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May 15

I Know How To Curse

The Brown Wedge22 comments • 2,100 views

shootingstar2

1978: The Shooting Star

It’s the spider I remember. In The Shooting Star, boy reporter Tintin is investigating an apocalyptic threat, a star on a collision course with our world. He visits an observatory, hoping they can tell him what’s going on. They can: the world is doomed. He is led to the telescope and through it he sees a colossal spider, clinging to the star.

The beast is only on the telescope lens. And the world is not doomed. But I was entranced. By that, by the panic in the streets, by the race to reach a new island formed in the wake of the star’s passing, and by the grotesque exploding mushrooms our hero finds there. Tintin is the first comic I can remember reading, and The Shooting Star is my first memory of Tintin. In many ways, I wish it was almost any of his other adventures.

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May 15

MARIAH CAREY AND WESTLIFE – “Against All Odds”

Popular44 comments • 4,695 views

#875, 30th September 2000

westlife against I don’t know if “Against All Odds” is the best Phil Collins song. I suspect it is. But it’s certainly the most Phil Collins song, the complete conjunction of things you might associate with Phil Collins: song-shifting drum breakdowns, male pattern agony, everybloke blues. It’s also a song that attracts covers: writing about one of them on NYLPM, I said: “The ur-version of “Against All Odds” will always be by a drunk divorced man in a suburban karaoke, singing his desperate heart away – Phil’s original is just a guide vocal.”

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May 15

MODJO – “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)”

Popular44 comments • 1,998 views

#874, 16th September 2000

modjo “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” came hard on the heels of “Groovejet” as a revivalist disco hit. It also works as a despondent, pleading answer record: where Sophie Ellis-Bextor embraces the dancefloor as a flirtatious zone of mystery and ambiguity, “Lady” begs for resolution. Lyrically, musically, emotionally, it circles its sampled groove like water circling a drain. Where “Groovejet” is spry, happy to lose itself in the possibility of disco, “Lady” finds a rut and keeps scratching it deeper in its despairing neediness. The singles’ proximity does “Lady” no favours – this suitor, and his simple plea, is run rings round.

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May 15

Rockwrite UK: its roots and discontents, its early evolution and its latent potential

FT11 comments • 598 views

ozFT readers who are interested in writing about music and the specifics of its history in the UK, I have organised a treat for you (if you live in or near London, or happen to be visiting in precisely two weeks time = May 15-16 2015). It is THIS: a conference called UNDERGROUND/OVERGROUND: The Changing Politics of UK Music-Writing: 1968-85, and it is happening here: Birkbeck University of London, London WC1E 7HX (see below for details). I’m delighted (and in fact flattered) that a line-up of very interesting names and speakers (also see below) have agreed to sit on panels discussing a variety of things, from who exactly the constituency for the rock papers was in the 70s and early 80s, to how the hell did the countercultural voice get to cross from the underground press of the late 60s into what were at least ostensibly the trade papers of the leisure industry (viz Melody Maker, NME, Sounds, Record Mirror et al); to (finally) what can all this mean for us today, three decades on?

I am extremely excited! And nervous! And worried no one will turn up — or too many people will turn up, or there will be a fight, or everyone will agree with everyone else and it will be boring, or [insert OTHER things that could go wrong] [but don’t tell me what they are!]

From Beyond

The Brown Wedge15 comments • 542 views

secret wars cover NEW THRILL!

This is an origin story. Thirty years ago, give or take a day, I went to my local newsagent and I bought a new comic. The next day I asked the newsagent, Mr.Mann, he of the back room full of protein supplements and ‘marital advice’ partworks, to reserve it for me every fortnight. Two months later he was putting aside a second comic, 2000AD. Six months later I found a source for imported US Marvel comics, and I started ordering those. And so it grows.

The origin story is no different from any other comics fan’s. It begins when something radioactive bites you. Bought in a corner shop (but it could have been glimpsed in an attic, snipped up on Tumblr, passed on by an older sister, found in a doctor’s waiting room) – it sinks its teeth in. You’re changed. You borrow, and read, and buy. With great power comes financial irresponsibility. You walk away sometimes, you come back other times. And thirty years later, here you are.

