Posts from 1st February 2002

1
Feb 02

Flying Saucer Attack — ‘Sally Free and Easy’

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Flying Saucer Attack — ‘Sally Free and Easy’

My grandfather passed away this morning. The only reason I can sit here now (thoughts as collected as can be I suppose) writing in a pop weblog is the fact that his passing had been ‘eased’ by the lead-in time: an illness long enough – not too long, mind – that grief had already acquiesced to exhaustion, that hoping had turned to waiting and, finally, relief.

Driving home from the hospital, the silence in the car (surrounded on all sides by a fog that had blanketed the entire county in eerie counterpoint) was too much to bear. The news station was too static-ridden to bother with. The only other ‘talk’ was the hatefuck aggro posturing of sports radio. So to the oldies station, naturally, to avoid much of the hatefuck aggro posturing of modern pop.

For a while it was okay, a string of Motown-esque hits, ‘soulful’ voices a non-obtrusive balm. Then: ‘I Got You Babe,’ and in the first few seconds Cher’s voice became a death drone of pure banality, like a swarm of ennui-laden locusts buzzing between my ears. Then, at home, searching for something — anything — which would wash over me, fill up all the spaces in the room so I wouldn’t be forced to fill them myself. At the same time, a song — a real true song, anything too chipper or dour or melodramatic or sardonic — would have sent me right over the edge.

And then I remembered this, this slim EP of only two songs sitting in my collection, the only FSA record I own (although I am remedying that via mp3 as I write this.) Everything Tom said is true. This is a record that is as pure an exploration into texture as anything which came out of the post-shoegaze world. Yet it feels even older than the ’58 folk it covers, stretching back into the sort of traditional English/Irish/Scottish provincial song so beloved of my grandfather. (And which could be heard round the house when he and his family got together, with a few [or more than a few] shots between them.)

I realize, now, that those songs are one of the few ways I ever connected with relatives my grandparent’s age about music. Loathing the Celtic Commerce Machine that makes ‘Irish’ music the largest section of any World Music department, this is as close as I come to having one of them on disc. So, you may keep your kind words and your condolences, much as they are appreciated. Light a candle if you must, but perhaps instead just try to listen to this song. And give an old man his due.

This weekend’s soundtrack

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This weekend’s soundtrack – for me at least.

PUBS WHAT HAVE BEEN DONE UP.

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PUBS WHAT HAVE BEEN DONE UP. It always makes me chuckle when a dingey old man’s pub is tarted up a la Nu Shoreditch in relentless pursuit of the upwardly mobile drinker, and fails to quite shake off the old clientele. Such a Waterloo stalwart on Lower Marsh, whose original names eludes me, but was something to do with the Spanish civil war, has taken the new economy route. Now called the Ruby Lounge with yer leather sofas and cube shaped pouffes and low hanging lighting, does a brisk evening trade with the polo-neck brigade; however, of a lunch time it’s patchily filled with old blokes, dogs, market traders and careworn middle aged women on the Bacardi and Cokes. It must put the staff in a difficult position, after all what can they say? Sorry old-timer, this pub has moved on – be off to the Wetherspoons, it’s targeted at your demographic. No, they seethingly serve a pint of Guinness (Extra Cold) and pray for the polo hour of 6pm to roll on.

Pubs In The Digital Age

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Pubs In The Digital Age: a cautionary tale. This lunchtime my workmates and I decided to head out for a pub lunch – no boss, not much work on, a great opportunity yes? No. We arrived at The Railway in Wheatley, which is one of those ‘village pubs’ that get recommended in the pub guides* when in fact it is trying its hardest to be a Zone 4 Big Sports Pub, but which apparently does good food**. The pub was deserted. It was midday. “We’re all booked up” said the barman. Looking around we saw that every single table except one very drafty one by the toilets was indeed carrying a ‘RESERVED’ notice. How could this be?

Apparently the pub boasts its own internet website, with downloadable menu and pre-booking facility, and the meant that offline punters rolling up on foot were getting turned away. Now, Pumpkin Publog is a web-based pub guide and enthusiastically supports use of the Internet as a means of planning visits to the pub but this is going a step too far I think. Imagine if we had not been after food and had in fact been simply seeking a soothing pint? It doesn’t bear thinking about. Landlords of the world! Spend your money on a few new CDs for the juker, not on a domain name!

*how to get recommended in the pub guides: i) bits of 17th C. timber on outside wall. Contribution to drinking experience: none. ii) sepia picture of poxy village as it was in 1898. Contribution to drinking experience: none.

