How NOT to write about music – 82. Taylor Swift

calmdown

I am not disappointed. No way.

The video is like something Katy Perry would have produced back in the day: all Technicolor brilliance and extravagant (kinda empty) gestures and appropriate tributes paid to diversity and the dullness and ugliness of closed minds. (Katy appears a few minutes in, dressed as a burger to Taylor’s fries.) Put simply, ‘Calm Down’ is a top tune, a banger or however the fuck Radio One DJs frame the expression these days. ‘Calm Down’ is ace pop music – and it ain’t that straightforward either. The song is beautifully judged, in ways that new songs from Little Mix and (sigh) Miley Cyrus do not manage. Something about the space, the dynamics, the rubber ballast beat, juxtaposition, a flurry of lyrics, the killer line “cos shade never made anybody less gay”, the way it recalls what’s gone before. I mean, fuck yeah. We can never get too much of the anti=hater shit, right? Good to speak up and be counted, especially in the context of Trump and Johnson.

Boris Johnson would condone the stoning of gays and the chaining of all women to the kitchen sink in a heartbeat if he thought there were votes in it.

It’s in her swagger, the sweeping gestures, the ….

I am happy to give Little Mix another 20 chances, though.

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How NOT to write about music – 81. Sir Babygirl

sir_babygirl_12

OK. Three reasons why you should never reduce music criticism to simple box ticking, process and naming delineation. The closer something seems to get to you, the more it will squirm away. Do not be reductionist or give in to the temptation to place everything into neatly labelled boxes: embrace the confusion, embrace the distraction. If something can be that easily categorised in the first place, that says more about you as the listener, as the consumer, then it will ever do about the artist. The title of this music blog is How NOT to write about music, remember?

Herein follows the first lesson.

This is what the music/muse of Sir Babygirl sounds and looks like:

  1. Like a cross between the musical box scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chicago, The Powerpuff Girls and The Craft.
  2. Like a cross between Kate Nash, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Grimes, Billie Eilish, Fall Out Boy and Hannah Diamond.
  3. Just a great pop song from a non-binary drag character (her words, not mine).

Do you understand what I am saying here? Never give in to the temptation to simplify. Never allow yourself to be seduced by the idea you know more than the next person. You almost certainly don’t and even if you do, their turn of phrase is probably more eloquent and appealing than yours. You CANNOT get a sense of Sir Babygirl’s beautiful, buoyant, challenging pop music from the above points. And you couldn’t, even if they were relevant.

All I am doing here is pointing out the process. Most music journalism hides the process (a little) better than this. Whatever. Have yourself a listen anyway. Don’t be distracted.

This next one is kinda way better cos it’s way more irritating (NOT an insult).

Someone on YouTube described it as “like the Bisexual acid trip version of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease which is probably even more asinine and incomplete a description then even those crap one-liners above, but it”s funnier and anyway, what you gonna do? In a world where Boris Johnson is accepted for his perceived “charm” over any more obvious abilities you gotta run against the crowd.

How NOT to write about music – 80. Radiohead

Radiohead

Radiohead is shit.

Do not believe the hype. Never believe the hype. Just because the last 50 years in music journalism has been one long exercise in self-congratulatory self-important white boys writing about other self-congratulatory self-important white boys does not mean that it is a worthwhile, a noble, a salutatory craft. It is not. It is simply the sound of one long expulsion of air, flatulent and windy and peculiarly odorless, a miasma of meaningless pseudo-academic pontificating about nothingness and air, artifice, pomp and circumstantial crap, a dizzying diatribe of denial, an expedient expelling of extraneous emotion, valueless. Nothing.

My life over the last two decades has been swamped with people spouting crap like “I don’t want to say Radiohead is shit because you gotta applaud their effort and their imagination, their ability to find new directions and pathways and wasn’t it great when they put out that one album for as much as you wanted to pay”. No. It fucking wasn’t. They should have OFFERED me money to listen to that shit, and even then I wouldn’t cos… you know. Just say no, kids. Don’t be misled by all the serious boys and their serious beards playing their serious music under the serious moonlight. Just don’t. This is noodly whiny tuneless shit. All of it. Every last fuckin’ bit.

Fuck ’em. Flash, shallow and with no inner core. Fuck ’em. Radiohead is shit. All the dullest bits of all the dullest parts of histrionic rock vocalising, coupled with the dullest bits of Balearic – and man there have been plenty – coupled with the yawning chasms of imagination Supertramp have traded in since they dropped ‘songs’ from their repertoire, coupled with the dullest parts of the 1980s and the 1990s – and man there have been plenty – coupled with the dullest parts of life.

Grey, masquerading as grey.