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Apr 15

A1 – “Take On Me”

Popular72 comments • 2,627 views

#873, 9th September 2000

A1take A single that’s good for one thing, at least: “Which group got to No.1 with Take On Me?” is a reliably sneaky pop quiz question. Beyond that, it’s tempting to dismiss A1’s version as irrelevant. Doubly tempting if you were 12 in 1985, and the clean surge of that keyboard riff still sounded like the bright world of life and youth and adventure opening up in front of you. It’s not that a cover version is any kind of sacrilege – just that you can’t update the eternally young. But listen again and A-Ha’s original sounds stuck in its time: the synthesisers thin, the drum sound hollow and deadened. That doesn’t make it less glorious to me, it just reminds me of the work memory does in making songs great. Why not give new 12-year olds a chance for memories of their own?

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Apr 15

MADONNA – “Music”

Popular67 comments • 3,086 views

#872, 2nd September 2000

madonna music “Her whole career’s been like, oh, they’re the trendy person of the moment, I’ll work with them to make me younger. They’re using you.” – Aphex Twin on Madonna, 2001.

I am the same age now – just turned 42 – as Madonna was when she released “Music”. Last week, with delightful serendipity, Spotify released a study suggesting that listeners hit a “musical mid-life crisis” at 42, as their tastes suddenly skew (a little) back towards the mainstream: are they trying to keep up? Was Madonna? The image of her as trend-chasing, desperate, even “vampiric” (as that Aphex interviewer glossed it) has hardened as the hits dried up. But the Aphex quote shows it was current in the Music era – how he framed the singer’s interest in working with him.

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Apr 15

Taxonomy Domine

FT15 comments • 1,800 views

Sisyphus was a rockist.

Sisyphus was a rockist.

This is a list – scribbled down over lunch, then expanded – of ways that writers who focus on pop music have approached it. I agree with some. I disagree with some. Some of them I’ve tried, some I’ve only read. A few have become fairly orthodox. Others are rare, or at least rare nowadays.

The list is not meant to be exhaustive, and expansion is welcomed. (I think there should probably be something on camp in here, for instance, but I don’t feel I know enough to write it.)

1. Why Is This Popular?: I start with this one, because it’s largely what I do on Popular, which serves as an example. I am interested in things that are popular. The idea is that there’s value in thinking why something becomes a hit – what people hear or see in it. Popular things aren’t inherently good, but they are inherently interesting. Often shades into sociology, not always very expertly.

2. Pop As Expression Of The People: There are a few strands of thinking that really do hold popularity to be at least potentially a good in itself. “Popular culture is folk culture” (a Robert Wyatt paraphrase) would be the tenet here – pop is good because it reflects and represents everyday concerns, lives, dreams… maybe even a kind of will of the people. This type of angle feels unfashionable now, too monocultural (though see #8 below.)

3. Pop As A Site Of Subversion: A type of thinking that semi-inverts #2 – pop music is interesting when things sneak in and slip through that don’t ‘belong’ and that have the potential to question or overturn social norms. Runs the risk of turning into a simple scorecard or being horribly narrow about what constitutes subversion: where have all the protest songs gone, etc.

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Apr 15

SPILLER – “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)”

Popular107 comments • 3,759 views

#871, 26th August 2000

spiller groovejet The revival of disco within pop put a spotlight on something that had gone missing over the 90s: a sense of music not just for dancing, but for dancing with someone. Disco was a music of mutual attraction: cruising, flirtation, negotiation. Its dancefloor is a space for immediate pleasure, but also for promises kept and otherwise. It’s a place where things start, but their resolution, let alone their meaning, is never clear. All of 2000’s great disco number ones explore how to play this hand. Madison Avenue look to impose their will upon it, to set terms and roles. Spiller is less rigid. “Groovejet” accepts the night’s changeability, happily sells out certainty for an amused smile and a few great one-liners. “Just for one lifetime I can be your pastime”, “In it together till I know you better.” Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s original chorus precisely caught the song’s resigned swoon: “And so it goes… how does it feel so good?”.

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Apr 15

MELANIE C – “I Turn To You”

Popular49 comments • 2,415 views

#870, 19th August 2000

melciturn What does a Mel C record sound like? Not an easy question. Her solo singles ask more, in terms of brand loyalty, than any other Spice – she was respected for her voice, and the assumption is you’ll want to follow it through flashy Britrock (”Goin’ Down”), acoustic soft pop (”Northern Star”), twilit R&B (”Never Be The Same Again”) and now muscular pop-trance. And that’s without bringing Bryan Adams into it. There’s something very appealing about this hopscotch approach, but almost none of the songs are strong enough to sell Melanie C as more than a dabbler.