Posts from 12th May 2000

May 00

Hip Hop Article Directory

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Hip Hop Article Directory: Says it all, really. I’ve not got time to look through it but this looks like a really fascinating resource. It’s interesting that a genre comparatively neglected on the web (count the sales of hip-hop albums and the sales on indie albums: now count the sites dedicated to each) should throw up such a density of fascinating material. There’s very little theorising about ‘alternative’ and independent music online – which many would say is a good thing, but I’d not be among them. It’s probably the difference between local scenes and a more macro sense of ‘community’.


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BLUR – ‘This Is A Low’ (from the album Parklife)
You might hear something broader and deeper, but I hear in Blur’s best ballad a song about drinking and sadness, late nights alone with a couple of packs of lager and the shipping forecast, the country smeared into a small-hours fog and nobody to hold you. Because you can stay out in Camden, Colchester, Canal Street or anywhere else in Cool Britannia drinking and drugging all you like, but in the end you’ve got to go home and look yourself in the mirror like everyone else.


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THE SMITHS – ‘The Queen Is Dead’ (from the album The Queen Is Dead)
Maybe it’s even their finest hour: a six-minute state-of-the-nation address which bounces from Royal-baiting wit to just plain wit (‘…some old queen or other…’), to the baffled despair of someone whose times have shifted under him, to the feverish fantasy of Morrissey and Elizabeth’S meeting, to a long low moan of loneliness, and finally to a kind of nihilist call-to-arms. The way Morrissey makes that title line swing by dropping in the word ‘boys’, turning his mid-eighties howl into a cousin of the Victorian drinking song he kicks it off with, is a source of endless wonder.

No, it is their best: the band rise to the occasion, backing Morrissey’s ranting with a weird displaced garagey swirl, the rhythm section keeping things taut while Marr punctuates Moz, unshowily and to terrific effect (check the way his guitar leaps in just after Morrissey’s voice trails away to a smear at 3’01”). The most visionary pop song recorded by any British band in the 80s, ‘The Queen Is Dead’s magnificence lies in its achieving this kind of scope while staying flamboyantly personal.

GUNS ‘N’ ROSES – Paradise City

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GUNS ‘N’ ROSES – Paradise City(from the album Appetite For Destruction)
Well, first of all, this hip-hop thing. Josh was asking about why we can’t look for a middle ground of conscious lyrics with fantastic production. The problem seems to be that none of the ‘underground’ hip-hop producers have much time for mainstream production techniques anyway, just like Jay-Z wouldn’t be caught dead compromising his thug reputation by rapping about vegetables a la Dead Prez. It’s not the critics that have hardened the debate along these lines, in other words, it’s the artists themselves. Of course I’d like there to be this ‘middle ground’ Josh is talking about, but currently there doesn’t seem to be, and so it boils down to a straight choice between exciting music/cliched lyrics and quality lyrics/tedious beats, with the odd glorious exception. Dead Prez’ “I’m An African” on the one hand, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” on the other.

Of course, if you want exciting music and dumb lyrics, where better to turn than metal? Josh raised a quizzical virtual eyebrow at my listing of “Paradise City” in my Top Ten list, implying that as a Limey in rainy London town I had no right to be listening to the sun-kissed rawk sounds of Axl and the boyz. Well no, he wasn’t implying that at all, he just thought it was a bit odd. He underestimates the massive cultural penetration of G’n’R here – everyone I knew was into them back in ’88, even if I was too much of a wet indie blanket to like it – and the song’s universality, and besides, there are lots of bits where Axl sounds just like Slade’s Noddy Holder. “Paradise City” is thumping good fun, ultimately.

I do think there’s something a bit narrow-minded about the constant demands for hip-hop lyrics to get back to the good old days of Public Enemy (many of whose best lyrics are gloriously entertaining paranoia-fests which pass as being ‘conscious’ just because that’s the rep Chuck D had), because nobody really makes that claim for rock. Indeed, most of the rock listeners I know claim to ignore or not care about lyrics, or think they’re for girls or something like that, and it’s often those very same people who are shaking their heads over rap’s decline into entertaining bullshit about shooting people. It all harks back to the initial conceptual model for rock critics talking about rap – that this form was ‘street poetry’ of some sort, all about the words and the content. Now that’s a fine way of looking at it, and back then was a neccessary way of looking at it to defuse rockist allegations that rap was creatively and musically worthless, but it still feels a bit limited. If someone can rap well and imaginatively (and yeah, this is the weak point in a lot of mainstream hip-hop), should we really mind so much that they choose to rhyme about the violent, sexy or fantastic parts of life?

