop to consider the implications of her comment – or the calm bravery she needs to possess to make such an accusation. Nor am I offended. If you feel something is wrong, you act – right? I know Helen would have approved. I start chatting about games addiction. We talk for a few minutes, then return to our devices.

The ladies depart before me, at Gatwick. She says goodbye.

How NOT to write about music – 96. The Wedding Present

the wedding present

I haven’t admitted to a love for The Wedding Present for many years, but I recall writing a spirited defence of their second album Bizarro shortly after arriving at Melody Maker, the result of which meant that none of my august new colleagues (David Stubbs, Simon Reynolds, Chris Roberts, the Stud Brothers et al) ever took my musical taste seriously again.

I’m not sure they did before, thinking about it.

My defence went something along the lines of, “It is impossible for you to dislike this music if you love music, so there is no point even arguing with me on this point because it makes no sense”. I believe it was no more or less sophisticated than that. John Peel attempted a similar line, claiming “The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock’n’roll era – you may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong.” Us Weddoes fans, we brooked no dissent. We knew what we liked, and what we liked came in surprise bursts of full-on euphoria and post-Orange Juice guitar storms, and much finer lovestruck couplets than (constant reference point) The Smiths because Morrissey never sounded sincere. Every girl I knew, or dated, had a crush on Gedge.

For myriad Maker writers howling mirth over numerous pints of Tennants Smug down the Stamford, this merely increased the sense of merriment. What, the lumpen dullard Northern proletariat articulating love and emotion? Time to get your coat, ET.

Ian Gittins used to say he always knew when a record was going to be good because I’d have given it a good kicking; and Nicky Wire later on invented an entire sub-genre: “Horrible Everett True music”. (Ironic then, that when he came to release his debut solo album it was full of horrible Everett True music.)

Fortunately, I do not have a copy of the Bizarro review to hand with which to embarrass myself further.* Also, their first album is way better. As The Guardian put it a couple of years ago, “their debut album, George Best, was like hearing your own internal monologue sung back at you by a breathless Yorkshireman.”

My colleagues’ scorn and mirth had an unlooked-for side effect: freed up of the encumbrance of having to worry about my taste, I thus had free rein to write about whatever I liked.

I could go on to destroy music for a generation: grunge.

(You don’t spot the connection? Have a listen to the riff on The Wolfhounds’ brilliant 1987 12″ single ‘Anti-Midas Touch’.)

Now it can be revealed. Grunge was Everett True’s revenge on my colleagues who refused to take my taste seriously. Sticking it to The Man by, um, becoming The Man.

It was all David Lewis Gedge’s fault.

Link to the music here.

*I find the album near unlistenable now, greatly preferring the one that came before (George Best, 1987) and the one that came after (Seamonsters, 1991), produced engineered by Steve Albini. Another grunge link.

**And they were fucking awful when they played Brisbane six years back. So bad, that me and Charlotte didn’t even look out David to say hello afterwards.

This is a good interview.

How NOT to write about music – 95. Little Simz

little simz

There’s a storm a-comin’. Can you taste it in the air? All the warning signs are there, have been here for months – years now. You can’t step out in the street without noticing the weeds still growing in the gutter, the graffiti dripping from the back walls. Nights are spent restless, sleepless, aching for the moment day starts and life can start again. Days are spent restless, aimless, wandering around in a daze at the abundance of ill-will and mendacity, taken for granted. Say something straight, you’ll be derided, mocked. Scorned. Push your way in, hold onto your precious inch of turf. Pull your kin in around you if you want, group solidarity. You’ll be turned against each other fast enough, group on group, faction on faction, culture on culture. Far easier not to understand. Far easier to whine. Look at that chunky clown speak! So bumbling, so lovable, so cuddly, so harmless.

[…]

Harmless?

Rage. Where’s the rage? Hard to rage in the midst of this heat. Far easier to seek escape, let someone else do the worrying. Rage. Life’s fucked but it’s all we’ve got. You feel entitled? You shouldn’t. You really shouldn’t.

 

How NOT to write about music – 94. Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran cover 2

There is a new Ed Sheeran album out. This is not a review of it.

If you want to read a review of it, I suggest you try The Guardian one. Alexis is usually pretty solid when it comes to artists like Sheeran, although I cannot help but notice that he has cannily avoided voicing his own opinion in the linked piece, a tried and tested fallback for those among us who value our integrity as writers when asked to review shit stuff like this for a wider audience. Just a suggestion, but wouldn’t it be interesting if Alexis had been asked to write two reviews in parallel – one for the wider audience, and one where he voices his own opinion. Of course, the two may coincide…

Another thought: why is it that critics are allowed to voice opinion when it comes to film and TV but not pop music?

A disclaimer: if this reads like criticism of Alexis then I apologise. It is not supposed to. He is one of the few male mainstream pop critics I admire.

Note: I have derailed myself. Apologies again.

So. Where were we? There is a new Ed Sheeran album out. This is not a review of it.

If you want that, then… well, find someone who has actually listened to it, for starters, if that is what you’re after, and I’m not sure why you should be: some of the most entertaining shit music criticism I have read – and written myself – has happened because the critic in question – myself, for example – has not bothered to listen to the music. Such a wanton act of self-destruction leads by necessity to creativity, use of the imagination. And this should not be discouraged. Although I cannot but help agree with you, imaginary reader, that it really depends why you are reading the music criticism in the first place. Entertainment covers a lot of sins.

