Coolio was 32 when “Gangsta’s Paradise” came out, but the man he’s voicing is 23 – born in ’72, then, the year Stevie Wonder released Talking Book. For some critics, to draw a line from Stevie Wonder to hip-hop was to trace a decline: to tell the story of black American pop’s lost soul, from a 70s full of hope, warmth and conscience to a present day of seeming aggression and amorality. With that reading, Coolio using Stevie Wonder’s beautiful “Pastime Paradise” so fully was flaunting rap’s supposed lack of creativity. But those critics were wrong. Isolating musical developments is a luxury: it means ignoring music’s social and economic context. And “Gangsta’s Paradise” deliberately forces Stevie Wonder’s conscious, anti-materialist soul music into dialogue with that more brutal context. It wants you to remember how sweet soul could be in the early 70s, and then it wants to tell you, as straight as it can, why it can’t be that way now. more »
23 July 2013
18 July 2013
Now That’s What I Call Music! 85 (Not A Review)
It’s no secret that Popular, my main feature for this website, and a project that’s now run through almost 10 years of my life, spent much of last year beached – only 6 entries in 6 months. I never imagined I’d given it up, but I turned over possibilities as to why my enthusiasm had so clearly dimmed. More responsibilities? Sputtering energy? Reading too many comics? Maybe, maybe, but there was another factor too. Popular is a journey of indefinite length, but one where I can always see the future mapped out, and in 2011 and 2012 that map showed a miserable prospect. Clouds of grey hits in a chart I hardly paid attention to. Was this it? Had I stopped caring about pop? Bound to happen one day, of course – and it doesn’t need me as a listener. But if I had stopped caring, why care to write about it?
But then something happened. The pop songs I noticed seemed to be the ones a lot of other people noticed, but then – to my surprise – they were also the ones a lot of other people bought. Even better, songs people bought that I hadn’t yet heard turned out to be crackers too. 2013 has been a springtime for the Top 40, with a remarkable sequence of good Number Ones, some the kind of records I can’t wait to write about, others singles I know I’ll struggle to capture – but I’ll enjoy trying anyhow. Something has changed in my appreciation, though. For the first time I don’t have a mental model for who is buying singles, and how (and with whose money) – overall sales keep twitching up, setting new records each year, so “mostly digital, mostly cheap” feels like a good starting assumption. But how singles get to Number One? I could hardly even guess. more »
17 July 2013
The scales of pop injustice tip in both directions. It is often taken as scandalous that Prince only managed a single Number One. But what then to make of Simply Red’s total? Mick Hucknall’s blue-eyed soul brand trampled the LP charts underfoot with Stars: they were a ruby-toothed sales goliath. But as far as singles go, “Fairground” is your lot. And it’s hard to imagine many people being sad about it.
Simply Red were one of those bands who are easy to loathe. In a way they were the Mumford And Sons of their day – successful to such a degree they stood in for a pile of musical wrongs: bogus authenticity, misplaced nostalgia for older musics, the supposed complacency of the Great British Public. The traits which might have won another musician a fair hearing – his socialism, his love of dub reggae – were brushed aside in Hucknall’s case. Instead we heard about his arrogance, his pettiness, and his colossal libido. more »
15 July 2013
The key to dealing with hot weather is economy of effort – do the things you really have to with the least possible fuss, and the rest of the time, slow down, refrigerate. Which makes “Boombastic” a great heatwave hit, whenever it actually reached #1: there’s a ton of space in this record; shady, cooling space. Around the space, snatches of instrumentation: a bric-a-brac of sounds, almost unrelated, all doing the minimum. A hammered piano note; a plink higher up the register; a repeating see-saw noise; a loping bass. Drums snap and sometimes boom; a guitar confines itself to a terse lick or two then gives a sudden, thrilling squeal. It’s pop production as a fairground dark ride, a set of looping mechanisms forming themselves into a world for all the family to enjoy (or imitate in the playground). more »
11 July 2013
I was reading this piece on Ernst & Young and it struck me – not for the first time – that growing up reading IPC comics was the best possible preparation for a career in BUSINESS esp. mergers and acquisitions.
Just look at the history of Ernst & Young, or EY as we now call them.
Ernst & Ernst became
Ernst & Whinney became
Ernst & Young became
What does this remind you of? THAT’S RIGHT. more »
9 July 2013
Whatever grim spirits drove Michael Jackson, they were hovering around his music long before HIStory – a double album that, through hubris or masochism (or commercial good sense) directly linked his greatest songs to his newest. There’s terror and paranoia to spare on the hits, even before Jordan Chandler’s accusations against Jackson curdled his public profile: the HIStory songs were darker still. Whether it was the agony of wrongful accusation or the cold horror of discovery motivating Jackson – or just a development of his existing demons – his music around this time is a sea of sorrow and fear. more »
This post is my contribution to Harkive - an opt-in mass ethnographic record of a day in the lives of music fans worldwide. (A bit like Nick Southall’s Music Listening Day from the last couple of years). The post will be updated occasionally through the day, so read from the bottom up if you want a chronology.
