I Hate Music
ooooooooooooOO OOOOOOoooooooOOO OOOOooOOVVVVVV VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV VVVVVVVVV VVVVVVVVVV VVVVVVVVVVVVvvvvvvvVVVVVVvVVVVV VvVvVveeeeeeeee eeerrrrrrrRRRRR RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR RRRRRRR rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaa aaaaaAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAaaaaaAAAAAAA AAAAAATTTTTTTT TTTtttttt TTTTTTT TTTTTTTTT TTTTTTTTT TTTTTTttttttttttttt eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee EEEEEEEEEEEEeEEE EEEeeeeeeeddddd.
Music critics and feckless college kids (more on them later) continue to have orgasms over this mess, presumably informed by the same if-it’s-dull-and-dry-it-must-be-deep sensibility that showers accolades on such tedium-fests as Springsteen, the Clash, and Yo La Tengo.
It’s difficult to decide where to begin attacking the record. The tempos plod and the songs meander aimlessly and endlessly. All of which is very progressive and groundbreaking — if your previous idea of musical sophistication was Minor Threat, or perhaps Sloan — precisely why this middlebrow wankery is revered so highly by the lookalike Salvation Army-shopping, gas-station-attendant-chic middlebrow wankers who clog the streets of my hometown. The already dated grunge-tone guitars are made to repeat the same drab finger exercises indefinitely in such a manner that the listener is forced to focus on the long-winded, drippy high school poetry (“. . . Fill your pockets with the dust of the memories that rises from the shoes on my feet . . . Wash yourself in your tears and build your church on the strength of your faith.” Blecch.) delivered in a ‘voice’ that alternates between an expressionless mumble and a feeble prepubescent whine. Oh, but Slint brought 7/8 into the vocabulary of alt-rock time signatures! Yeah, played so slowly and so metronomically that the average four-year old could be trained to do better.
The band manage to reel in their self-indulgence somewhat for the last song, “Good Morning, Captain,” providing the only moment on the record with the remotest musical value. Good God, there’s almost a groove! A sense of direction even! The harmonics at the end border on being interesting. And what effect is accomplished? A sappy tearjerker, that’s what. The same schmaltzy heartrending aimed for by the Spice Girls and Steven Spielberg. “I miss you” he screams over and over. Didn’t I see something like that at the end of _Swing Kids_?
“Better than Tortoise” is the best that can be said for this pretentious trash.
BRITNEY SPEARS – Hit Me Baby One More Time
Classic pop? What, have suddenly all the music journos, pop pundits and sad indie wankers realised that their pet bands were churning out crap guitar fellatio? Lost in the desert of piss poor music they stumble across this seemingly innocent tune – and notice – to their glee that there is a nubile young female with tits behind this whole malarkey. What’s more she dresses like a schoolgirl in the video. Balls drop to round their ankles and all of a sudden everyone is proclaiming that this is a slice of purest classic pop. In as much as there is an okay tune, a chorus as lyrically dubious as the rest of the song and oh – did I mention the tits?
For all their jangly sensibilities, your indie girls just don’t have the jubblies. Or at least they might have them but are either too busy disguising them so you concentrate on the music, or hiding them with a guitar strap or two (which really cannot be healthy). Now I daresay the mellifluous tones of my namesake Tanya Donnelley has caused many a young indie kid to whip himself up a fervour of tip-top, but she never bounced around in a shiny come hither halter top. Lush bemoaned being Single Girls, never realising that if they had slung away those guitars, bounced a round a bit and flashed their yams there would have been a queue right round the door (this is England, we still queue for some things). Britney does all the above, and there was no other indie music of note around at the time. Instant pop classic, and critical success. Coincidence – I think not.
The sad truth is that Britney’s song is successful merely for encouraging the saddo paedophilic woman beating lust of yer average consumer. However I can save you from this dangerous fixation before you go the whole hog and get yourself an ill-fitting and rather unattractive boys PVC catsuit. The very beginning of the song, when she proclaims in that strangely seductive (strange because I don’t find it seductive) voice – “Oh Baby Baby” – try saying “Oh Jewellery Jewellery”. Suddenly Britney will vanish in your head to be replaced by Jimmy Savile – marathon running octogenarian ex-wrestler and Disc Jockey. Admittedly it won’t remove the subject of paedophilia from your brain, but the song will lose all of its attraction.
