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?

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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.