I Hate Music
If there is one thing guaranteed to turn me off going to see a film, it is someone claiming that it has a “great soundtrack”. So it is that I have not yet seen Donnie Darko, and at this moment I am intensely grateful for that. Not that I have anything against the movie (other than that it seems to be a favourite of the kind of mumbling disgraces to humanity who like Pavement (see below)), but going to see this tender tale of a boy and his bunny would have also meant one more hearing of Gary Jules’ ‘haunting’ cover of “Mad World”. And I think I might be at that point when one more hearing might be the death of me (and several bystanders).
“There you go again Tanya, you old cynic! Doesn’t it mean something that at Christmas a real proper song might be number one instead of the usual tinselly tat?” Yes it does, dear reader, it means that the world is even more fucked than I had thought. Christmas is the one time of year when I can imagine some tiny excuse for people buying the miserable tripe they do: their brainstems have been replaced by mincemeat and their cranial fluid by sherry. For a non-Christmas record to be No.1 at this time of year removes even this crumb of comfort – people are buying Gary Jules because in all honesty they think it is a good record.
Let us examine the song more closely. It is ‘moving’ i.e. it has been slowed down and sung in a wheedly voice to a sparse accompaniment. This is the oldest trick in the pop book and yet it never seems to go out of fashion – the shoddiest piece of pop nonsense can sell bucketloads a second time if you sing it slowly enough and trot out the acoustic guitar (or as in this case piano). WHEN WILL YOU LEARN?! Singing songs more slowly does not make them more REAL, it just makes them LONGER. For extra agony Gary Jules has decided to sing “Mad World” in the style of Michael Stipe, which is essentially spitting in hope’s face: just as it seemed we might soon be rid of Stipe’s own pestilential band a clone appears!
And what of the composition itself? “Mad World” was originally on the aptly named The Hurting album, the first by Tears For Fears, a pair of hairsprayed poltroons who had taken their name from a phrase used by radical psychoanalyst Arthur Janov. Janov deserves a spot in the box at the International Pop Crimes Court in The Hague, as his therapy also inspired John Lennon and laughing stocks of the universe PRML SCRM. Janov’s influence on Tears For Fears led to “Shout”, as in “Shout, shout, let it all out.” I will now attempt to test this advice myself.
AAAAAH! FUCK OFF GARY JULES! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Oh, I feel better now. Maybe Janov had a point after all. Anyhow, “Mad World” in its rubbish original version was a moody bit of synth-pop entirely typical of its era: it was gibberish and nobody paid any attention to the words anyway, they were too busy lengthening their overcoats to care. Slowing it down has meant that it is impossible not to pay attention to the words and what a surprise they are rubbish. It turns out that the song is written by someone who feels alienated, hated and unloved – fair enough says this impartial listener. Gary may not have written the words but he has set a terrible precedent – what is now to stop people taking A Flock Of Seagulls singles seriously? Or – dear heaven no – Depeche Mode???
One thing I heartily approve of, though. The dreams where Gary dies are some of the best I’ve ever had, too.
FINALLY, FINALLY: PAVEMENT
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Even for someone like me whose single step would preferably be into the back of a chauffeur driven, mini-bar equipped limousine, this holds. The reason I bring up this trite aphorism? Because, dear reader, I never got round to Pavement.
There are good reasons for this. In all my hatred of music, man and machine made, I hold a special fear for one kind of music. The music of idiots. Malkmus’ merry band of men(ks) fit so readily into this group that it was always unclear where to start. Equally just when my ire was raised to breaking point they went and did the most decent thing a band can do (bar die in a plane crash) and split up. This act of generousity won them what can only be described as goodwill. But now Malkmus is out them making the same kind of half-arsed racket with some band called the Jicks I feel I can call off the dogs no more. I just hope no-one calls the RSPCA on me.
Imagine the school orchestra in a special school for the uncoordinated. Now imagine the kids left out of the band. You have just imagined the nascient form of Pavement. Now imagine that their racket needs some sort of form, some sort of template to aim at so at least there is a goal for this unendurable racket to equate to. Imagine that goal was The Fall.
In an entry regarding the Fall a few years ago I mentioned that Mark E. Smith’s plagarism paranoia was hardly served by being primarily fed by Pavement. This insult works both ways. Of all the singularly unsuccessful bands one could rip off, The Fall seems worse than picking – say Stiff Little Fingers. Grumpy, discordant, generally unlistenable; Pavement took this fomula and copied it to the letter – possibly leaving out the grumpy bit. This made no change to the unlistenable bit.
To pick a song at random: Cut Your Hair. A fine sentiment, one which could have applied to many of their peers at the time. But then you examine the faux-stream-of-consciousness* ramble and discover that it suggests that you should not cut your hair. Because it is another song about being in a band. Like the world needs more songs on that subject.
HOW TO WRITE A PAVEMENT SONG:
1: Start the tape.
2: Drop your instruments.
3: Stop the tape.
Never was there a more aptly named album than Terror Twilight, at least they stuck to their word. It was the end of the horror they inflicted on us. The profligacy of Pavement was enough to almost make me agoraphobic, for fear of accidentally stumbling on yet another Pavement Album. In the end I just used to stay in the pub. In the end, who would name their band after the place where the dogs crap?
*Faux as you could never be quite clear if Malkmus was ever truly conscious for most of these recording sessions.
WEEDY EIGHTIES WHITE PEOPLE SINGING ABOUT SOUL STARS1: ABC: When Smokie Sings
The history of quiffs in pop is a surprisingly long one, possibly the fault of Elvis Presley an apparently noted rock’n'roll singer. (Noted by me for future appearances here). And whilst it is a singularly ridiculous ‘do, no-one wore one dafter that the singer of ABC – Martin Fry. Blonde quiffs are risible, and Mr Fry obviously got his surname from what the best use of all the grease in his hair would be. With his gold lame suit (accent nixed purposefully from that word) he was truely one of the most sartorially criminal people in pop in the early eighties.
Not only all of that but there was obviously something wrong with his ears. For in ABC’s tribute to Motown’s Smokie Robinson, When Smokie Sings, he appears to hear something quite different to the rest of us. When I hear Smokie Robinson sing I hear a sub-par soul crooner who even Motown did not rate much and who only became famous because of Motown rationing in the early seventies meant the UK got whatever crap the US did not want. What does Martin hear?