TANYA HATES JAZZ
When I was a young girl, skipping through the cornfields which ringed my idyllic childhood hamlet, I had nothing but happy thoughts. I had not yet entered the big bad world and my ears had been relatively untroubled by noises beyond the chirping of the corncrake and the odd cat getting munched up by a rogue reaping machine. These noises came, seemingly as random to me, and were the music of my youth. But before you ask me what the skies were like when I was young (and trust me, I am leaving that particular bugbear to a later date – suffice to say that unlike the typical Orb track they did not go on for bloody ever) its Jazz I want to talk about here. The entire canon.
I know now that the sounds of nature are not in their own way musical: in this way they are much like the constant drip drip drip of noodlings which come from Blue Note Recordings. I like the idea of Jazz in theory – in as much as if I appreciate it in theory I do not have to listen to the damn stuff. The core thesis in Jazz, that via improvisation we can reach and touch true emotion is admirable. It just appears that the majority of Jazz musicians seem to be have the same fucking emotion over and over again. Perhaps there is a subtle message in all Jazz that is a secret message from the creator of the universe. It is somewhat disappointing to find out that this message is “Take 5”. I tend to think the real reason is less sinister; with jazz comes jazz cigarettes and as with dub we know what these particular non-proprietary brand of smokes does to creativity.
You would expect, given the number of variables involved, that your average Jazz gig would consist of as many disparate sounds as my childhood soundscape. The possibility that even the smallest of Jazz bands could crank out anything which could be described as a tune would bear some relationship to the old infinite monkeys, infinite typewriter equals Hamlet scenario. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The word dangerous is often attached to these fits of improvised creativity. The only dangerous thing about it is that it may drive me into further paroxysms of rage and I get up on stage and wrap their trombones around their heads. Or stick their cornets up their arse – it works as a half decent muffler.
To condemn the entirety of Jazz in one foul swoop may seem the height of arrogance and ignorance, for which I am truly unrepentant. Oh, I agree Louis Armstrong probably deserves a separate slagging, and I am not sure if this small picture of ire can really contain the horror that is Acid Jazz. But rest assured, now when I revisit the haunts of my youth – it is not the squeal of a cat getting accidentally munched in the jaws of a combined harvester I hear. It is the sound of Jazz – forevermore doodling its emotionally vapid minuets in hell.
EMINENTLY EMINEM — HA, IT IS TO LAUGH
I won’t waste too much time on this one because, well, what’s the point? It’s a casual hate, this one, not a poisonous one, though everytime I see him doing that tiresome “I am mean, yes I am — yes yes” pose, the one where the chin is held at the 45 degree angle, I consider how amusing it would be if a baseball bat slammed into his unprotected balls. Granted the talk about his own supposed hilarity and all that, and I guess there’s an argument being advanced that if one worships South Park one worships him, except that I think the brain caliber involved is different. The semi-comparisons to Moliere vis-a-vis misanthropy haven’t helped either, and I suspect that even dead said Frenchman, who had to live with royal whims and murderous aristocrats and the like where young Mr. Mathers sounds more like he only had to worry about the social worker who smelled weird on the one visit, could take the young pup. Bierce wouldn’t have even bothered responding back to him, that’s for sure. The supposedly ‘mad skills’ aren’t there from what I’ve heard; he just sounds like about most of the frat guys around here — from wildly different backgrounds, I should note — who pretty much all deserve to be killed, while he’s only getting airplay on certain stations because he’s white, so to hell with it. Nick Cave does funnier ‘ha! I killed my girlfriend’ tunes, and the one vague note of interest was that “Stan” song, except nothing’s more annoying than a dumbfuck who, having told an obvious joke, then proceeds to explain the joke in pointless detail. Had the song ended up in a murder/suicide pact, I would have been the one guy standing next to the carnage who shrugs, says something flip to the Nearby Friend with the Cool Haircut, and wanders off whistling in a blaze of lens flares and rotating camera angles around slow motion bullets while CGI scripts collapse around me in an orgy of Roman Empire style decadence. This while a Slipknot song plays, I’m sure.
Alternately, maybe I just hate Detroit.
DUB ME LAZY
Lee Perry is to the alternative what Bob Marley is to the mainstream: somewhere between the acceptable face or reggae and the untouchable face of reggae, and also non-coincidentally the only face of reggae most fans bother to engage with. Perry was of course a ‘dub pioneer’: dub is perhaps the most overrated music genre of all time, unsurprising given that it is, expressly, music dedicated to the most overrated drug of all time. For marijuana bores who needed to justify their habit by manufacturing an entire crapulout subculture around the ‘sacred herb’, dub was obviously a godsend. For anyone else, it was, no pun intended, a drag: the drop-out and echo techniques it pioneered went on to underpin some of the most incredible music ever made, but dub itself tended just to be shelled-out rhythm tracks with a bit of delay on them and a few ‘weird’ effects thrown in to make the potheads giggle.