**it doesn’t. It has completely average food in colossal artery-busting portions. The ‘cheese and ham’ omelette they serve has left your correspondent at death’s door.

The Strokes – I Don’t Really Want It That Way, Thanks For Trying

FT1 comment • 3,766 views

So in a wonderful example of synergy or timing or conspiracy, the Village Voice has released the results of its ‘Pazz and Jop Poll’ the very same week as Them Strokes Fellers are being analyzed here on FT. Placing number two and all is actually a bit disappointing to me, if only because the prospect of Dylan is so damn tedious.

But I really hate Dylan, the more so with the years, which is something that the Strokes will never get from me. Tom means well when he says that being ‘bored of the whole thing’ is a option when it comes to opinion about them, but there’s a difference between being bored of the process of starmaking – about which more later – and shrugging at the candidates being offered up for it. Speaking personally, Casablancas and his merry men provoke little to no reaction from me, the music congealing slowly like globs of drying paint on a hot but humid day, unremarkably trundling along, beats and things backing vague lip-flapping with lyrics that can be ignored like all lyrics can, overseen by producers content to do nothing much, really. You can’t really hate it entertainingly, you can’t really love the attempts to try for something more than what it is, you just sort of stare at it, at least if you’re me, and think, “Huh. Well, okay.”

I have heard the Strokes, enough to note that “Last Night” tries for “This Charming Man” status and almost works, so there’s a flash of interest, much like you can look at a Weyland painting and note that he uses some deep blues here and there. I also vented a bit of bile for the Focus Group on “The Modern Age,” I think, but likely I was being overly cranky, because the music’s not interesting enough to hate beyond a reverse flash of dissatisfaction here and there. Ultimately the Strokes seem to want to be Kraftwerk, which is a noble goal, but they’re not very good robots musically, really. No sheen, no drive, merely chug, and most bar bands do that well enough – I acknowledge that, but don’t celebrate it. So dullards in the end, no real point about delivering more of an opinion than that from where I sit.

The real problem with the Strokes is that of all the recent boy bands, they’re the most singularly uninteresting. More to the point, looked at through that frame they’re absolutely downright terrible. Tom’s point is that ‘the way the band look is the least interesting thing about them’ yet this is in fact critical, indeed crucial. His particular suggestion is that they have ‘nervy good-looks,’ a highly debatable claim, and this is much more interesting – and worthy – a fight than over something as secondary as the music. Like the extremely unattractive boy band the Black Crowes, they’re too lankily ugly to be seen as anything more than meat that needs to be propped up appropriately so the instruments work. Their hairstyles are particularly foul, apparent attempts at Rod Stewart’s uber-mullet turned into poorly cut glop. It’s a frustrating sense of almost-but-not-quite, though you almost want to pat them on the head for trying, assuming emotion entered into this situation.

That said, though, the larger problem is that the Strokes lack that real vibe to succeed as a boy band, that compulsion to find out more behind the faces. They’re trying, but the formula has been terribly misapplied, and whoever is responsible in the band for that deserves particular censure. Reviewing past models is useful in identifying where the Strokes have gone so very wrong.

There’s a sense of the Beatles 1964 about them, which is good enough to an extent – certainly better that than the spectacularly awful Byrds challenge offered the following year. When David Crosby proclaimed himself the group’s ‘troublemaker,’ he was trying well enough for the time, but the liner notes on Mr. Tambourine Man went on to say ‘when he does this cute little smiling bit and crinkles his nose, the little girls flip.’ Astonishingly ham-handed even for the time, this essentially broke the band before it had begun, Crosby’s shock over this awful prose resulting in his well-documented drug abuse and songs about sex with people covered in mud.

Wisely, the Strokes seem to have steered clear of this approach, and apparently are trying to work with a mid-seventies boy band model, based on the hair most of all, though perhaps some of the clothes seem to be trying for it as well. Revival of this kind of approach is generally unwise, though, in that inevitably the Bay City Rollers must be confronted. This is where the Strokes really run into a wall, because that powerhouse of a group remains the most anonymous of all the greats, and that appears to be the exact type of path the Strokes are headed down. Only Casablancas has transcended relative anonymity, and that’s actually hurting the investment in the long run, in that it’s already likely that the band will be seen as him and his backing musicians. This lack of gang mentality is currently being worked against as best as possible – ‘The Strokes’ works much more effectively than ‘Julian Casablancas and the Strokes,’ and fits on T-shirts more easily, besides rolling off the tongue very well and taking up less space in the video credit section. In this they are like most great boy bands, but the danger still remains.