And yes, I feel I’ve written this before, too!

Online music sites make chart entry

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Online music sites make chart entry: and still looting the Guardian’s website, a not-actually-that-interesting story about how online sales are to be included in the Top 40, which I blog because I’m anal about the charts.

Outraged Israel disowns daring Eurovision entry

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Outraged Israel disowns daring Eurovision entry: and also from the Guardian, the latest top Eurovision news.

Were the Sex Pistols to blame for Thatcher?

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Were the Sex Pistols to blame for Thatcher?: necessarily quick piece, it being the Guardian, on the Pistols, which makes two very good points. One – implied rather than made – the Pistols were a glam band and judged as such are excellent. Two – thrown away early on – the problem with the sociological approach to music is that it’s easy to get bogged down in received-wisdom cliches of what eras were like, and not get at the texture of listeners’ everyday lives.

The rest of the piece is the usual modern-music-on-the-skids stuff that we’ve come to expect from the paper.

LTJ Bukem: Journey Inwards: Pitchfork Review

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LTJ Bukem: Journey Inwards: Pitchfork Review – I agree with pretty much everything that’s being said here. It’s hardly an original criticism but hey, nor’s the style. That said I’m slightly surprised to see it in Pitchfork, for reasons I can’t quite pin down.

Why Hip-Hop Sucks in 2000: The Demise of the Underground

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Why Hip-Hop Sucks in 2000: The Demise of the Underground “where is my place in hip-hop as an upper middle class, well-educated, white male?” – to prove he has a place in hip-hop, the writer uses lots of cool slang. Meanwhile his focus is entirely on the lyrical content, as per bleedin’ usual.

THE BLUE MEN – “I Hear A New World” GEOFF GODDARD – “Sky Men” GLENDA COLLINS – “It’s Hard To Believe It”

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THE BLUE MEN – “I Hear A New World”
GLENDA COLLINS – “It’s Hard To Believe It”
(all in RealAudio from here)
As I may have written somewhere else on Freaky Trigger, Joe Meek would never have been a fraction of the genius he was had he pretended that the British people in 1960 could understand Rockism. Even when his protege, Heinz, covered and imitated Eddie Cochran, it was in a uniquely airy, open, British style. His genius was to grasp the cosy, affluent optimism of the era and translate it into space – a kind of halfway meeting of Harold Macmillan and Bob Moog. If Stevenage wasn’t big enough for the dreams of 1960, then it had to be somewhere far beyond.

“I Hear A New World” is perhaps his definitive early statement, recorded in late 1959. With its “alien” vocals and impossibly appealing melody line, it’s one of the most promising and forward-looking songs ever recorded in Britain. It still invites you into an intoxicating utopia, perhaps simultaneously a New Town and another planet (it’s difficult to believe that this is from the era of Cliff Richard’s “Voice in the Wilderness”, let alone that the two songs have almost the same pace and guitar sound …). But this music could only work as everything gently flowed forward – when it was sped up by socialism and the Beatles, it would suddenly appear like a relic of a cancelled future, revised into the first incarnation of British Rockism. Geoff Goddard’s “Sky Men” – a sub-Telstar arrangement and melody line accompanied by an incredible, inspirational high vocal register, was already sounding dated in 1963, due to the malign influence of the exaggeratedly proletarian and “everyday” Merseybeat movement. You can sense the poignancy creeping in by this point, and apart from The Honeycombs’ “Have I The Right” (a 1964 Number 1, largely because of its sub-Dave Clark Five “stomping” rhythm rather than its mind-blowing production) Meek would fall into commercial obscurity from here on in. The fact that various regressive blues-rock troglodytes usurped Meek’s futurism caused an incredible personal sadness to creep into his life.

Recorded the year before Meek’s death, “It’s Hard To Believe It” is the man’s great lost single, a heartbreaking lament for the demise of the dreams that opened the decade, beginning with a nuclear explosion, a cry, and into a mournful elegy for Meek’s entire career, an utter inversion of his 1960-63 work, recorded in a style which was knowingly outdated and aware of its utter commercial unsuitability to 1966. This song (and the comparison is, I admit, bleeding obvious) can only be described as “Ashes to Ashes” to the “Space Oddity” of “I Hear A New World”. I never thought I’d say this (as someone who idolises Wilsonian social democracy) but if Harold Macmillan’s cosy futurism could (however accidentally) give us Joe Meek and Wilson gave us The Yardbirds, then I’d have chosen an extension of the early 60s into the middle years of the decade. And I know that “Sky Men” is infinitely more important than “She Loves You” in my personal history.