I have nothing against pretentious and imagination, but Radiohead are like the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of the Rolling Stones: WILL NOT ONE PERSON STAND UP TO ATTACK THEM? And if you do? Cue the fucking crows. Cue the fucking weeping wailers. HOW DARE WE SLAG SOMETHING OFF OBVIOUSLY SO GENIUS? Says the fuck who. Shit you go to college to learn just so you can avoid listening to it ever again in your life. Some shit is so cancerous that not even the most benighted benevolent generous hapless hipster should be leaping to the fucktards’ defense.

Like being left alone in a world of fusion.

Do not believe the herd. Do not believe the herd. Never believe the herd. Unless the herd amuses you, or serves to provoke enemies, or divert attention away from yet another delayed train journey between Redhill and Dorking Deep fucking Dene.

Radiohead is shit. You don’t need to be beautiful to say this, you don’t need to be lonely. You don’t need to be popular, you don’t need to be a geek. Radiohead is shit.

Radiohead is shit. Do not fear the crowd. Has it not occurred to you that the crowd can be wrong sometimes? Radiohead is shit. Scream it from the rooftops and the balustrades. They have no grace, no style, no panache, no imagination. Nothing.

Ed Sheeran is shit. He makes James Blunt sound soulful. He makes Coldplay sound like coleslaw. He puts Morrissey into perspective. He is the grey. He is the grey. He is the grey in the middle of grey. His emotion is not. There is no anger, no joy, no passion. Neutral colour neutral carpet neutral wallpaper shit designed for the sole purpose of being neutral.

I’d eat at McDonald’s, if Haywards Heath fucking had one. I ‘d drink coffee at Starbucks. If Haywards Heath fucking had one. I’d buy my groceries at Asda. Yes, you got it.

Radiohead is shit. And that shit is everywhere.

How NOT to write about music – 79. Bikini Kill

 

Ten Things I learned watching Bikini Kill play Brixton Academy last night.

    1. I miss my community. I have never really known what my community is, am aware that it is continually shifting, but I miss it still. I cannot live up to expectations. When I posted on Facebook last night how I was shocked to find myself in Brixton against the odds, I was surprised at how many friends took it for granted I would be there. Well, duh – right? No duh. I try to never take anything for granted. I did not know I would be in Brixton last night (nerves, isolation, loneliness). At midday, I did not know that a few hours later I would be dancing next to Jon Slade in the aisles at the Brixton fucking Academy to the sight of Tobi Vail bopping at the mic. More than my community, I miss my friends. I have never known who my friends are, just that they continually shift and disappear. When one of Jon’s super-cool friends remarked last night how I would be enjoying myself later, I retorted that I was already enjoying myself. It was true. The stuff people take most for granted – being able to converse, laugh, relax – that’s the stuff I view as most special right now.
    2. I want to be tempted, led astray.
    3. I had forgotten quite how punk Bikini Kill are. By punk, I mean Washington D.C hardcore lifestyle of course. I mean invigorating, acerbic, pummeling, relentless, politically charged, short and sharp, the kids, a powerful back beat, dancing. By punk, I mean female empowerment – a good crowd of good people – because only females and trans are the true punks. I mean songs like ‘New Radio’ and ‘Reject All American’ and Tobi Vail in THOSE SHADES dancing cool and unafraid left right across the stage, dancing like each and every one of us out here, the living embodiment of rock’n’roll. By punk, I mean the way you looked at that man try to force his way into your personal space. By punk, I mean that story I told about how I am unable to sleep at night, restless, relentless, nervously anticipating Friday morning 10am to roll around when the bin men shatter the serenity of our street and yet I never hear them because I am long gone to work. By punk, I mean challenge, distortion, a refusal to stay still. By punk, I mean the speeches Kathleen gives in between songs – and the way she dances when songs are playing – acerbic and sharp, painfully self-aware and sad and inspirational and funny. By punk, I mean YOU.
    4. We all need a safe space.
    5. Of course that first night sold out in minutes. Bikini Kill long ago attained the status of legendary band from another era. It strikes me that – in terms of impact – early Bikini Kill shows are similar to the first Ramones gigs. Small crowds, intensive touring, but everywhere they played another five, 10, 20 bands sprang up. Shock waves, resonating into the future.
    6. Even in 2019, I am given over to self-mythologising. Much merriment was had as myself and Jon discussed the origins of the controversial choice of photograph used for the original Melody Maker Riot Grrrl cover, culled from a Re:Search book that held pride of place on the living room mantelpiece of the Brighton house that I shared with Jon and Jo (and also featured in the Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer). The one where Jo and I would stay up till five am arguing about feminist doctrine. Much of this is of course self-mythologising because I cannot remember any of it.
    7. The thrill of hearing motherfucking Bikini Kill performing live a song they wrote, specifically inspired by yourself – whether sarcastic, caustic or ironic (bearing in mind what happened shortly after) – cannot be underestimated. My new friends thought I was kidding when I said I’d be leaving shortly afterwards. How could I not though? How could anything else this year match that?
    8. It’s good to have fun. This may seem apparent to you but trust me, to me it is not.
    9. I miss Billy. (The new guitarist seems cool though, obv.)
    10. Yeah, hello? Hello? We’re still here. And we’re growing louder and louder, more and more visible with each passing year. Not that I have ever known who my community is.