This is compounded by the fact that the Strokes are no way near what would be much better, much more effective role models from the Eighties. Duran Duran showed a surprisingly sharp way to reach back and take inspiration from the Beatles’ early omnipresence via a judicious use of newer media outlets, particularly video, to their advantage. The Strokes’ attempts to use the Internet to their own advantage in a similar fashion has been compromised by far more talented and involved presentations online – to name two examples, competitors Blue demonstrate much more immediate fluidity with the medium, while even aging boy band Kiss has a particularly well-developed Internet establishment. Duran Duran also believed in the value of clearly defined personalities, which as noted is the Strokes’ weakest point among a barrage of weak ones – there is no John Taylor or Nick Rhodes or even a Roger Taylor in the Strokes, merely an extremely tentative and uninvolving Simon Le Bon wannabe with no gift for appropriate smirks.

The most obvious and finest of indirect mentors, however, so clearly wipes the floor with the Strokes even long after their dissolution that it’s almost heartbreaking to see how badly Casablancas and company fail in comparison. Brilliantly marketed as a seemingly opposing force to the incipient rise of the New Kids on the Block, the only act that could compete on the same level of media attention and overall ubiquity, Guns’n’Roses remain the ultimate boy band to this day, breaking down barriers between audiences long seen as fragmented into irreconcilable demographic sections. Capturing everything from the highly resistant middle-aged classic rock market, which previously had only been charmed by the somewhat dubious boy band Journey, to the eternally fickle junior high segment of the market, what they achieved with their debut album still ranks as a masterpiece of contrarian success. Even the exact line-up of the band remains a role model for all boy bands that have followed – with a fresh-faced, apple-cheeked heartland boy up front, a moody rebel to one side, a non-WASP sort to the other, and two anonymous but necessary blondes filling out the stage presentations, the dynamic could not and still has not been bettered.

Given that the Strokes have the same relative advantages as Guns’n’Roses in terms of overall access – a debut album on a major label and a look into MTV – the failure of the group to capitalize the same way the earlier band did is a clear damning of the current strategy. It is possible that the final push over the top which sent Guns’n’Roses into the stratosphere, namely a killer ballad in the shape of “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” could be replicated here, but sonic evidence suggests otherwise based on the first album. Waiting until the second album is dangerous, given that the freshness is gone from the band at that point, so conceivably the battle for dominance in the wider popular spectrum has already been lost.

Still, all is not doom and gloom. To again refer to the Pazz and Jop poll, there is clear evidence that potential counterprogramming might yet avail the Strokes in later years, even though the apparent current audience does not actually buy records so much as download them. The real problem is that the rhetoric currently focused on the band either treads water too obviously or overreaches in apparent hipness. Consider if you will the image of the band presented on the main page of the poll — created by a freelance publicity agent working for the group, it nakedly seeks to replicate the wave of N’Sync dolls released in a flurry of publicity over the Christmas season. Aping this approach, especially considering the recent questions over that band’s viability following the seemed-sure-to-succeed Star Wars tie-up, reflects on the poor planning at play. Meanwhile, the ham-handed reference to hip-hop slang via ‘player haters’ – apparently the ‘correct’ spelling was done in an effort to recreate the popular but ill-fated Pat Boone stance of the fifties, wherein rewriting lyrics was seen as necessary for success – attempts to borrow some of the reflected success of Guns’n’Roses’ less-capable disciples Limp Bizkit, who barring a miracle are due for demolition within the next two years thanks to Fred Durst’s increasingly delusionary attempts at pumping up the band’s importance at the expense of working on further product.

Comments on the band from poll participants reflect on the general unease regarding the band’s future. The claim that ‘underground rock is as viable a form of traditionalism’ as others is a damning one for the band, reducing it to niche status and showing a distinct lack of commitment on the part of the firm engaged to promote band interests on an appropriate commercial level. Another comment reveals deeper doubts more directly: ‘Are people really so hungry for a Real Rock Band that they actually feel the Excitement! they claim? Or is it just an Oasis autohype thing?’ Given how Oasis itself seems to have wasted an opportunity to transform itself from the UK equivalent of Guns’n’Roses to a worldwide one – though rumors of the upcoming tour with surprisingly persistent boy band U2, who scored a major coup via the reams of free publicity at the Super Bowl, may yet work in the English band’s favor – the fears must increase appropriately.

