Peace – In Love (Columbia)
C) ORIGINALITY AND OTHER FICTIONS
Another noticeable note to the shrillness of Peace’s myriad defenders (who seem to be making a much louder noise pre-emptively shouting down their potential detractors than Peace’s actual detractors, who seem to be non-existent) is that they all feel as if they constantly have to be proving a point about ORIGINALITY, either that it doesn’t matter or that Peace are somehow being original by sheer dint of verve and gusto and the indisputable facts of commerce (so odd to hear defenders of ‘indie’-rock and these are legion and extend throughout the net, equate popularity & ‘quality’ with such eerie blitheness). Musicians both unconsciously/secretively mainstream and self-consciously outré blather on about originality on an almost constant basis, seeking their own exoneration or exultation (whole separate issue how the spineless underground is equally lacking in guile & purpose & reason to be right now). The starting point for anyone picking up an instrument is how can I make this give pleasure. Even the most avowedly avant-garde of arse-tronauts can only start by somehow referring to the past, what worked for them, what gave them pleasure, even if the racket they’re making and the brows they’re furrowing make it seem like the only pleasure is in looking like they’re in pain. ‘Originality’ is not our primary desire from art, what we want first & foremost is pleasure and delight & to achieve that at some base level we’re inevitably looking back, and we’re playing with history. What makes bands interesting is how they see that history, who for them is important, who comes to the fore when conjuring their own abilities into the fray, crucially how much of their own personality they can imbue their art with.
Working backwards from such self-evident truths – it helps if the players have personalities, something strong that pushes through to impart the unique stamp of the person doing it, the stamp that stops things being all merely licks & lineage & learning. The one-off hit of STYLE that’s at the heart of what it is to be creative, the, yes, ‘originality’ of persona that allows music to stop being mere maths and become an eruption from an other, a fresh human communique, no matter how much plagiarising and bastardising you’re doing in the process.And of course, the purest motivation no musician admits is that far down, inside their lonely cold marrow, they want to be liked. It’s a totally honourable motivation that can lead to wonder. Peace don’t sound like they want to be liked, they sound like they’re far too busy making music to care about what you think. It’s partly why I dislike them so. I really don’t trust the musician. I trust people who play music.
It’d help musicians if the music press they read would shake up the trad cannon now and then, question the official past more, start ruling a few things OUT rather than just waive all the same old classics through the gates to be arranged & neutered into the same mutually-re(v/f)erential lists and hierarchies. A shake up of that order’s not gonna happen any time soon (rubs forefinger & thumb together, rolls eyes), but it’s gonna have to if indie rock wants a way out of its current political/musical/sexual/lyrical holding patterns. With an at-least-slightly-cockeyed vision of the past (and that’s gonna be found thru writers who feel like the past is worth fighting over, not just for alphabeticising or ranking) retroism needn’t be a problem, I love plenty of impossibly dated music but only when I feel like I’m hearing a human being with a reason to be doing this, not just a fucking muso with the taste/learning required to earn ‘the right’ to do this. When mind-numbingly predictable sources are blended in a way that gives next-to-nothing of the people involved, if you feel as you’re listening that what was in mind was not art or expression or truth but simply the unctuous clever-clever stacking up of taste to the point where personality is voided, then I’m sorry, that’s a shitty motivation to make music and I see no reason why I should have any motivation in listening to it. Nothing to say and, fatally, nothing to sound out, just cross-referencing, filing, no failures in technique but a massive fatal failure of spirit that thus keeps Peace tethered to their sources, unable to add anything, doomed to be a grab-bag, a precis of an era thankfully long gone. Fucksake, I remember where I was at the early 90s student-bop much of In Love tries to replicate. I was sat on the steps pointing my plastic pistol at these future captains-of-industry fantastising killing these motherfuckers. I knew then that they were a closed club and they’d end up running tings. No fucking change at all. Look at them being interviewed. Just look for a second.
These are the people now who make pop, who write about pop, who PR for pop, who’ve got the whole fkn thing wrapped up now. Perhaps the most racially and economically narrow set of people ever to be in control of a music genre since the golden days of Oi. Or its cuddlier, less working-class, equally blanched 90s equivalent, Britpop.
No accident that Peace appeal back to those 90s because it was those 90s where apologetics became the internal bloodstream, and arrogance thus became the blaring facade, of what was served up as alternative/independent. When simply saying you were rock and roll often & drearily enough was enough to make you iconic.
Two songs from the 90s are key here, Robbie Williams uber-nasal (in tone & inspiration) ‘Let Me Entertain You’ and Oasis’ endlessly-micturating ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. In their ways they’ve both laid the template for everything that’s come since, that half-witted (yet convinced it’s witty as fuck) self-awareness that instantaneously stalls joy, the tacit admission in both numbers that alright, best we can do is slightly crapper versions of what’s come before, but hey, if we all close our eyes and pretend, who cares eh? And if that’s admitted then any kind of pastiche is ok, will pass, so many moments from Oasis, just like Peace, where you think not only “Are they just going to steal that then?” but “My god, how withered does your soul have to be to be willing to put your name to such flabby, lazy larceny?”
Take that admission of general abitshitness, that pride in ‘getting away with it’, in precisely avoiding the big statement either musically or lyrically in preference of making some facsimile of feel, attitude scruffed like factory-damaged jeans, a simulacra of ‘importance’, take that sanctification of the half-witted & slow-moving, combine it with a desperately insecure need to be loved, the dizzy dissipation in motivation that happens when social media infects pop not on a musical but on a spiritual level and you have the piss-stinking dead end we’re in now. And just as social media interaction so often hinges on the upwardly hopeful australian inflection, that sense of plea within statements that begs for approval, that hopefully, cutely asks “please, will this do?” – so 90% of modern pop has that plea within, is cowed by the official history’s omnipresence into desperately cloaking itself in the same tropes & motifs, pretending that it’s squeezing fresh goodness out of these dried up dugs when all that’s coming out is so much sour balloon juice. And because of the narrowing class basis of everyone involved, from press to PR to musicians, that mutual backslapping is getting plummier and plummier, as the real motivation behind doing any of this evaporates evaporates in a phut of hssssssss. In this fecund air where the privileged young musician willing to work within the confines of the cannon find patrons easily and the young poet & the young prophet finds him or herself marginalised come Peace, good organisers, keepers of the dying flame of white guitarpop supremacy, great shite hope, what everyone NEEDS to keep their lies, their lives, their recovering businesses intact.
Before ‘Higher Than The Sun’ even starts you think “what kind of slack-of-thought-process went on to give it that fkn title?” but being a charitable cove you let it begin its countdown to its end and straight away realise that Peace have all kinds of wonder at their disposal, not a scintilla of wit or innocence or personality or surprise about any of it, and next to nothing to say. Words shovelled together into a pile and left like that, like a students dinner/dogs breakfast, sitting atop the baggoid undertow trying not to be noticed. None of which would matter if for a single moment something surprising, pleasant, pleasing, joyful happened in their music. Instead of your heart skipping a beat your brain starts doing the maths: MBVish guitar in one ear, Razorlight guitar in the other, an atrociously lumpy rhythm section flailing somewhere in the middle, the moments of stop-start proudly marshalled with the ruthless editing order of (and FOR, presumably) a highlights montage on Soccer AM, the lyrics trying their hardest to be some kind of snapshot of young love, just coming over like vaguery and smarm.
“You wanna play it cool, you wanna be the man
You wanna hold my heart in your hand
But you know that the truth, is just the fruit of the fool.”
Of course, mebbe words that meant something would be inappropriate for Peace’s growing & glowing fanbase of Ruperts & Hilarys & pogoing Cameronite-rimjobbers, and a beat that actually made you dance rather than flail wouldn’t suit schmindie dancefloors. I can understand why Peace have made these decisions and made them as lucrative as possible but like The Stone Roses you wonder why anyone would want to listen to this given even a cursory knowledge of its sources, why you’d sidestep the fiery embrace, the tongue of flame down your throat, in preference for the lukewarm hot water bottle & the dummy & the security blanket of a band who don’t look as good or as bad as you, a band as tiresomely inadequate as all mainstream white British entertainment is in 2013. It’s in the tedious depths of In Love wherein Peace’s paladins in the press start reading uncomfortably like the kind of old-guard they’re so keen to publicly decry. The notion that if you don’t get this you’ve somehow forgotten what it is to be young is as nauseatingly condescending as the idea that young people can be excused ignorance about history & politics and all those things their media are insistent they don’t care about any more. Youth is no excuse for this mediocrity. And today’s critics are perhaps the first generation of critics to actually use youth as an excuse, to actually even MENTION age at all as anything important. Strange, when even Peace know, everything is timeless now. Even their haircuts say so.