Michael Jackson – “You Are Not Alone” (twice)
Once before I write the entry, once after. I often play other records when writing, but didn’t this time. The final play – and the overall intensity – bumps up the intended mark by 1. Hasty rewrites after I discover it wasn’t written by Jackson, then it’s good to go.
And that turns out to be it! I was about to put something else on but realised it’s turned midnight. John Newman wins the repeat play cup, Genius/GZA the best record I played today prize, and the best to actually work to award goes to the Cocteau Twins. Night night!
MIA – “Feel The Noize” (twice)
MIA – “Bad Girls”
Migos ft Drake – “Versace”
I have a bunch of Tumblr posts and Tweet links bookmarked with people’s picks of the best of the year so far, and I’ve been dipping into that. Looking for something to play while I did the washing up, I remembered I hadn’t heard the new M.I.A. single, so I picked up that on iMusic (good, spiky, bit like “Bird Flu”, though maybe I’m projecting because that’s a favourite). That made me want to hear “Bad Girls” again, so I cued that up on iMusic too, and also the Migos track I’d just read about on Tom Breihan’s tumblr. Standing in the kitchen cleaning plates with a speakerless iPhone playing YouTube quality sound out loud is about the worst possible way to hear new music, so I can’t really draw any conclusions from my listen to “Versace”.
Rudimental – “Feel The Love”/”Not Giving In”/”Waiting All Night”
Walking home from the station, playing the three Rudimental singles from this or last year, to remind myself of the context of the Newman song and because I’d not really given “Not Giving In” its due before. more »
5 July 2013
A “heavyweight battle”, the NME cover-billed it. And if “Country House” vs Oasis’ “Roll With It” was a title bout, the music press were desperate to play Frank Warren.
Perhaps they had most at stake. It was, in a way, their last great fight. Many other moments define Oasis. Blur are best remembered for different songs. Britpop itself? Well, this was the high tide – probably the main reason Oasis even count – and the rivalry became an ongoing, rather tiresome, pop storyline for years after. But even then the battle is just one of a scrapbook of memories: Britpop had to be a thing already for this tussle to even matter.
The press, though – this is the climax of its 80s and 90s story, its turn away from other music to keep the indie flame burning, and how it saw its favourites gradually win over first the radio establishment, then a wider public. And look – here they are! Top of the charts, ma! Whoever wins, we won, is the NME’s message, but in that final ridiculous week the story had outgrown them. After Britpop, readers dwindled, and no new story emerged: the price of ‘we won’ turned out to be that there wasn’t a “we” anymore. more »
2 July 2013
Commenter Nixon, on another thread, asked this: “we’re now past the 40-year mark, long enough for trends to emerge… do you think that the list of UK number ones, taken as a weird at-a-glance sweep of British music history, very broadly accurately reflects that history?“. I gave a long reply, and writing it, it struck me that my answer was fairly central to the Popular project and that the question deserved more exposure than being Comment #44 on an Outhere Brothers thread was likely to give it. So here we are, slightly edited from its original form.This is sort of the central question Popular wanted to answer – it reflects *a* history, but which one? I don’t think “accurately reflects that history” is meaningful though – there isn’t an accurate pop history to reflect, there’s a sense of ‘what happened’ and ‘what mattered’ which is a mix of personal memories, received wisdom, critical takes and commercial realities, which themselves may not be realities given the distortions of sales data methodologies.
When pop history is written – literally written, in books or articles or lists, the version of pop history that is PLAYED is different again – it’s usually written by the critical winners, not the commercial ones. So if the question is – how well do Number Ones map onto that? – the answer varies. If you look at it by genre, then for some things – Merseybeat, glam, new wave, the house music revolution, 00s R&B – it does very well. For others – metal, punk, Britpop, progressive rock, hip-hop up to a point – it seems to do quite poorly. more »
30 June 2013
I’m a sucker for a self-conscious farewell. I bought final issues of comics I’d never prevoiously read. My best Doctor Who memories were the regenerations. As a student, my favourite Shakespeare was The Tempest. And look! Here’s Gary Barlow as Prospero, drowning his songbook, letting Caliban free to hang out with Oasis at Glasto, moving on and leaving behind him maybe the most self-important single a boyband has ever produced. more »