Even an opening supportive comment like ‘The Strokes are New York and New York is America with all its problems, immoralities, and easy, undeniable riches. And I feel so old trying to fathom why people wanted to hate this band before they were even out of the studio’ reveals deeper matters at play. Besides failing to take into account the inevitable fact that boy bands are automatically hated as much as they are loved – a key reason for so many such bands’ success, generating as does more attention onto the groups – the usual attempt to frame a boy band in the context of good-natured rebellion, while potentially still effective, is astonishingly uninspired. Neither too devilish to be a threat nor sweet enough to win instant approval, the Strokes can only produce clichÈs as praise, which may sound nice but fail to pay off necessary advance money. Guns’n’Roses produced acres of coverage that positioned them as rock and roll beasts, where the Strokes would seem to have trouble convincing an influential segment of their employees that they could kill a fly.

Whether or not the Strokes succeed in breaking out of this current debacle-waiting-to-happen situation of theirs cannot be predicted with ease. To be sure, so many boy bands have yet to get even slightly near the level of attention the Strokes have currently won, the more surprising given their singular lack of ability regarding public image. Still, it must be clear that a few more missteps and Casablancas will find himself working as an advance rep for the generation to follow him – who will remember his failures, and not be reticent in reminding him of them daily.

The Strokes – IS THIS IT?

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1) Can I begin with a footnote?1

It makes sense to do so, since for all intents and purposes the Strokes are a footnote – that least sexy of paratextual props2 – a scribbled quibble in the margin of pop history, not even parasitic (since that would imply some independent existence), but entirely reliant on the source they reference. Sad sacks of all ages would have you believe that this is the condition we’re condemned to in the belated 21st century – that even the gleaming nonplusUltraDisko of Daft Punk is a mere digest of all our dancefloor days. To exclaim, like some nineteenth century Romantic, ‘let us establish an original relationship with the universe’ is these days a little gauche, since the universe, like the stars, was lost to us long ago amid all this light and noise. Nevertheless, we should at least expect some caprice or cunning from our thieves. Daft Punk are jackdaws, their principle of selection whatever glitters most, be it a Shannon bassline, a Satriani solo or a Trevor Horn orchestral flourish, and this indiscrimination creates odd equations, strange constellations of feeling and flavour. The Strokes, on the other hand, are one of those shameless birds that squats in somebody else’s nest.

2) And this nest, needless to say, is ‘CBGBs’ – now just as much a historypark nexus of avant-garde glamour and bohemian ambition as, say, ‘Paris in the Twenties’, the Cabaret Voltaire or the Warhol Factory . In truth, there are few greater fans of this milieu than myself. Back in my poppuppyhood, when I first rolled up in Manhattan with all the city open to me like a book, I insisted my hosts escort me to the orphic motherlode that had given the world Television, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Richard Hell, The Ramones. They looked at me in the way I might look at someone who wished to make a pilgrimage to the Camden Falcon. So I can see the appeal. And the Strokes certainly have the look down cold: ragged, tousled philanderers, dandified streetpunks (after manners, the Oxfam suit jacket still maketh the man). There is the attention to detail one would expect from a fashion stylist expensively artschooled in the flot-jet of twentieth century subculture. In a sense, The Strokes are an old-fashioned new kind of pop group – one that Aspires to the Condition of a Face Fashion Spread. And I can applaud this – America needs an artfag haircut guitar band right now, if only to piss off the Joe Carduccis of this world.

3) But what do The Strokes accomplish in making history their playground? As I say, they make for diverting fashion, and they have the choppa-chops – hearing ‘Hard to Explain’, ‘Last Nite’, ‘The Modern Age’ in the upstairs room of a pub disco, there’s an economy and drawly drive that sounds fresh and thrilling, and makes one’s old geezer gripes (that ‘See No Evil’ or ‘Lust for Life’ might sound just as good) seem like some very sour grapes. The Strokes exist for now in the peachykeen pop present, not yet archived and soundtracked and Mojofied. You’ve played it for them, Mr Casablancas, so why don’t you play it for me?

