A new list from the NME, and some thoughts about pop-hackery
It’s not the actual list that’s the problem. The list is the usual mix of shit, shinola and gold you’d expect. Terribly predictable no.1 but hey-ho. The problem is the writing by Priya Elan, Matthew Horton, Ben Hewitt. I mean, these are meant to be the greatest songs of their generation – does the writing communicate that sense of importance? Does the writing make you feel as excited, as bound up, as ‘Caught Out There’, ‘Around The World’, ‘Glory Box’ or ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ do? In fact – good example, let’s check out what’s said about no.31, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, a record that shudders like an iceberg through your heart, always swells like a fresh new bruise, the turning of personal torment, of the battle between freedom and love, fearlessness & loneliness into a whole new universal noir. It’s a record you never forget for the rest of your life because so often in your life yr gonna need to hear it again. That need, that addiction, how does the NME in 2012 sum it up?
#31 Trip hop progenitor ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is really a slick piece of hip-hop soul blessed with Shara Nelson’s broken bawl and some muted beats and cowbells from 3-D, Mushroom and Daddy G. It came out under the more politically sensitive band name of Massive during the first Gulf War and ensured the collective remained the urban sophisticate’s artist of choice for the next decade.
So, this is what music writing should do now. Place, contextualise, describe, commercially delineate. All well and good (although wtf “urban sophisticate” means I rilly don’t know) and utterly pitifully inadequate to the record itself. And if music writing keeps doing this, keeps on – in terror of the poetic and fear of the ‘pretentious’ – simply comprehending music and never rhapsodizing, keeps on worrying about filing without ever losing its mind, it will continue to lag behind the form it seeks to circumscribe, will continue to be so much chip-wrapping for its readers and its writers to forget almost instantaneously. How could you ever remember such lumpen prose, such cliche-ridden mediocrity, let alone recall the names responsible? Where does this writing send you? Is there ANYTHING in each write up of each track that in any way has a reason to exist, a reason to be, a reason to take up those pixels? Would the piece have in any way suffered from just being the youtube links? Would any piece in the NME online suffer from just being made of YouTube links? Faced with new technologies that enable everyone to be a critic what do you do? Make criticism look like everything else, or emphasise its unique posture, its antique desire not just to reflect but to CHANGE the way pop is thought about?
#72 Tjinder Singh penned this track about the luminous cinematic power of Bollywood actress Asha Bhosle. As it stood, it was an absolutely pleasant slice of indie pop dreaminess.
So, this is what music writing should do now. Be factually inaccurate (Asha Bhosle was a singer, never an actress), and have the ungainly ugliness of expression more suited to a college assignment, an exam, than music writing. It reads as if music writing is actually a painful, unpleasant process for those doing it, the annoying production of actual stuff that unfortunately is still attached to the real job of connecting, networking, partying and self-promoting. These are writers surely inspired by no one, and consequently it’s impossible to hear a human voice emerging, or see an effort involved in finding that voice. Just the mechanical regurgitation of acceptable cliches, the defeated tone of those pushed around and cowed by the biz, the absolute dead-end determination to ‘appeal’ as widely as possible, to never use a word someone might have to look up, to never say anything that could in any way lodge in anyone’s mind any longer than it takes to read it. A downright FEAR of the new idea and the dwindling-readership it might alienate, a terrified scurrying cowardly retreat into the lukewarm arms of cliche and staleness and imprecision.
#10 … rallying call against the rank hideousness of US society. It’s a flame built on Tom Morello’s iconic, white-hot riff as Zack de la Rocha pours on the gasoline, taunting American forces with rhymes about racism and the Ku Klux Klan
That language, that painfully half-witted mix of limp hyperbole and semi-erect bromide serves to render every writer for the modern mainstream music press anonymous, unidentifiable, monotone & monochrome. We’re constantly told that readers don’t want flouncy writers anymore, don’t want imagination, purple prose, poetic license, just want THE FACTS. But what’s shoved at readers are facts in the most withered, spineless fashion possible, to the point where it’s only natural that those readers constantly wonder what earns the writers the right to pass judgement, what separates THEM from US? The fatal error the music press have been committing for nearly two decades now is in failing to realise it’s actually commercially insane to reduce a body of staff to a unified, numb voice of one-ness, that what ANY reader wants from the music press is writing that reflects the music’s variety AND excess AND concision. For pop writing to be as entertaining as pop it’s got to be diverse but the writing being put out there, the writers that are paid, are almost indistinguishable from each other, much like the middling musical mulch those writers spend most of their time boosting. Hence the falling ABCs, the terror, the present/future role for the music press mapped out as mere capsule-review lubrication of commerce. All stemming from two things, a massive condescending underestimation of music fans, and the entirely fucked-up motivations behind those who want in on the music media.
#6: Coming on like a twin of ‘Live Forever’, Noel Gallagher’s no-nonsense lyrics, a typically bolshy delivery from “our kid” and a guitar riff which sweetly echoed George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ added up to the very first Oasis classic. ‘Supersonic’ was effortless in its spewing forth of Manc cool, all self-confident swagger and utterly accomplished musicianship
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