The critical focus on dub, and particularly Lee Perry, in the 90s was a wrong turning for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Perry, though master of the ‘funny noise’ school, wasn’t even that good a dub producer – sitting and listening to the three-disc Arkology in an ‘unenhanced’ state, you come to realise how incredibly plain all the music is. It lacks the sweetness of Augustus Pablo, or the bottomless primitivist depth of Far-I, or the fierce spirituality of Burning Spear – now I’m sure for the ‘dub purist’ that’s exactly why it’s so good, but I’ve got no more respect for a dub purist than any other kind of purist. (And we won’t even get into Perry’s endless and embarrassing 80s and 90s attempts to go digital – too easy and painful a target).
Secondly, dub appealed to two baseline rock-critical prejudices: it lacked the tuneful danceability of other Jamaican music and could therefore be presented as way more profound and esoteric. And in Lee Perry it gave critics another black freak-figure to focus on, the kind of crazy shaman-type (think Hendrix, Clinton, Sun Ra) which plays so well with a rock audience for reasons you should be able to work out for yourself (charitably, it’s a marketing thing; uncharitably, it’s a race thing). Sell in your rarely-played copies of Arkology and go out and buy the Tougher Than Tough anthology, or Soul Jazz’ 100/200/300% Dynamite series instead, sets which put the dub obsession in its place and do Jamaican music long-deserved justice.
“I want you to dis Blondie, because I don’t believe it’s possible”, writes a naive reader, but you see this attitude is precisely what makes Blondie so hateful, the belief of their fans that the band represent pop perfection when really they were an OK new wave group who nicked their best ideas. Nicking ideas isn’t a problem, obviously – this is pop music, after all – but if you’re going to swipe stuff, do it better than the originals, for goodness’ sake. Blondie’s eager, clodhopping version of “The Tide Is High” is excruciating once you’ve heard The Paragons, their Moroder-disco stuff is a pallid sham (you could only dance to it in exactly the same ironised spirit which it was made, which is why “Atomic” et al. have become so popular at foul 80s kitsch nights), and let’s not even approach “Rapture”.
As for their early, guitar-y, ‘sassy’ stuff, if it’s not a xerox it certainly sounds like one: again, their synthesis of the New York Dolls, Shangri-La’s and the Ramones is about a thousand times more interesting if you’ve never heard any of those bands. Blondie’s main appeal was their adolescent bitchiness (“Rip Her To Shreds”), and certainly they do that passably well, and certainly there’s always going to be a segment of the audience for whom that kind of catfight-pop is the epitome of what the music can be, but let’s leave them to their Daphne And Celeste records and move on.
Still though, as pop stars, as icons, they passed muster: pity they weren’t happy just being pop stars. They had all these experimental roots, don’t you know, which once they’d put that frivolous disco stuff behind them they needed to show. So you got a couple of bad albums pre-retirement, and then one unfeasibly dreadful one post. I’m not sure which was worse, the cod-sophistication on the jazzy reunion tracks where the real Debbie’n’Chris strutted their stuff, or the cod-unsophistication of the money-grubbing singles. No Exit? No Escape would have been more appropriate.
MILES DAVIS – Kind of Blue
The reason for this album’s eternal appeal lies in its emotional tone. Once its quietism was the perfect reflection of the spiritual Emptiness of the Eisenhower era; now its boredom, nostalgia and scarcely concealed contempt make it the perfect “intellectual” background music for this narcissistic age of ours.
Morrissey: a small talent requires a small article. Briefly: without his crack band as backup, he slid into repetition and self-pity pretty swiftly. Thousands of fans stuck with them, proving the people who’d insulted the Smiths’ fanbase right. In detail:
Viva Hate: abstruse guitar picking, political naivety, lengthy songs throwing autobiographical titbits to the baying hordes of worshippers. Low Point: “Late Night, Maudlin Street” heading into its fourth or fifth grinding minute.
Kill Uncle: weedy instrumentation backing weedy songs, many intentionally ‘comic’ but unintentionally ‘horrible’. Notorious for depth of lyrical plumbing viz. “King Leer”. Low Point: “Found Found Found”, love song for Michael Stipe.