4) Here’s why: In his introduction to ‘In the Fascist Bathroom’, putting back all he left out of ‘Lipstick Traces’ (ie the music), Greil Marcus keeps it real: ‘I played favourites, devoting a lot of space to bohemian bands from the UK and scabrous groups from Los Angeles, ignoring New York, where most punks seemed to be auditioning for careers as something else’. This is Marcus’s tough-minded Berkeley put-down of all the poncified pretensions of the wicked sinful city of the east, and it has some truth. Look at it one way and the CBGBs scene is all slumming: lyricists who would rather be poets (Smith, Hell), groups who would rather be installations (Talking Heads), singers who would rather be filmstars (Deborah Harry). And maybe it’s this pretension (or to be more charitable: ambition) that made the scene so astonishingly fertile – in artistic terms, if not the world-historical socio-cultural terms that Marcus would prefer. What astonishing bounty there is in these careers! To pick at random: ‘Marquee Moon’, ‘Horses’, ‘Remain in Light’, ‘Parallel Lines’, the first four Ramones singles – all enlivened by the desire to be something else… the Charlie Parker of lead guitar, the Rimbaud of the lower East Side, musical ethnographers, the girl group of Andy Warhol’s dreams… Ultimately, it’s this absurd admirable gusto, that means the most to me – as though the shabby friction between the desperate dreams of artistic-literary glory and the mundane possibility of being in a pop group caused the spark that brought something new into the world. And, oddly, it’s the one thing the Strokes have left out of their historical re-enactment society. They have proceeded, as though guided by the dictum that ‘god is in the details’… yet missed out on some central mystery. The Strokes look and sound like a pretty sharp powerpopgroup and seem pretty satisfied by that: nowhere in the sound or in the words do I hear the stifled desire to be a lysergic sage, ghetto fabulous flaneur or expressionist guitar symphonist. Whereas the groups they pastiche often seemed like they would rather be anything other than a popgroup, The Strokes don’t want to be anything but…

5) So in a sense, The Strokes remind me of one of those early Cindy Sherman photographs of a painting. What happens in the space between the two frames? Is it a space for dismay or irony or sarcasm or reverence or goofing around? All of these attitudes are possible and permissable, yet I don’t get any of that, any sense of The Strokes bringing something of themselves to the party. They’re not even a tribute band, where there’s some joy to be had in the slippage between intention and execution. Instead they remind me of something closer to home, our own aimless, witless detour through the airless rooms of the museum. What I’m saying, I guess, is that The Strokes are closer to Suede or Blur than they are to the bands they might eulogise. The Strokes are…. YankPop? Yes, that feels right.

1 It’s worth stating that although I come here not to praise The Strokes but to bury them, I applaud the audacity of argument that, through intellectual backflips and critical judo, manouevres The Strokes into position as a disco band, or as R’n’B stylists. The point is to set the trifle of mental excitement flying through the thin air of received opinion, and –as someone wise once said – have fun starting arguments.

2 The footnote may enjoy a postmodern vogue, but let us remember that the experience of reading the footnote is like leaving the arms of one’s sublime and inventive lover to run downstairs and answer the door for the mailman.

The Strokes – You Have Three Minutes To Amaze Me

FT1 comment • 7,365 views

1.
This is an article about the Strokes. Yes, yes: I realize it’s gauche to go on about the Strokes. Let’s get that out of the way as soon as possible: you may well feel that a lot more words have been written about this particular band than they deserve, and that even having to point that out got tedious months ago. You may well argue that there’s simply nothing about the Strokes that even bears commentary. You may well do what people kept doing to me back in August, when I tried using the Strokes as a conversational ploy – rolling your eyes and making reasonable-type hand gestures that say ‘whatever, they’re fine.’ You may well even back this by dredging up the names of a dozen other musicians whose records you feel contain more content, more analysis-worthy substance, than the work of the Strokes. Well and good: I salute you.

But if you genuinely feel that way, it’s my suggestion that you go and read a book. Because whatever your local curbside alternative weekly might try to tell you about the Strokes and What They Mean for Rock and Roll, the Strokes are a pop band – almost defiantly so – and surely the first thing we learn about pop music is that ‘substance’ is not just ‘substance.’ Pop music is an art that eschews coherent statements in favor of just plain statements; it is an art that arranges meaningless signifiers into patterns that suddenly seem to have more to do with our everyday existence than the weightiest, most profound philosophical decrees could ever hope to. Pop music is an art in which an offhand ‘oh-whoah’ or a good haircut can seem blindingly right and true, whereas a stray ‘oh-yeah’ or a bad pair of jeans can stand for everything that is wrong with the universe at present. The self-perpetuating torrent of words swallowing the subject of the Strokes should tell us that one or the other of these things is happening, constantly, to just about everyone who’s out there talking about Is This It? right now, and isn’t that basically the point?

So let’s keep talking about the Strokes, and let’s start by writing all of those weekly editors and letting them know that the Strokes can never ‘save rock and roll’ because they are working on something more important: they are waltzing onto the great barren field of guitar-type pop and they are sowing what may in fact be some crucial seeds.

