How NOT to write about music – 102. Mabel

mabel

Can’t keep up.

Love it when I can’t keep up.

I’ve never been able to keep up. I have always been overwhelmed by the volume of alternatives available within my own limited spheres of music. I don’t even listen much to anything outside of pop music these days (define that how you like) and I still can’t keep up. No, it ain’t my age. No, it ain’t my distance. I have a distinct gender bias to the music I listen to, have had for years now – and I still can’t keep up. My sources, my connections, are frayed and splitting at the ends but still I can’t keep up. Sure, I no longer am paid to listen – but honestly? You reckon that was ever the motivating factor? People like to argue among themselves which was the best year for music. Is it 2019? they ask themselves. Is it 2018? Will it be 2020? Most certainly. The bewilderment, the profusion of riches and charm and seduction grows with each passing month, as does the backlog. I am continually surprised, seduced, captivated by music new to me – the most intoxicating drug of all, it lifts you to a far greater high than alcohol or friendship or heroin. Not that I’d know – right? That new Taylor Swift single, OMFG! Like Taylor Swift with some Miley, some Mazzy, some Lana Del Rey rolled in. Who doesn’t love music like this? I cannot keep being fixated on the same thousand or so artists though. (Why not?) These years, I have to Google to discover whether I’ve even written about someone or not.

Mabel. I haven’t written about Mabel yet. Johnson fuck, what am I thinking? Here she is. Quick! Better than ANYTHING I’ve heard before. No, really. I hear so many harmonies, so many echoes, so many anxieties, so many possibilities, so many futures and pasts, futures and pasts in her music. Mainstream shit, right? Man alive. Just the odd 120 million listeners or so ahead of me.

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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 – 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.