That perceived current atemporality of music is actually nothing new in itself. Depending on your vintage at some point in your life you’ll have been preciously horrified by what’s going on in your name by your generation and will have retreated to a point where old music means more to you than what’s on the radio or the papers. Waybackwhen that implied a retreat from the present, a spurning of airwave and print and telly with a sense of horror at how little that was contemporary actually reflected or touched you. Now, no such isolation, or the critique at its heart, is needed – that atemporality is accentuated & lubricated by the fact that all that old music is also on the radio, in the music press (on the cover, no less, why risk finding a new band when another ‘classic’ “‘from the archives” shot might entice not just lads but their dads too?) & pretty much infinitely accessible at any given moment. There isn’t that pressure any more to be in touch with what’s going on right now, or conversely any guilt or critique attached to hiding in the past because everything is going on right now, all points in pop space and pop time equally accessible, and often equally bereft of context. And so in this massive combined museum and shopping mall contained behind that screen you’re staring at, music fans, finger on device, have been lulled to a space where their ‘choice’, the twitch that finger takes, has all the demonstrable ‘meaning’ of a choice at the Ikea soda-pump, the market forcing your own sense of banality home, making it endlessly plain that it waits to digest, process, interpret, then pounce on those choices as you move on through the flow, rarely halted by pop-up, never stalled by advertisement, faintly grateful for your own targeting, trying to seek the glimmering heart of things amid the falling times-remaining, the falling time left until the DL is complete, the miasma of pound signs that suffuses every click and share, the bits of pop’s endlessly exploitable back-catalogue that every click suggests will be sellable to you. Easier when the music doesn’t make you think about the present. Or the world you’re ignoring because of this screen.
So you find yourself doing more of that referencing back when listening to In Love not cos of mere mean-spiritedness but because that’s all that Peace seem to be engaged in.’Follow Baby’ gives you 10 seconds of Placebo & Nirvana before falling into that habit so common among today’s schmindie royalty – not actually writing melodies but writing chords and then finding something vaguely unmemorable enough to sing over it that won’t derail the progression of those chords, the taking up of your & their time, the wearing down of the allocated hour. Beats again hitting with all the unforgettable student-bop piss-weakness of EMF or Jesus Jones (without the ‘futurism’ arfarf). Becomes clear over the snoozeathons of the phoned-in ‘Lovesick’ (mobile phone commercial) and cold-sick Coldplay manoeuvres of ‘Float Forever’ (“If you’re not happy wearing denim you’re the devil” – fuck YOU) that the real star of In Love is Jim Abiss, the guy who yes produced all of Kasabian’s stuff but who did produce the first Arctic Monkeys LP (the last time I can ever remember UK indie-pop having anything approaching ‘feel’). Hats off to him, he pulls out all the stops throughout In Love, punches the band to the right peripheries, jazzing otherwise pedestrian repetition with video-friendly shock effects, graining Harry Koisser’s voice into a pristine amalgam of all the indie-rock singers he’s ever loved, cinematising the mix till you’re in the front row and the Dobly’s at maximum width & depth. But even his brilliant trickery can’t mask the sheer piss-poor paucity of Peace’s imagination & desperately derivative & dry songwriting.