2.
Proper music criticism – as opposed to proper cultural criticism – should probably spend at least as much time talking about what music sounds like, now, as it does talking about what music might eventually mean. What I am attempting is not proper music criticism, which is hopefully good because most properly critical takes on the Strokes wind up being largely useless. This band is not just an excuse for rock critics to talk about the Velvet Underground and Television again: that’s unspeakably tedious and anyway the Strokes, in the end, have next-to-nothing to do with either of them. Every Strokesism that can be traced back to those sources was surely picked up second- or third-hand, either from better reference points – the Blondied Manhattan of the ratty blazer and skinny tie, the Manhattan of Madonna playing drums in new wave guitar bands, sublime dress-you-up dance hits waiting to burst forth – or from any one of the many mid-eighties indie bands I’d already say had next-to-nothing to do with the Velvet Underground in the first place.

And even that sort of antecedent-tracing fails: if Is This It? sounds as much like the Velvet Underground as it sounds like Parallel Lines, then it sounds as much like ‘Atomic’ as it sounds like the Wedding Present or the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic or even the Primitives, really, and it sounds as much like ‘Kennedy’ or ‘Crash’ or ‘Head On’ as it sounds like ‘This Charming Man,’ which may be as close as we’ll ever get to really nailing them down. Plenty of critics have gone so far as to evoke the Stooges – but can you honestly imagine the Strokes playing ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ or ‘Marquee Moon’ or ‘European Son’ without having some sort of attention-span hissy fit, declaring them listless and plodding and hookless, and launching into some boxy plaintive three-minute second-wave popfest of a song? On the other hand, do my Brit-indie references really get you any closer? Does it mean something that amid all the talk of their nicking moves shamelessly, the only concrete resemblance anyone very points to is the fact that the intro to ‘Last Nite’ sort of coincidentally sounds like the intro to a song by Tom Petty?

Seriously: have you ever imagined these Strokes characters listening to or enjoying any other band at all? As with a lot of great pop bands, the antecedents are meaningless: they sound like everything, and consequently they don’t really sound like much in particular other than themselves. And, more importantly, how they sound means nothing compared to the great collective delusion of how we think they sound.

3. And how do we think they sound? Last year’s press seemed to think they sounded like they were going to Save Rock and Roll, which is maybe true if you take ‘rock and roll’ to mean pretty much the opposite of what those critics meant by it. They were said to be brash, they were said to have ‘attitude’ – the British press cleared the path they’d last traveled with Oasis. And rightfully so, because the Strokes momentarily were Oasis. They came out of nowhere with an already-massive Next Big Thing buzz circling and turned out, when the record delivered, to actually be pretty thrilling: seriously backward-looking, it seemed, but with just the right confidence about it to make it almost guilt-free. They stole blatantly from the Cool Collective Past – not deviously, or specifically, but by tapping into an ethos everyone liked but hardly anyone was shameless enough to try and recreate. And all the talk of ‘attitude’ really meant, it seemed, was that they band seemed not to give a damn about any of this baggage, barely seemed to acknowledge its existence – and, actual ‘content’ aside, this was the very thing that seemed so brash and exciting about them in the first place.

Both debut albums – Is This It? and Definitely Maybe – are great, no matter how loath we may sometimes be to admit it. What both of them do looks somewhat silly and somewhat easy, but there’s no question that he songs sound fantastic – and there really is something stylish and charming and very rock and roll about a band kicking through a set of fantastic songs that no one In The Know would accept that they should be playing in the first place. The trick, on their part, is clearly to ignore that last fact for the sake of just plowing through the conventions with conviction; this is glam that doesn’t sound it, right down to the seeming obviousness of both bands snorting lines and shagging groupies backstage. It’s the beautiful kick of old-model ‘rock’ swaggering around pretending that it’s invincible, which is exactly what people liked about rock even back when it did seem invincible.

And so we have these bands, Oasis and the Strokes, who, whether or not they actually were or are brash, still struck us that way. Because amid torrents of equally useless words about whether or not Rock Is Dead, here are these bands walking around as if rock were never even close to dead or even wounded or even threatened or worried, and what the hell are you even talking about and how could it possibly matter? Of course this is a beautiful thing to watch – who wants to listen to a genre scramble self-consciously around trying to outwit the common perception of its own ailments, like watching a middle-aged man fret about his own mortality? Who wants art that devotes half of its energy to defending its own existence, when we could have art that just assumes its own worthiness from the get-go and then gets down to doing something about it?