Your Arsenal: Return to ‘glam rock’. But Morrissey has the glamour of a sausage and the rockin’ potential of Rheims Cathedral. Tiresome controversy stirred up by equally useless NME masks laziness of record in general. Low Point: “I Know It’s Going To Happen Someday”, a song so poor it was covered by David Bowie.
Vauxhall And I: Occasional flickers of interest caused by Moz indulgently trading off prior controv – unpleasant martyr complex in evidence. Music plods along. Only half album is irredeemable, therefore praised to rafters by critics. Low Point: “The Lazy Sunbathers”. “Too jaded to question stagnation” – ring any bells, Mozophiles?
Southpaw Grammar: They’d not written enough tracks, so they stretched two of them on the Song Rack. Low Point: “The Operation” – back in 1983, did anyone think a Morrissey record would feature a drum solo?
Maladjusted: Really, staggeringly, bottom-of-barrel awful. You’re as likely to be able to remember what you had for breakfast 12 years ago to the day as you are to remember any of these songs. Surely released to win a bet. Low Point: the one where he whinges about getting busted ripping his backing band off. Oh dear.
In 1971, Marvin Gaye released What’s Goin’ On?, an album of unprecedented ambition for soul music, which addressed real issues – poverty, the state of the nation, the economy – and did so with thick, complex arrangements and, of course, smooth, emotional, inspirational singing. It has since been described, often, as the greatest album of all time. It was nothing less than a new birth of soul, the coccoon from which would hatch a wonderful butterfly: a mature, album-based music which would last forever.
By, oh, 1976 or so, soul music was in a bad way: within another five years, soul was creatively dead and commercially wounded, floundering in a quicksand of overcooked bedroom schlock . What had happened? Most critics and commentators blamed the rise of disco, a bastardised kind of black music, production-line funk which had attracted multiracial and polysexual dancers to clubs where they could dance and have fun. They didn’t ask why disco had become necessary in the first place, didn’t ask why people were buying these repetitive, ultra-catchy songs and – relatively speaking – spurning bloated albums like the Temptations’ Masterpiece or the O’Jays’ Ship Ahoy, with its thirteen-minute ‘soul opera’ title track on the subject of slavery. They certainly didn’t look across the way to rock, where the album was King and where monstrously over-extended records were causing an intense critical backlash against overweening ambition and in favour of – yes – simplicity and acceptability. Disco was the black punk, simple as that.
It’s often said that it’s wrong to blame Sgt. Pepper’s for progressive rock: is it wrong to blame Marvin Gaye for the pomposity of album-based soul? No, because What’s Goin’ On is no work of genius – it has all the faults its successors did. A vagueness at its centre, an unwillingness to offer analysis and a reliance instead on vocal technique and empty empathy. Critics ever since have swooned over how ‘brave’ it was of Gaye to tackle social issues – but why was it brave? The message of the title track boils down to “It is bad that bad things happen”, not something anyone could disagree with, but equally not likely to have an effect, to change people’s minds. Disco was attacked for its vacuity, but at least it was an honest vacuity, whereas most social-issue soul, Gaye’s opus included, hid its lack of real commentary under a parade of platitudes and the occasional sob or melismatic howl. The will to comment was there, sure – some singers, like Curtis Mayfield, even had the verbal felicity to do something with it – but it would take hip-hop to open up a space where truly substantive things could be said and thought. Gaye’s brand of soul was just sound and technique and signified nothing: it was no surprise at all that it was this stuff that became the bible for ‘serious’ 80s pop music, with even the horrendous Spandau Ballet crooning smugly about “Lis’nin’ to Maaaaarvin all night long….”.
Motown boss Berry Gordy tried to stop the release of What’s Goin’ On?, and he’s been painted as a cloth-eared villain ever since. But Gordy was not a stupid man, and certainly not a philistine: over ten years before he’d written “Money”, after all, which said more intelligent things in a slyer fashion than anything on Gaye’s hand-wringing epic. That was the problem: the worst thing about What’s Goin’ On? wasn’t what it caused but what it replaced – the old Motown had been a place where songwriters, their skills honed by hectic competition, would turn out three-minute gems with polished (and insightful!) lyrics, brilliant high-impact arrangements and absolutely irresistible beats. By 1971 that version of the company was on the wane anyway, but What’s Goin’ On was one big nail in its coffin. So Marvin Gaye helped destroy the best pop label the world ever saw, and in doing so turned soul music into a gigantic supper club. Greatness indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree.