Ten misconceptions about Collapse Board and Savages
It seems like a few people are becoming confused as to what we’re about here. While I don’t wish to speak for anyone else, I would like to clear up a couple of points.
1. That I (we) care if Savages are manufactured.
Wrong. My (our) ultimate concern is the music. And the Savages debut album is a crushing, lacklustre disappointment (especially after the barbed promise of last year’s ‘Husbands’ – c.f. Song of the day 471: Savages). Haven’t I (we) spent the last couple of years arguing against the necessity of authenticity in pop (see sample posts, here and here)? Don’t I lecture week in, week out, about how intentions and deliberation – though important – count for next to nothing next to the music itself? I like it, for Bang’s sake, when musicians and the folk surrounding musicians think about what they’re doing. Why is it ever considered a minus?
If I told you about a performer who radically remade their body to conform to mainstream American standards of sexiness, allowed their manager to speed up their latest single in order to make it more commercial, started getting plastic surgery as they got older, has written countless songs that bear no actual relation to his real-life experiences, and actually went back and wrote & recorded a new song after finishing their album because the manager/record company insisted that the album needed a hit and couldn’t be released the way the artist had recorded it, you’d probably think that artist had pretty much zero artistic integrity, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce turned his scrawny 70s body into an 80s muscular behemoth. He allowed ‘Hungry Heart’ to be sped up for radio play. His plastic surgery work is unconfirmed, but obvious. He has written most of his songs about situations and feelings that he didn’t experience first-hand (just ask my Vietnam vet father), and very few songs about being a successful millionaire. He wrote ‘Dancing In The Dark’ because he was ordered to. And that’s just the information I can recall from the copy of Dave Marsh’s Boss-bio Glory Days that I found in an El Cajon thrift store back in 1995-ish (note: Marsh is married to one of Springsteen’s co-managers, so the book wasn’t exactly Albert Goldman territory). And did you know it was his manager (Jon Landau, who previously had been a critic for Rolling Stone) who gave him all those books by John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver? The ones that influenced nearly all of his writing, post Born To Run?Again, the point isn’t to denounce Springsteen as a fake. I just want to know why he’s held up as some kind of paradigm of rock authenticity.
This Jim Jarmusch quote seems particularly apposite:
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” (Jarmusch 2010)
But where have Savages taken their influences to? Have they moved on? How?
Listen. The Sex Pistols were manufactured – and they sucked too.
2. That I (we) care if the singer of Savages sounds like Siouxsie Sioux.
No. We (I) don’t. Man, everyone sounds like everyone. Although we don’t actively encourage the retromania that seems sometimes to be infecting the musical landscape, we don’t believe in the concept of ‘new’ either. It doesn’t exist. Or it does. Whatever (your call). Oddly, I don’t hear Siouxsie in the vocal mannerisms of Savages singer Jehnny Beth, though. I can hear Bono and early Simple Minds. I hear British Sea Power – and that, in itself, is a major problem for someone who doesn’t value pomp over imagination. I can hear the limp retro punk schtik of Iceage. I can hear the sterility and coldness of… no, not isolation… full arenas. I can hear affectation, but if I cared about affectation then I wouldn’t be such a Tom Waits fan.
Or as Scott puts it:
Not the shock of the new so much as the comfort of the old. The “I like stuff that sounds like the stuff I already like” branch of the rock’n’roll fanclub meets here. This is the part where those people reflexively shout “THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS ORIGINALITY!” Of course, when confronted with an artist who does thing differently, these same people mock them. “They can’t play their instruments! They don’t know what they’re doing! This is terrible! Is this some kind of joke?”
If you think rock is about learning the rules and then successfully demonstrating your knowledge of these rules, then Savages is the band for you.
Tamsin calls it MAMOR — Middle-Aged-Man-Oriented-Rock. She’s a sharp one, that Tamsin.
3. That I (we) dislike the fact Savages have a manifesto.
To quote Scott again:
“Their manifesto sure says something alright — it says they’re not all that bright. Not because I’m offended, but because I literally have no idea what point they’re trying to make (which between you & me is one of the most important part of a goddamn manifesto). It seems to say that we’re all overstimulated by too much information and so everyone’s shallow now — not like the enlightened days of… 1972?… 1956?… 1924? Savages doesn’t say when the world had the proper number of voices, and I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt here and assume that they aren’t idealizing a time when the only voice most people heard was their small-town newspaper and most non-dominant views/people were so marginalized that they scarcely existed.
But you know, if you want to make a case for that, the poem allows it. It seems personally upset that anyone can say whatever they want to, upset with the leveling power of equal access. We can piss and moan about these things all we want, but social media and web culture present a world where there is no centralized power, and this, based on their manifesto (which is on the cover of their album so we can go ahead and use the M word here), pisses Savages off. Not globalization, not the inherent structural violence of capitalism, not even puppy torture. The problem in this goddamned world is TOO MANY VOICES.”
So Collapse Board dislikes the fact Savages have a manifesto. No. No. No, we don’t. Hello… The KLF, anyone? One of the greatest pop bands ever to top the U.K. charts. Huggy Bear anyone? Riot Grrrl? This is Collapse Board we’re talking about. We printed a dozen of the damn things…
You know what the biggest betrayal by Pitchfork’s editors is? They run with the crowd. They edit and commission and write by consensus. They leave no room for the maverick. They believe reviewing and writing about music should simply be shelf-stacking, accountancy.