Here is some further context and detail.

How NOT to write about music – 78. Bruce Springsteen

Western Stars

I decided to review the new Bruce Springsteen album in the style of a white male mainstream music critic reviewing the new Madonna album.

REVIEW STARTS
We all get old, but never at the same age. Unless you are talking physical condition, but let’s pretend we’re not for the sake of some dreary argument. Some of us are old when we start writing about music, always harking back to a past when there was no confusion over gender because only one gender was allowed, back to the days when good music was popular and popular music was good and there was none of this annoying pop shit, others leave uni with the thrill that they need never pretend to like anything released after 1981 again, others are female so they automatically qualify as old soon as they hit 40 – 45, tops. Most of us think we’re doing pretty well, then we find ourselves nodding appreciatively at something in the Coldplay catalogue and suddenly death is real.

For years, Springsteen outpaced all of this. In 1980, The River looked like ushering in his middle age, but he did a surprise about turn, delivering blue collar rock on Tunnel of Love (1987). Wrecking Ball (2012) was even better, its Abba samples and smooth deep house [Are you sure about this? – Ed] a way for him to stay out past midnight with dignity, rather than trying to score gin and juice off twenty-something rock bands at after-show parties, musically speaking.

But he couldn’t run forever, despite his claims otherwise. Perhaps it began pre-The River when he nicked John Steinbeck’s entire oeuvre so he could parasitically extract his youth and stay young forever. Not to go on about his age, you understand. Certainly by 2008, Springsteen was playing catch-up with the new breed of blue collar rockers (Mumford & Sons, Timbaland), spurring Foo Fighters on to some of their weakest work ever, a good 50 years after their pomp.

Springsteen doesn’t try to sell himself as a sex symbol by gyrating on stage in skimpy clothes, tongue flapping around the place like a Vegas stripper, while trying to sing songs that clearly imitate the latest trends in shite pop music. Not like some people we know. Oh no. That’s not for Springsteen (let’s call him Bruce). Bruce sells himself as a sex symbol by gasping into tight jeans and sweat-patched white T–shirts, flexing his biceps, guitar flapping all over the place like Donald Trump faced with a bevy of Royal asses to lick, while trying to sing songs that imitate the latest trends in shit rock music.

To his credit, Bruce has not done what many in his position would do: lick his wounds and continue touring the world endlessly. [Some mistake surely – Ed] With Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen instead licks his wounds, grits his teeth, flexes his biceps – which surely belong to a man of 50 rather than the 70 he actually is – finds a brand new tight white T to wear, breaks open a fresh six-pack and goes out riding with the lads down to the liquor store. He’s 70, and boy, I would. Wouldn’t you?

He looks in the mirror with some seriously reduced eyesight (I mean, he’s 70, right: so no disrespect) and says: “Bitch, I’m Bruce Springsteen.” And by drawing on the blue collar influence of his fake upbringing he has once again produced his most natural-feeling, progressive and original record since whenever the last one was.

Buck up Bronco, the cover seems to be saying. Ride ’em home cowboy. Yee-hah.

Seventy years old and he doesn’t look a day over 65.

Note for the tourists: the title of this blog IS How NOT to write about music. Do not write about music this way. You will never get paid work again.

Related posts: Run, Bruce, Run!

How NOT to write about music – 77. Fontaines DC

fontaine sdc

I feel like I am stepping into a time warp.

It ain’t that it don’t feel real. (It do.) It ain’t that the guitars don’t blister and scour and bleed annoyance and aggravation everywhere they turn. (They do.) It ain’t that this Dublin group ain’t intelligent and sassy: Sleaford Mods smart. (They is.) It’s ain’t that their songs boast a heavy narrative rarely seen outside grime and hip-hop, and that their music boasts a heavy swagger and cleansing grace rarely heard outside the music of Sonic Youth and another group who aren’t Sonic Youth. (They do.) It certainly ain’t that these lads don’t take a heavy pride in their heritage coupled with equal disgust and distrust. It ain’t that (intriguingly) this group have the potential to turn into something horrendous by the time they come to release their third album (let those radio programmers and Spotify drones get their hands on this beauty).