The limp ‘disco’ of ‘Wraith’ is the kind of lazy-assed jam-that-shoulda-stayed-a-jam nearly all bands are capable of but should never dream of actually recording/releasing, here populated by some truly careless and dogshit-ugly textures (an awful house piano and some choppy ‘dancey’ guitar so neckless & ponytailed it damn near makes you puke). ‘Delicious’ threatens to be interesting (well, I like the bass line) for its first 10 seconds before Koisser’s voice comes in, again singing about nothing, making sure that every melody is so horribly like a regurgitated meal you’d long forgot it becomes unswallowable emetic drek, the band forgetting about sparseness or detail or space (sure sign of a high-level musical ‘skills’ among all involved I’m sure) and just filling in all possible gaps with their endlessly widdly smart-arsed noodling and grandstanding soloing bullshit. Fucking hippy cunts.
Just when you think things can’t get any worse you get ‘Waste Of Paint’, so shameless & pointless a baggy rip-off (albeit tarted up with some of Abiss’s wankiest moments of tricknology) it’s scarcely believable that a label could sign and sell this shit. You’ve seen a billion bands like this and you’ve ALWAYS taken one look, listened for five seconds and then fucked off to the bar. ‘Toxic’ unfortunately isn’t a Britney cover, just some grisliness that makes Muse sound like innovators before ‘Sugarstone’ & ‘California Daze’ see In Love out on a wave of 60s-necrophilia like Kula Shaker factorial fucked The Bluetones to the power Reef until their sphincters started shitting out songs. And so and lo! with these borrowed tods in borrowed togs, the sound of 2013, the band whose year it is, the album that will doubtless be up near the top of those end-of-year-lists, comes to a pitiful end, a whimper, a solemn quiet meant to imply the passing of something legendary, a silence you can’t help but feel would’ve been improved by an Abiss-arranged panoply of delay-suffused bog-flushes and heavily phased straining noises. We can move on. And try and forget that this is the shit being boosted in 2013 as the best we can get. The most we can hope for. The chime of a golden tune (can’t say I spotted ANY to be honest). Youth, fans and happiness. Sure, good luck to ’em. They were on two nights ago in Cov. They’re on again tonight look. Sell-out notices can’t lie.
But anyone party to this bullshit should be fucking ashamed. There is a direct link between letting people think that dilute regurgitations of the past is the best we can hope for and letting people think that the cultural and political realities of today ‘have always been like this’, that all politicians are bastards and there’s no point fighting it because it was ever thus. A conservatism blankets indie, has really sunk in subcutaneously since the rise of the Stone Oasis Screams, the first bands to lucratively make ‘indie’ music a home for purely white music fans, denim blinkers on, winkle/desert boot-heels firmly stuck in the quicksand of their own fear and snobbery, their fashionable love of the musical products of a segregated past, their reactionary inability to absorb the music of a multicultural present. For those of us old gits who recall the “good old days”, and those of us young folk for whom the present isn’t just about shits and giggles and an expensive eternal glad-handing, we both know that they weren’t fucking good old days, & that these aren’t the greatest times of our lives, and so we both seek music that doesn’t sound quite like either, that comes to rewrite history, change and charge the present with its own image, chart the future.
Don’t be fooled by the protectors of Peace that to hate them is to look back. It’s not the likes of me or you, but groups like Peace that do nothing but look back, that have relegated the now to an endless slavish deference to an ancient past, the flattening down of edges to make the past ever-more palatable, the breaking down of rock to a smooth paste, spread thin. Good with olives & French bread. Of course it’d be commercial suicide to put anyone else on the cover, to seek something you can’t explain, seek thrills, rather than boosting whatever Warners or Columbia have biked over this week, timidly acquiescing in a decaying culture. So I decided to review the Peace album and it’d be better to like them cos they’re going places and I say fuck youth when it’s this old, fuck fans if they’re this fucking stupid, and fuck happiness if it means the smug assurance that the middling will triumph whilst the revolutionary and revelatory will be impoverished & obliterated. Kill buzzes like this on sight. Don’t let pop’s coalition (PR, Press, Labels) fool you. Their shit is so dead it stinks. Leave ’em to it. Best off out of it. As a matter of some urgency, we need to get elsewhere.
“If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again” – William Blake, There Is No Natural Religion
Neil writes: “BTW ET, do bear in mind that proper critics would like to point out that as I’m old and have a ‘proper job’ I should just shut up.”
To which I add, “smug patronising cunts. No wonder Cameron and Peace are popular.”
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