What these bands are doing is profoundly conservative, but the fun in them is precisely what I imagine the fun is in supporting a young conservative ideologue: they are well-dressed and charismatic and gleefully ignoring everything the world is commonly felt to have become. And when it comes to pop songs – where there aren’t lives or truth or geopolitics at stake – good god can this be fun. That’s what conservative ideology is all about: it’s brash and catchy because it’s simplistic and pre-established. Put another way: as little love as I have for real life’s Ralph Reed, I think he’d make a fantastic fictional character.

4.
But: context aside, are the Strokes really so brash? They are not. This is, in fact, the key to everything that is good about the Strokes, and the thing that all of these Iggy’s Velvet Television etymologies fail so miserably to capture – they make no distinction between the Strokes sounding anything like these bands and, say, the Go sounding anything like these bands, and they lend no insight into why bands like the Go are one thousand times more ‘rock’ than the Strokes will ever be but also one thousand times less fun.

No, the Strokes are not brash, and Tom’s review explains it well enough. It’s right there, really, at the start of the record: these guitars that feel like they’re in waltz time even though they’re not, this plaintive, sweet-faced, pouty / friendly ‘is this it?’ drifting out of a verse melody that’s practically a lullaby. The most swaggering they get is the into to ‘NYC Cops,’ which itself sounds half-assed and half-serious and has Julian clowning and chuckling over the whole thing. No, these guys are sweethearts, and that’s why the Velvet Underground name-checking is so damn far off the mark. The Velvets countered the pristine head-in-clouds-ness of the sixties rock mainstream with weight, grit, snot, bondage, and heroin, whereas the Strokes counter the mookery of turn-of-century rock (and the knotty, considered, intellectualism of turn-of-century indie) with a teen-idol schoolboy insouciance that is quite clearly the best thing they have going for them.

If I have to declare the Strokes to actually be like anyone, I’d probably be best off saying they’re the Romantics: cool, hooky, danceable, guitar-based new-wavery dressed up in spiffy outfits, concentrating on style and pleasure rather than holding up giant signposts to some sort of profound content they’re claiming to deliver – not to mention ‘Alone, Together’ feeling, if not exactly sounding, a whole lot like an updated ‘Talking in your Sleep.’ (And not to mention their live video being shot on, well, video, with a tour de force of lighting designed to make it feel exactly like a late-night network-television studio performance beamed mysteriously in from 1982 – and not to mention a couple of girls in the front row of that performance studio turning up with feathered hair.) As above: the Strokes just may be the sound of guitar-wielders recalling that sometimes the flash, style, and fun actually are the profound content.

I make all of these eighties parallels for a few reasons, one of which has to do with one of the first pop songs I ever loved. In 1981, I fell hard for ‘Don’t You Want Me,’ ‘We Got the Beat,’ and some song or other by Eddie Rabbitt – plus a song by Australian-born soap star Rick Springfield. You likely know this song: ‘Jessie’s Girl.’ It’s notable that Rick was 31 when this song was released. For a few years there, popular rock stars were very much allowed to be (a) oldish, (b) spiffily dressed, and (c) thoroughly bourgeois, a state of affairs that is quite nicely summarized not only by Dire Straits but by the video for ‘Jessie’s Girl.’

‘Jessie’s Girl’ is about a guy who is jealous for another guy’s girlfriend. That’s it – there’s no turbulent drama, no fight, no back-stabbing, nothing Writ Large and Profound, and no navel-gazing or self-deprecating comedy, either: he’s just infatuated with this other guy’s girlfriend. Note also that the song is sung by a guy who is meant to be not only blazingly sexy but deep and artistic as well, and yet he does not have the girl, nor does he drown his sorrows in the thousands of other women potentially available to him. The video is a rock video to the core: Rick gets this intense look in his eyes and performs facing the camera, feet apart, barely moving except to jerk his guitar back and forth in a manner reminiscent of Joe Strummer – and at the song’s climax, Rick’s clenched-fist frustration grows so uncontrollable that he jams the headstock of that guitar through the bathroom mirror he’s been depicted looking into intensely for portions of the previous two minutes.