4. That I (we) think it sucks they don’t want to admit to being Elton John fans.
Backstage at the Coachella festival, in the bright desert heat, I’m having an incongruous conversation in an incongruous setting with Savages drummer Fay Milton. One of her friends, she says, has an “in” with Elton John and there’s a small chance she might get an introduction. She’s excited. It’s Elton John! The band’s singer Jehnny Beth, who has been looking over at me, sizing me up, speaks. “You are saying this in front of a journalist?” she mutters, scowling, as if Fay has just admitted she spends her weekends at Justin Bieber fan conventions.
I couldn’t give a crap whether Savages want to admit to being Elton John fans or not. That’s their call, and I understand the pull of wanting to appear cool and choosing your own facade and public image, placing store in cultural capital – indeed, having lived in Brighton and London for most of my life, I probably understand this pull far more than most. Savages feel exclusionary. That’s fine. Savages are ‘serious’ about what they do. Fine again. Although it is a weird kind of exclusionary and a weird kind of serious where you have to hide your love for pop stars to be included in the gang.
5. That I (we) care whether or not they’re friends with certain music critics.
Uh…. hello? This is Everett True speaking. I’d be way more worried if they weren’t friends with any.
Kurt: Right. Listen. At Sammy Hagar’s, in the bathroom, there was a passed-out, drunken Seventh Grader lying in the piss trough. People relieved themselves on him throughout the concert, not even caring. There were these two girls cutting lines of coke on a small mirror when, all of a sudden, a drunken man fell behind their chairs and vomited all over the two girls’ laps, ruining their lines of coke. The two girls had their boyfriends beat up the drunken coke killer. Look, when you type this up, can you fix it so the words end in mid-letter at the end of each line. That looks far more punk rock.
6. That I (we) care if they’re a carbon copy of the past.
Bangs alive, no! To start taking that view would mean discounting… I dunno… tons of music featured here. Nothing is new. Let’s say it again. Nothing is new. I like Zola Jesus. I like early Oasis. My problem with Savages isn’t that they sound like early Siouxsie And The Banshees anyway. It’s that they don’t sound enough like early Siouxsie And The Banshees. I hear none of the Banshees’ sense of discovery on the debut Savages album Silence Yourself, none of the Banshees’ (yes) savagery, very little of their imagination or willingness to turn the playhouse upside down. I hear a group so reverent of the past they DO NOT WANT TO ALTER IT.
This cover version recalls some of the creepier moments from the debut Banshees album. There’s little on Silence Yourself that does. (How can it, when it continually sounds like ‘I Will Follow’ rehashed?)
I think what I’m trying to say here is that I dislike the Savages album DESPITE their presentation and image and manifesto and familiarity of reference points not BECAUSE of them.
7. That I (we) care if they want to control how they’re portrayed.
Hello? Early Dexys Midnight Runners anyone? WE (I) LOVE THIS SORT OF SHIT!!!
8. That we don’t like them because they’re female.
Typically of a middle aged male music site, the the review is so sexist- what’s up? you can’t get to grope the band? prefer the album if it had been made by men?
comment left on Savages – Silence Yourself (Pop Noire/Matador)
I don’t even know how to begin to answer this.
9. That I (we) came to the album determined to dislike it.
As soon as I started listening to this album, I just had a feeling “What’s the odds Cb are going to hate this?” Man, I’m tired of being right.
Here’s a list of places that have written about UK band Savages before the first seven-inch has been released: NME, Pitchfork, The Stool Pigeon, The Quietus, The Daily Telegraph… but I’m getting bored with this list already. You take my point? Savages are what used to be called a ‘buzz’ band. That means someone is doing their job properly, either at the record label, within the band or working for the ‘alternative’ press. Or all three, of course. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that the brace of songs I’ve heard by Savages are so fucking AWESOME (and, one would imagine, their live shows match) but it is relatively unusual that ‘buzz’ bands are any good – the motivating factor for getting them known isn’t usually musical. But this one comes recommended (to me) via Lucy Cage and Verity Susman, and that’s easily enough for me to want to figure out who they are.
I was totally excited to hear the Savages album. I cannot deny that I read Scott’s devastating critique of the album before I listened to it, and that it influenced me. I’m a contrary bastard, though. If anything, it should’ve made me more determined to like it. I tried. I fucking tried, but the album lacks bite and dynamic, and the singer (usually my first point of contact) is the weak link here, by some distance. And she sounds like Bono. There are a hundred, a thousand bands out there RIGHT NOW who do what Savages do, only better. It’s a mediocre album. I’d love to meet the producer, find out exactly why they felt Savages needed cleaning up so much. (Not ‘Husbands’, though. ‘Husbands’ is still lush. It’s the only moment on the album where the guitars take control.) The first Gang Of Four album sucked, too. Similar reasons.
I do take issue with this line of Scott’s, though:
When people say “it makes more sense when you see them live”, that’s usually a surefire sign that their record going to suck. And I dare you to find me a review of Silence Yourself that doesn’t mention Savages’ live show.
Rubbish. The Birthday Party. Nirvana. Beat Happening. The Raincoats. The Slits… I could go on and on.
10. That I (we) think any of this matters.
Ultimately, I don’t have a problem with anyone who likes Savages. These folk should just ‘fess up, though – and admit that what we’ve got here is a Bjorn Again, a Bootleg Beatles for the Pitchfork generation. Two bands that are thoroughly entertaining live, but you’d never listen to via MP3. I mean, what would be the point?