It ain’t any of that.

It’s just that every time I hear their blistering, scouring, smart, sassy, literate-as-your-fucking-mum, cleansing, invigorating, swaggering, challenging, some velvet sidewalkin’, agitated, aggressive, atonal, tightly wound, raging snarl of a beat and a bass drum I want to fucking EXPLODE, burst into paroxysms of no-longer pent-up frustration and bounce in the faces of the grey and mundane walking by, carol it from the balustrades and barricades, throw away cynicism and preconceptions, dance like Jonathan Richman, mow down any lingering opposition and smash through the remains. I’m reminded of the seething Australian underbelly.

Some fucking time warp. I’m guessing your school days are long over.

As someone way more literate than me once spat, “Repetition in the music/And we’re never going to lose it”.

This performance is riveting, once you’ve finished listening to ‘Too Real’ for the 10th time.

How NOT to write about music – 76. Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson

I’ve never written about Roky Erickson, who died yesterday at the age of 71. Not really. His influence has been everywhere – everywhere I look –  and yet I have never really written about him. Maybe I felt it was too obvious (shrugs), or maybe some shit you just take for granted.

The first time I encountered the deranged genius of 13th Floor Elevators’ stoned acid-rock groove was when I was living in Chelmsford. It was 1978 or ’79, I was a teenager just into popular music (punk) and the fellow behind the counter in our hip record store Parrot Records (just down the road from the punk and biker pub “the Animals”*) recommended I should take a listen to their first two albums, especially as they were in the remainder bin.

On the one hand, I fanatically avoided any music before Year Zero (1976). On the other, I was shit in awe of any dudes working behind the Parrot Records store counter, and way complimented he had spoken to me. So I bought them. It was money purloined from… uh… stealing shit, anyway. Easy come, easy…

Whoa. My head fucking blown. My mind fucking torn apart by the derangement and heavy psychedelia and relentless groove and spiky guitars and sheer beautiful brutality of it all. Others had the Stooges, the Troggs, The Creation, The Beatles… and good on them. Not for me. My template for the holy grail of rock’n’roll was this.

Everything that followed – and followed it sure did – flowed from this:

220px-13thFloorElevatorsEasterEverywhere

(Tommy Hall! Respect!)

A few years later, I encountered Alan McGee and his soon-come Creation cohort. Here was a point of commonality. A few years after that, Spacemen 3 and their myriad delights. A few years after that, Sub Pop Records and all that that entailed. Commonality! Commonality! They’ve all got it comin’ at me!

For long periods of time, I have found it near impossible to describe other bands without referencing the deranged psych brawl of 13th Floor Elevators – with that weird jug warble – dating all the way back to early Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane and Red Krayola, all of Nuggets and Pebbles of course, charging forward to the proto-punk pioneers and heavy stoner grooves of the more out-there rock bands of the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and so forth. The Black Angels, (early) Queens of the Stone Age, Spacemen 3, Mudhoney, Tunabunny. There is a holy hub of bands and musicians and fans who understand what the fuck is going on. Roky Erickson released plenty of disturbing, challenging, affirming music outside the Elevators but really… what more do you need to understand about rock’n’roll then the following three songs?

Listen to these, and tell me, hand on heart, that the dudes from Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Mudhoney, Primal Scream, Black Angels and so forth did not base their entire careers around these songs?

As great as ‘White Rabbit’. As great as ‘Louie Louie’. As great as ‘Fairytale In A Supermarket’.

LINK

Of course, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ was the first song I ever performed in America:

You could argue that it was my performance, more than the song: even the surreal actuality of a rock star critic getting up on stage in Seattle, February 1989 in front of 800 brawling punk rock kids and taking a stab at entertainment instead of dutifully covering the story. My photographer should have grabbed shots, I wish he’d have grabbed shots, but he was standing at the side open-mouthed. My set was 13th Floor Elevators’ ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ (guitar borrowed from Tacoma garage kings and queen Girl Trouble), ‘Do Nuts’, Arthur Conloy’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ (a staple from my Living Room days with The Legend! And His Swinging Soul Sisters) and possibly one or two originals (no one recorded the set) […] one could argue, one of the main reasons I so successfully managed to blur the line between critic and performer and hence was so able to be Everett True in the early to mid-Nineties.

The song that changed my life.

R.I.P. Roky. In my life at least, you always fucking ruled.

*Officially called The Lion & The Lamb; I got threatened in the toilets there a couple of times with chains and a knife cos I dressed as a Mod.