Yeah, rock. But here’s the thing: Rick is also a dapper man. He’s wearing pleated slacks, if I remember correctly, and a collarless button-down shirt, tucked neatly in. More notably, video-wise, he’s shows meeting Jessie and Jessie’s girl at what looks like some sort of Learning Annex art class, involving either oil painting or possibly pottery. What ‘Jessie’s Girl’ is offering us – and what a whole lot of the popular rock hits of the early 80s are offering us – is not some image of the rock star as tough guy or smart-aleck or misunderstood outcast, but an image of the rock star as proxy for an idealized image of everyday adult life. It’s an image not of youthful vitality and rebellion but of a mature, understandable-but-intriguing grown man who leads a glamorous, understandable-but-intriguing life that consists of dressing well, playing music, attending arts courses, living in a lovely big apartment, drinking wine, driving a sporty little car, and having passionate and dramatic but very adult interactions with women and men who are doing the exact same thing.

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Moving Towards A Unified Theory Of Pop Music:

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Moving Towards A Unified Theory Of Pop Music: This is possible the ultimate goal of NYLPM, though one which is rarely stated since many of our pop boffins secret believe it is impossible. Nevertheless I think I made a key discovery last night: all decent pop records can be read in a filthy way (let us call this Baran’s Law for now). Take probably my favourite pop song of the year so far: Christina Milian’s “AM to PM”. On the surface a chirpy, very well produced piece of fluff about having a long party. But when examined closer the lyrics are about being “thrown to the floor” and “someone switching out the lights”. The reason for the lights being switched out is suddenly clear – this is an orgy. Which explains “from the front to the back” and indeed the odd title. “AM to PM”. I mentioned before that all good parties go from PM to AM, so this seemed an unusual mistake to make. However closer examination and tying in with the “from the front to the back” line garners an alternative reading. AM is short for Anti-Meridian, PM for Post Meridian. If we take the meridian of the human body as running through the middle of the body – suddenly we see this is merely another way of distinguishing sexual positions. Depending on whether we take the meridian as being the waist or a line running horizontally through the hips its still quite, quite explicit. In an implict way of course.

19 year old Milian: So sweet and yet so dirty.

Get back behind your desk

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Get back behind your desk: “”In London they say Tim, we love ya,” he rhymes on All Y’All, before dropping into a faux-cockney accent so lamentable even Dick Van Dyke would scoff. “They call me things like wicked and the effin’ guv’nor.””. Timbaland in better producer than rapper shocker.

MILES DAVIS – Sketches Of Spain

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MILES DAVIS – Sketches Of Spain

As I’ve said before – I really, really hate Jazz. Jazz to music is what Whose Line Is It Anyway is to comedy – we forgive the crap jokes because they thought them up on the spot. Except with Whose Line Is It Anyway the topics are thought out beforehand, and in Jazz they have been playing the same bloody tune for years. In the case of Sketches Of Spain the orchestra had been playing the same tune for months because Miles Davis couldn’t be arsed to turn up. Oh if only he had kept to his laxness, this particularly stupid album would not exist.

Sketches Of Spain is as much about Spain as those little flamenco dolls you can buy at the airport and have a weeny gold sticker on them saying Made In Taiwan. For there is only one thing that makes this so called seminal piece of work pretend to be Spanish – there are castanets on it. Beyond that it is boring old Miles Davis. A man so dull that in the world of jazz where you would get given a nickname even if you had a slightly funny shaped head – he was always called Miles. There are some clicking castanets and then twelve minutes of tedious trumpet solos which really could sum up the essence of loneliness. Miles was no stranger to loneliness after all, since everyone fucked off when he got going.

The story goes of course that “Dull” – as Davis might have been called if he had to have a nickname – heard a recording of Concierto de Aranjuez and fell in love with it. This begs the question why on earth would he want to fuck it up with his ponderous solos. Nevertheless he played it to his even duller mate Gil Evans, at which point Evans set about making his orchestra sound like a big Spanish guitar. Now if I wanted something to sound like a big Spanish guitar I wouldn’t get forty people – some of whom are playing oboes and timpani. No, what I would do is go to a shop and buy a big Spanish guitar. Of course if this was me – Tanya Headon – we were talking about I would then proceed to smash Miles Davis round the head with it – but then that’s all I’ve ever seen fit to do with musical instruments.*

Any idea of complexity on this album is scuppered by the very cover of it. Red and yellow background – well that’s the SPANISH flag. Miles Davis – weapon of woe in hand – on the left and on the other side of the cover a bull. As in bullfighting the national SPANISH sport : simplistic stereotype – cheers. How I often look at that cover (I broke the record years ago) and urge that bull to stampede across the twelve inches going for the gore. Finally Miles would see how a horn should really be used.

*The only exception to this rule is the piccolo which is too small to hit anyone with, but perfect for ramming up someone’s arse and watching them go “peep-peep” as they try and run away