Also, you know my thoughts on this, surely?

God, I am ugly.

So what is this blog post then, if not a review of the new Ed Sheeran album? An acknowledgment, a tip of the fedora to the establishment, the zeitgeist. Initially, I had an idea I would link to a series of recent videos without a verbal commentary, in a pre-doomed attempt to point out the bewildering miasma of alternatives that are available, that are always available, as opposed to the dullard lowest common denominator mainstream. But that would be playing to the balcony, and rather pointlessly at that.

For example (and I am really not trying here):

Here is one.

Here is another.

Here is a third.

(How much patience do you have?)

Here is another.

And so forth.

I discarded that idea rapidly, though. Also, I remain slightly bemused as to why I so greatly prefer the music of Little Mix and Taylor Swift (say) to the music of Ed Sheeran (say), beyond the fact that the former do NOT make Mumford & Sons sound like a thriving farmer’s market, do NOT make Coldplay sound like Throbbing Gristle, do NOT put One Direction into perspective, are NOT the grey, are NOT the grey, are NOT the grey in the middle of grey. And, furthermore, the former remind me of the greats (En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, The Spice Girls, Taylor Swift) which the latter most patently does not, even when he is duetting with Beyoncé herself (remarkable!).

Sheeran reminds me more of the following: glazed eyes, traffic tailbacks, hot sleepless nights (not for any interesting reasons), roadkill, the new shopping mall at Shepherd’s Bush station, slow-moving elevators, meetings that drone on for hours, sun-glazed holidaymakers blocking the aisles at Clapham Junction, tv reality celebrity shows, stewed coffee in station cafes, the cultural appropriation embedded in pop and particularly middle-class white male pop, kids brawling in Victoria Park, half-empty hair salons… life, in all its stewed glory and terrible infancy.

Am I that much of a gender terrorist? I hope so. (Correct answer.)

Isn’t it great that Sheeran makes so many people happy? No. I really do not believe so but why not settle for mediocrity and a life spent not understanding why those in charge get away with it, when it’s presented to you so well pre-packaged?

How NOT to write about music – 93. No Sister

no-sister-my-new-career

It bothers me that when I try to capture beauty I usually end up bruising it.

  • Odd. But perhaps not that odd. I was talking about you a few days ago with a couple of friends, I’m guessing you know who.
  • You are one of the people I miss from Brisbane, although I am also guessing you no longer live there.
  • I nearly wrote about your band once before, but didn’t because, I’m guessing you know why.
  • I always thought it is better to try and direct the conversation than reveal, but these days there are no sureties.

It bothers me that so few people are bothered.

  • This music leaves more questions left unsaid then it does provide answers.
  • Shopping malls and aerosols is a great rhyme.
  • This music is more reminiscent of the loneliness of overheated suburban Australian playgrounds and half-empty English hair salons than of the rain-splattered American streets reflecting neon.
  • The greatest moment in this song occurs at around 1.27, if we follow the A Certain Ratio guide, which we shouldn’t.

It bothers me that I have never attained the level in my writing style where I can be direct without being dull.

  • I have no idea what you’re thinking.
  • This is way better than you think it is, however good you think it is.

It bothers me that when I try to capture beauty I usually end up bruising it. This one line from the band themselves: No Sister’s upcoming release is an acknowledgement of an elemental, unavoidable creative facet: influence: is brilliant. Hemmed-in, but with the creative freedom such acknowledgment brings.

Building on the shoulders of giants. This is a billowing, bruised beauty – isolation and solace and the echo of late night footsteps receding. So fine. You don’t have to believe me. Just play the song over and over again, thinking of me playing the song over and over again, grappling to articulate emotions the closer I get to the further they slip away.

If you want more detail, the band put it far better than I can. There again, I have nothing riding on this. This, and Tropical Fuck Storm, are the two bands you should be listening to right now.

‘My New Career’ — a song exploring a simultaneously hyperbolic but very real sense of DIY feminism — abounds in influences. The opening lines “I used to do my hair with rollers, but now I use spray cans and pliers” were borrowed from an artwork by Melbourne artist Ruth O’Leary, with the song’s sentiments further propelled by writers such as Sheila Heti and Anne Boyer. Meanwhile the musical and aesthetic influences range from David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Prince and other 80s fascinations — in their new EP No Sister expand their post-punk sound to include influences from both sides of the Atlantic (and Pacific).

Self-released in Australia by No Sister, Influence was recorded by John Lee and Pat Telfer at Phaedra Studios (Beaches, Love of Diagrams, Small World Experience, Lost Animal, Stonefield), mixed by Mino Peric and mastered by David Walker at Stepford Audio.

How NOT to write about music – 92. Stormzy

Stormzy stab-proof vest

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Love this song.

Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests

Love this performance.

The Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, is believed to pose the greatest risk for rapid future sea level rise. Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found it was likely to succumb to instability linked to the retreat of its grounding line on the seabed that would lead to it shedding ice faster than previously expected.

Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry,” he said.

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Do you hear the connection too?